"Phoebe Titus walked the length of the Plaza de Armas, and passed into the Calle Real through the gap that Guillermo Tellez had cut through the ancient wall that defended the Old Pueblo ofTucson. Tellez had found it easier thus to breach the aged adobe than to go around by the maingate, but Phoebe was not grateful for the short cut. Other matters occupied her mind."

Thus begins the novel Arizona by Clarence Budington Kelland (1939), which became the basis of the 1940 Columbia Pictures motion picture of the same name starring Jean Arthur as Phoebe Titus and William Holden as Peter Muncie.

Adobe buildings Wesley Ruggles, the director of Cimarron (1930), came into contact with the novel that same year. "When he read Clarence Budington Kelland's Arizona, he thought he saw what he wanted. And he came to Arizona looking for locations. He found just the spot he wanted 15 miles from Tucson. It was a 320-acre portion of a valley with a photographically perfect mountain for a backdrop." (Shipey Writes of Old Tucson by Lee Shipey, Tucson Arizona Daily Star, 3 May 1940).

After the approval of Columbia Pictures, the creation of Old Tucson began.

"The action of 'Arizona' centers in the only walled city that ever existed within the boundaries of the United States--the old walled city of Tucson. The walls, like the buildings inside, were of adobe. They formed a square inclosing a space equivalent to a modern city block. At the corners were towers. The general ppearance was like some of the log stockades of the old American colonial frontiers, and the original purpose was similar--protection from the Indians. But old walled Tucson was built by Mexicans, and had a solid and permanent ppearance." (Notes on Preparations for 'Arizona': The Locale", from the office of George Brown, Director of Publicity at the Columbia Studios publicity department.)

Columbia Pictures budgeted the picture at $2.3 million, which included the full-scale recreation of 1860's Tucson (from the liner notes on Columbia Pictures Western Classics video of Arizona). "Columbia reportedly paid a cool $150,000 to re-create Tucson. . ." (The Wild West Lives in Old Tucson by Julian Reveles, Arizona Highways September 1981)

Now, if Kelland had not written Arizona, Wesley Ruggles would not have read it, recommended it, and received the approval of Columbia Pictures to film it. If it had not been filmed, Old Tucson would never have been built. If Old Tucson had never been built, Robert Shelton would not have created what is now an exciting western location and tourist attraction (author's opinion).

The Columbia Studios Director of Publicity, George Brown, in one of many publicity releases that are in manuscript form at the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson, Arizona, wrote:

(circa 1859-1864)

The Tucson of 1859, a pueblo of 82 adobe buildings, is being faithfully reconstructed just 14 1/2 miles west of the Tucson of 1939.

Beyond Gates Pass on the road to Ajo on a mile-long strip of desert bordered by rich bottomland and backed by a rugged range from which rises the distinctive pyramid of Sentinel Peak, the Tucson of 80 years ago is being brought to life by 300 laborers, 180 carpenters, 120 adobe workers split into two shifts and working under art and construction superintendents from Columbia Studios in Hollywood.

A construction job that is proceeding at top speed for six weeks will not be completed entirely when Wesley Ruggles starts shooting the spectacular epic, for the picture covers four hectic years in the early story of Arizona, and building continues right through the production of the picture.

A 900-foot stretch of the Calle Real -- old main street of Tucson -- is being built up completely, together with 11 or 12 haphazardly intersecting cross-streets.

The old walled quarter that was the original presidio built by Spanish soldiery in 1776 dominates one quarter of the set. Its walls 12 feet high and 2 feet thick in a square 288 by 288 feet are being constructed entirely of adobe brick, as are all the 82 buildings of the pueblo.

Construction of Old Tucson was begun July 22, 1939, only to be stopped when war broke out in Europe on September 7, 1939. However, the following March, the film was again on and the motion picture company had returned to Arizona. "By mid-June, all shots at Old Tucson were completed, and the company moved to Sabino Canyon for work at the Phoebe Titus hacienda, constructed at the Double U guest ranch." (Old Tucson, and the Filming of Arizona by Mary Huntington Abbott, 1968, unpublished Seminar in Western History, University of Arizona).

When the picture was completed in 1940, Columbia Pictures abandoned the site. Probably because of World World Two, any use of Old Tucson was deemed unworkable because of rationing and the priority of the war effort (Hollywood productions tended to remain close to home during this time period). Thus, in 1944, when Columbia Pictures lease expired on the 320 acre site, they decided not to renew it and donated the entire site to Pima County to be controlled by the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

From the end of filming on Arizona in 1940 until 1946, little or nothing was done to preserve Old Tucson from the ravages of sun, wind, and rain. Old Tucson did have some support among the local community, but the Pima County Board of Supervisors stated "sufficient money cannot be found in the current budget." (Tucson Daily Citizen, 21 December 1945, article by A. K. Brown).

In the same article, A. K. Brown stated:

The roof of every building in the pioneer village has fallen in, permitting rain and wind to tear down the sun-baked clay walls. Doors have been torn away as have window shutters.

