I left Why, AZ January 25th and arrived in Tucson, AZ which was about a 3-hour drive.
I decided to visit “Old Tucson Studios” on January 27th. Old Tucson is located about 12 miles on the outskirts of Tucson in the Saguaro National Park. A perfect setting for an old west town with nothing but hills, desert, and cacti.
I hope I don’t bore you with some history here, but again I feel history is important and you need to know about it so that the pictures and visiting tourist attractions have meaning. So here we go!
Old Tucson was originally built in 1939 by Columbia Pictures as a replica of the 1860’s Tucson for the filming of the western movie “Arizona,” starring William Holden and Jean Arthur. With the help of the Papago Indians, they built more than 100 structures of adobe and wood, some of which are still standing today.
After the movie “Arizona” was completed, Columbia Pictures donated the Old Tucson set to Pima County. The authenticity of Old Tucson led to other movies and TV series being filmed here, and with those filmings, over the years more sets were constructed and those also became permanent additions to Old Tucson Studios.
Then along came a man named Bob Shelton who leased the property from Pima County and started to restore the aging studio. While being an active movie and television filming business he opened the studio set to the public in 1960 as an old west attraction. Shelton added mock gunfights, rodeos, and saloon entertainment along with gift shops and food venues in various buildings. Old Tucson soon became a leading tourist attraction.
In 1968, a 13,000 square foot soundstage was built to give the studio greater movie-making options.
John Wayne starred in four movies at Old Tucson Studios:
- Rio Bravo (1959) added a saloon, bank building, and doctor office
- McLintock (1963) added the McLintock Hotel
- El Dorado (1967) renovation of the storefronts on front street
- Rio Lobo (1970) added a cantina, a granite-lined creek, a jail, and a ranch house
Other movies that were filmed:
- Gunfight at O.K. Corral with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas & Dennis Hopper
- The Three Amigos with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase & Martin Shot
- The Last Outpost with Ronald Regan
- Tombstone with Kurt Russell
Other scenes shot for TV series were also filmed here such as:
- High Chaparral (1967-1971)
- Little House On The Prairie
- Father Murphy
- Three Amigos
On April 25, 1995, a fire gutted most of Old Tucson Studios….three fourths of the sets wooden buildings were destroyed or damaged including the soundstage, the mission church and the cantina from Rio Lobo. Also lost were one of a kind artifacts such as Laura Ingalls dress she wore in Little House On The Prairie, the set designer for the TV series “Young Riders,” a priceless doll collection, Michael Landon’s wardrobe, and many, many old photos.
After almost 2 years of reconstruction, Old Tucson was re-opened on January 2, 1977. The sets that were lost were not recreated but instead entirely new buildings were constructed and streets widened. In 2011, a new project was started to build new movie-quality sets to fill out the park and restore the feel of close-together buildings and the look and feel of a genuine old west town again. The design and construction of new sets lead to creating sets for new movies such as “Young Guns II, The Great Gatsby, The Right Stuff, Raging Bull, Marathon Man, and the Three Days of Condor.” The project added a dressmaker shop, a general store, and a blacksmith.
So if you get the chance to come to Tucson, AZ you should check out Old Tucson Studios, it’s pretty awesome, full of history and entertainment.