Western RoundUp: Corriganville
Some of the best-known Western movie locations are beyond Southern California… places like Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills, further north in California, or Monument Valley, where John Ford shot Westerns on the Arizona-Utah border.
However, hundreds of Westerns, typically those with lower budgets, were filmed at Southern California “movie ranches.” Some of these ranches were owned by the studios, serving as an additional “backlot,” while other ranches, such as Iverson or Jauregui, were independently owned entities that made money allowing studios to film on a film-by-film basis.
One of the best-known Southern California movie ranches was Corriganville in Simi Valley. The ranch was owned by actor Ray “Crash” Corrigan, who purchased the land in 1937.
Corrigan was known for playing Tucson Smith in Republic’s Three Mesquiteers Western movie series alongside John Wayne and others; later he appeared in Monogram’s Range Busters films, where his character went by his offscreen nickname, Crash Corrigan.
Corriganville was not only a busy movie ranch, it was also a theme park from the years 1949 to 1965, when Corrigan sold the property to Bob Hope. It was something of a forerunner to Universal Studios in Universal City, which opened to the public in 1964, just as Corriganville was close to winding down operations. It also had some similarities to the Knott’s Berry Farm Ghost Town in Buena Park.
During its years as a Western movie attraction, visitors could tour the fort built for John Ford’s Fort Apache (1948), explore Western town sets, watch stuntman shows, enjoy live music, and more.
Major brush fires swept through the property in the ’70s, destroying the buildings; all that remains of Corriganville today are concrete slabs, stonework, and a lake used for filming water scenes. The property was bought by the City of Simi Valley in 1988 and is now a regional park open to the public, with multiple hiking trails and picnic areas.
I recently visited Corriganville for the first time and found it quite interesting. As I share some photos from my visit I’ll also discuss a few of the movies filmed when Corriganville was in its heyday.
Above is a photo of the Fort Apache set, which was later reused in Ambush (1950) and many other films and TV series. If you look at my photo below, the rocks in the background exactly line up with those seen behind the fort set. It was quite exciting to know that I was standing where John Wayne, Henry Fonda, George O’Brien, and Ward Bond once walked.
Here’s more scenery from the general area where Fort Apache filmed:
One of the most interesting things at Corriganville is the remains of a small “lake” where movies including Columbia Pictures’ Jungle Jim series were once filmed.
The lake is sometimes known as “Robin Hood Lake,” “Sherwood Lake,” or “Jungle Jim Lake.” A room with thick windows allowed for underwater photography; the building remains but the glass from the windows is gone.
A door could be slid down into place to dam the lake and raise the water level as needed:
Another look from a different angle. Some sources indicate that scenes for The African Queen (1951) and Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) were among the films which shot here; if that information is accurate, my best guess is that they were brief insert shots needed to supplement the extensive location filming which took place out of state.
This view looks across the lake to “Stunt Rock,” from which Jungle Jim (Johnny Weissmuller) would dive into the water:
Trail Blazer Cave was a man-made cave located here; it’s named for its appearance in Arizona Whirlwind (1944), part of the Trail Blazers movie series which starred Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard, and Bob Steele. The cave also appeared in Corrigan’s own The Range Busters (1940) and later in Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) with John Carradine. The Fugitive TV series starring David Janssen also filmed here.
Today visitors can still see concrete slabs where Western town buildings once stood. In the distance is stonework from a one-time horse barn.
A closer look at the old barn site. Snowfire (1958) with Don Megowan was one of the Westerns filmed here.
Another area where what’s left of set construction has been overgrown in the decades since the last fire:
Western TV series filmed at Corriganville in its heyday included The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, and The Lone Ranger.
Today Corriganville is a Ventura County Historical Landmark which is open to the public free of charge, and visitors can walk the trails where cowboy heroes once rode.
For those considering a visit to Corriganville Park, it is open from dawn to dusk. There is free parking, with portable bathroom facilities provided next to the parking lot. Picnic tables are provided in multiple areas. Leashed dogs are allowed. I spent just under three hours walking multiple trails and pausing to take pictures; most of the ground is fairly flat but the Fort Apache area is hilly.
— Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub
Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns. She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals. Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.