Walls of many of the houses have fallen in.

The Wells-Fargo building, standing at "South Meyer and West Congress streets" is the best preserved. The high-ceilinged church also has withstood the ravages of rain, wind and sun.

Ward's saloon is in ruins. The huge ceiling beams have dropped from their position, and the roof has fallen to the floor.

Sol Warner's general store, likewise, has no roof and the walls are damaged.

Phoebe Titus' pie shop is almost in shambles.

The blacksmith shop, the dairy and other stores and saloons, also, will become just a pile of adobe dirt unless roofs are reapplied and other measures taken to prevent rain and wind from tearing them down.

In 1946, the Tucson Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) leased the Old Tucson site from the Pima County Board of Supervisors under a dollar-a-year lease. Until the Jaycees took over control of the site, only one movie had been lensed there since Arizona, The Bells of St. Mary's (RKO 1945) with Bing Crosby. During the Jaycees period, over twenty movies were made using the site, including The Last Roundup (Columbia 1947) with Gene Autry, The Last Outpost (Paramount 1950) with Ronald Reagan, Winchester 73 (Universal 1950) with James Stewart, and 3:10 to Yuma (Columbia 1956) with Glenn Ford.

The Jaycees operated on a tight budget with all labor being donated. They held an annual event, Old Arizona Daze, to help raise money to restore Old Tucson, and the movie companies who used the site provided additional revenue for rebuilding Old Tucson.

The Jaycees constructed a new jail, installed underground wiring and a sewage system. Despite this, the Old Tucson site continued in a general state of disrepair caused by a lack of manpower and funds which could not keep pace with the maintenance logistics of the location. Enter Robert E. Shelton.

"I always wanted to build an old western town on each end of the Santa Fe Trail--starting back at Westport in Kansas where it all began and end in Santa Fe . . . and do a kind of a small Knotts Berry Farm type of operation . . . On one of my visits I came looking for two things: (1) a country club site and (2) a site to do this old western town . . ." stated Robert Shelton (Interview with Robert Shelton, Old Tucson Corporation, Tucson, Arizona, 10 June 1983, by Linwood C. Thompson). "It was in poor condition [Old Tucson] when I first saw it, but it was perfect for what I wanted to do. I felt it had real possibilities." So, in July 1959, after forming the Old Tucson Development Company, he leased the site from Pima County and began the restoration of the sets. (Old Tucson Studios News Release Fact Sheet, January 1994).

Front Street In January 1960, Old Tucson opened to the general public as a family fun park and movie location. It is this western theme park that has allowed Old Tucson Studios to grow and remain a viable western film location. "Old Tucson Company [the current owners, Robert Shelton having retired a couple of years ago] operates as Old Tucson Studios and is a privately held subchapter S corporation incorporated in Arizona. Old Tucson Company operates the facility under a lease agreement with the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Filming is an integral part of Old Tucson. However, on the average, it accounts for only 4 percent of the park's total revenue." (Old Tucson Studios 1994 Business Facts).

With 35 stockholders, 7 employees and $96,000, Robert Shelton began adding new buildings and fixing up old ones. Because of this lack of financing, they had to operate close to the vest for several years as they built up the tourist trade. Then, in 1962, Sam Peckinpah directed Maureen O'Hara in The Deadly Companions at Old Tucson and this site was then headed back into the motion picture business.

"Shelton has built personal contacts in Hollywood and often gets movie screenplays before locations are set, then makes suggestions as to where it might be filmed--either in Old Tucson or an adjoining southern Arizona ranch." (Chuch Middlestadt, Albuquerque Tribune).

One of the most liked actors to work at Old Tucson has been John Wayne. In total, he filmed four movies there: Rio Bravo, McLintock!, El Dorado, and Rio Lobo. Each time he made a picture there, additions were made to the location facilities. Rio Bravo added a saloon, bank, and doctor's office; McLintock! added a railroad station; El Dorado added several assorted buildings and improvements along Front Street; and Rio Lobo added a cantina, a granite-lined creek, a jail, and a ranch set.

Although television series have been and continue to be important to Old Tucson, it was the High Chaparral (1966 to 1971) that helped Old Tucson the most in those early years. They added not only the High Chaparral ranch house and stables, but also a steady income for the owners of Old Tucson. Because of this steady income, Robert Shelton was able to invest in a 13,000 square-foot air-conditioned soundstage that was completed in July 1968 and was first utilized in the Young Billy Young starring Robert Mitchum and Angie Dickinson (Old Tucson Studios News Release Fact Sheet, January 1994).

Kansas Street Shortly thereafter, Old Tucson's art director, Richard Nelson, designed Kansas Street as an additional main street for the location, depicting a turn-of-the-century midwestern town.

"We needed more versatility now that the sound stage enables the filming of whole pictures, both indoor and outdoor scenes, here.

"The original Main Street [now called Front Street] has a predominance of adobe buildings. Kansas Street is mostly framework, double storied buildings and contains only commercial establishments--a hotel, a bank and a mercantile store.

