That's right, there's just one degree of separation between the famous silent screen star and the infamous cult leader: The Spahn Ranch.
William S. Hart (b. 12-6-1864, d. 1946) owned the 511-acre ranch once upon a time, evidently using it to stable horses that he rented to film makers. Much later, Charles Manson (b. 11-11-1934) convinced its blind, 81-year-old owner, George Spahn, to let as many as 100 of his disciples, whom he called "The Family," live there rent-free, Manson's young women tending to the old timer's needs.
The ranch became Manson's hideout and the launching pad for The Family's two-day killing spree in 1969 that resulted in the death of actress Sharon Tate and seven others.* This was well after Charlie Manson used to cowboy in Saugus.
Located in Chatsworth near the more famous Iverson Movie Ranch, Spahn's Movie Ranch had been the typical small-time B-Western movie town, but by Manson's day, most of the production consisted of low-budget porn.
In September 1970, as the Manson Family trial was getting underway, the buildings burned down in the great wildfire (the Clampitt Fire) that devoured the open space between the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys. Manson Family members including Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme** stayed on, and filming still went on, but eventually the ranch was sold, graded and subdivided. Today (2003) it is owned by The Church at Rocky Peak, a Christian congregation that still rents it out for film shoots.
The old Spahn Ranch property is located on the south side of Santa Susana Pass Road, next to Santa Susana Pass State Park, just west of the Iverson Road cutoff. Take Highway 101 west to Topanga Canyon Road north to Santa Susana Pass Road.
For photographs and more information visit this site.
* The others killed on Aug. 9, 1969, at the home of Tate and her husband Roman Polanski at 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills included the couple's unborn baby, Paul Richard Polanski; and Tate's guests for the evening: Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Abigail Folger and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski. Two days later The Family murdered businessman Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary at their home. Other victims included stuntman and Spahn ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea, who had tried to warn George Spahn about his new tenants; Gary Hinman, a Los Angeles drug dealer and musician who was killed about a month prior to the Tate-LaBianca murders; and Ronald Hughes, a Manson Family defense attrorney who was killed during the course of the trial. Manson and several Family members received the death penalty, but their sentences were commuted to life in prison when the California Supreme Court overturned capital punishment.
** Fromme was sentenced to life in prison for her Sept. 5, 1975, attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford.