COLUMBIA RANCH

I worked for Columbia Pictures for many years. This is the park and Boston Street, built for John Ford's "The Last Hurrah" starring Spencer Tracy. We used to play football in the park at lunch time. Ranch also had an old sound stage we used before the new one was built in 1965.
[Webmaster's Note: The park was already in existance in the 1940's and the Boston Street, in one form or another, was already existing at the same time as the park. Both were probably refurbished and/or updated for the Tracy film.]

This is the western street after the fire in January 1970. Tree in center of picture was outside Jane Fonda's jail window in "Cat Ballou". Standing building in the distance was behind Lee Marvin in the famous drunk horse scene, in the same picture. Of course, this was the famous "High Noon" street.


This is a taped together panoramic shot of the rebuilt western street after the 1970 fire, constructed to the original blue prints. It looks almost exactly as the original street looked. On the "old" street, there was a sound stage behind these fronts. Interior sets were built so they looked out onto the street. One of these was the cafe in "The Wild One." And that's because they also had curbed and paved streets under the boardwalks and dirt, so the town could be used as a Midwestern Street, too.

This is the west side (parallel to Pass Avenue). Saloon was used in hundreds of films and tv series. Inside was a small sound stage and they built the saloon set there and literally shot practical, background action seen through the windows and batwing doors.

Looking southwest (still with Pass Avenue on the side), this area was used in "The Chase" with Marlon Brando (with paved street and curbs and sidewalks).

This is the South end, left untouched after the fire of 1970. This end was used less than the other part of town, therefore somewhat unrecognizable to most fans. We used it in "Here Come The Brides" as Seattle, Washington. We rolled in Clancy's ship and shot from the deck--looked like we were anchored in a harbor.

In the South end pictures, look closely and you can see the charred embers in the dirt at the bottom of the photo, blown there from the other end of the street. We had just come back from lunch on the day of the fire (Friday, January 30, 1970) and saw a swirl of smoke coming from the Western Street area. Some of us ran to call the Fire Department (I was one of these) while others ran to the street. Several of the guys claim they saw a man running away, jumping over the Pass Avenue fence. No one would officially take their statements afterwards, the insurance investigators said the sun had come through an upstairs window in one of the sound stages, shown through the lens of a 5K lamp hanging from the rafters, and, working like a magnifying glass, started the fire. Accidentj--insurance pays off, new street is built.

Fred Jackman, our Director of Photography, grabbed the Ariflex and shot at least 400 feet of the fire, shooting directly down the street to the South. We even made jokes about dressing our stunt doubles and having them do something so we could use the film in a later episode. A few minutes later, the flames roared out of control and most of us grabbed shovels, etc., and followed airborne embers to different locations of the ranch. When they would land, we'd beat them out with the shovels. Sometimes a small fire would start on other berms, or buildings, and we would fight those fires with shovels, our feet, or garden hoses. The Burbank Fire Department arrived and went to the Western Street immediately--they kept the flames from spreading, and let it burn out. Media was contained in the park area, where one of our stars was interviewed, leaning on a shovel, and wiping the black charcoal stains from his face, telling the tv viewers just how much he did to help put out the fire (someone later said they had seen him charcoal his own face, and borrow the shovel from a "real" firefighter). All this took place while we were stomping out small fires in other areas. I came in the next day with my camera and shot the pictures above.

Return to the Home Page