"The lower floor of each building is removable so we can convert it into whatever a script might call for. All the trim is removable too.

"There was more money in the Midwest in that era than in the newly pioneered Southwest. The midwesterners could afford a more affluent look, so we needed to have something available that was more rococo." (Interview of Richard Nelson, The New Old Tucson by Micheline Keating, Tucson Daily Citizen, 20 July 1968).

In 1968, Old Tucson purchased from CBS Mescal, a location ranch 40 miles from Old Tucson that had been built for the movie Monte Walsh.

In September 1970, Old Tucson purchased from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer the steam locomotive #11, nicknamed Reno, that was built in 1872 for Nevada's Virginia & Truckee Railroad.

Old Tucson also acquired the 126 acre Old Las Vegas movie location ranch at Henderson, Nevada. They sold it off sometime in the late 1980's to Marcor Corporation for $4.5 million. "Old Vegas had very little film business as we concentrated on the Mexican and Early American History. We built a ... adobe appearing military fort (160' by 225' or 250') and several small streets but not a western town, as such." (Letter from Robert Shelton to Jerry Schneider)

In 1966, Old Tucson received the props from the John Wayne movie The Alamo under special arrangement with Paramount Pictures, including all of the film's cannons, saddles, and wagons.

"The Old Tucson wardrobe collection began in 1970 when the company purchased hundreds of pieces at an auction of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios' wardrobe collection. Old Tucson added various pieces throughout the years, and, in 1991, the company purchased thousands of pieces from the NBC television series Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy." (Old Tucson Studios, Hitching Post, Spring 1994, Vol. 9 No. 2).

Although Old Tucson is mainly a family-oriented entertainment park as attested to by its Silverlake Park, which opened in June 1977, and contains an antique carousel, the C.P. Huntington narrow-gauge train, Iron Pony hand car, Rio Bravo canoe ride and Pan-for-Gold stream among other assorted rides, games and arcades, it still remains a working film location for us fans of the western genre. Recent films include Tombstone (Cinergi Prod. 1993) with Kurt Russell, Geronimo (Turner 1993), and Gunsmoke V (CBS 1993) with James Arness.

Mission Set The Old Tucson facility currently comprises Front Street which contains some of the original adobe buildings as well as later additions, many of which were redressed in a Mexican style for The Three Amigos movie; Kansas Street; a Mexican Plaza; White Oaks (formerly Phillips Ranch); High Chaparral/Fort Reunion; Stagecoach/Train Depot; and other areas.

Unfortunately, on April 24, 1995, an arson fire swept through the studio and destroyed about 40 percent of the facility including all of Kansas Street, most of Front Street, and the Mission compound. On January 2, 1997, they reopened. The total cost to rebuild Old Tucson will be around the $9.9 million amount (which includes $4.4 million in insurance and $2.75 million by Pima County).

To reach Old Tucson, from Tucson, head west on Speedway through Gates Pass. At Kinney Road, turn left. Old Tucson will be on your left.

Merlin Olson and double for "Father Murphy"

Moses Gunn and Cathy Cannon, "Father Murphy"
(Used by permission of the owner)

The above three photographs were taken by Stephen Lodge during the filming of the
Dundee and The Culhane television show and are used by his permission.


"Ten Wanted Men" (Columbia 1954). Directed by: Bruce Humberstone. Cast: Randolph Scott, Jocelyn Brando.

"The Violent Men" (Columbia 1954). Directed by: Rudolph Mate. Cast: Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck.

"Gunfight at the OK Corral" (Paramount 1957). Directed by: John Sturges. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, John Ireland.

"The Guns of Ft. Petticoat" (Columbia/Universal 1957). Directed by: George Marshall. Cast: Audie Murphy, Katherine Grant.

"The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold" (United Artists 1958). Directed by: Lesley Selander. Cast: Clayton Moore, Jay Silverheels, Douglas Kennedy, Charles Watts, Noreen Nash, Ralph Moody, Lisa Montell, John Miljan, Norman Fredric, Maurice Jara, Bill Henry, Lane Bradford.

"Last Train From Gun Hill" (Paramount 1958). Directed by: John Sturges. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn.

"Arizona Raiders" (Columbia 1964). Directed by: William Witney. Cast: Audie Murphy, John Cooper, Buster Crabbe, Michael Dante.

"Hombre" (Twentieth Century Fox 1966). Directed by: Martin Ritt. Cast: Paul Newman, Fredric March, Diane Cilento, Richard Boone, Barbara Rush.

"Mark of Zorro" (Twentieth Century Fox 1974). Directed by: Gene Nelson. Cast: Frank Langella, Ricardo Montalban, Yvonne DeCarlo, Robert Middleton.

"The Three Amigos" (Victory Films 1986). Directed by: John Landis. Cast: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short.

"Desperado" episodes 1 and 2, starring Alex McAuthur.

"Young Guns II" (Twentieth Century Fox 1990). Directed by: Geoff Murphy. Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, William Petersen, Alan Ruck, Jenny Wright, Balthazar Getty.