Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Progression of Ernie Hickson's Placeritos Ranch
Placerita Canyon

Click each image to enlarge.

RATTLESNAKES AND RIVERBOTTOM — Did you ever wonder how the "dusty Western streets" of Melody Ranch got to be so dusty? It's because they used to be the sandy bed of Placerita Creek. In this 1928 composite photograph, the creek runs through the center of what would become the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio, north of Placerita Canyon Road (unpaved in this view) and just west of Oakcreek Avenue. Forces of nature were about to change the course of the creek — and history.

BUT FIRST, TO THE EAST — Before propman Ernie Hickson and film producer Trem Carr had their own movie ranch, most of the action in Placerita Canyon took place at Clarence "Fat" Jones' ranch on a Standard Oil lease at what is now the Disney Golden Oak Ranch on the east side of the 14 Freeway. Fat Jones' ranch is in the center of this 1930 photo (it became the Andy Jauregui Ranch in 1933); the 14 Freeway would run roughly under the "1930" at far left. In 1931, a year after this composite aerial photograph was made, Carr took out a 5-year lease on land immediately east of Jones' ranch (right side of photo). There, working for Carr, Hickson erected a Western movie town out of aged lumber he obtained in Nevada. The main road seen in this photograph is "old" Placerita Canyon Road, now known as Delden Road. "New" Placerita Canyon Road runs below it (south of it).

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH — By the time Carr's 5-year lease expired in 1936, Hickson had purchased land to the west. (Seen here in 1930. Hasn't happened yet.) So, rather than renewing with Standard Oil, they trucked Hickson's buildings west down Placerita Canyon Road and set up the Placeritos Ranch — nicknamed the Monogram Ranch while under lease to Carr and W. Ray Johnston's Monogram Pictures Corp. Hickson erected his buildings on the south bank of the creek, with the creek forming the dusty Western street. After all, it was pre-graded. Little could Hickson know...

GREAT FLOOD OF 1938 — We don't have an answer for what kind of a structure Hickson has erected around his movie town in this 1938 composite photograph. It would have taken a fortress — it does look rather like a fortress from the air — to withstand the Great Flood of March 2, 1938. The violent downpour shifted the course of the creek south. Now Hickson's movie town is on the north bank of the creek. The original Western street didn't need to move; it's still sand. Placerita Canyon Road is graded now.

FLOOD RECOVERY — The creek bed appears to be contoured in this composite photograph from December 1938-January 1939. Hickson's movie town is growing. The Hacienda has been added, along with the side street on the west and more cabins to the north.

IN 1940 — It's still possible to see a faint outline of the former course of the creek. The main Western movie street would be directly in it.

BY 1947 — All traces of the former course of the creek are gone. In its place is Hickson's fully built-out movie town. Now the creek runs in an unnatural alignment between Hickson's ranch and Placerita Canyon Road; the creek has been purposefully contoured or channeled. Nature alone didn't make it that way.

EPILOGUE — Hickson died in 1952; actor Gene Autry bought the ranch from his widow and renamed it for his own popular "Melody Ranch" radio show. Ten years later, it wasn't water but fire that wiped the movie town off the map ... until 1991, when Andre and Renaud Veluzat, along with their father, Paul T. Veluzat, resurrected it.



Aerials: Progression 1936/1952

• Monogram Buddy Pix
• Hickson Family

Description & 1939 Filmography

Films Shot 1940


Eddie Dean in Tumbleweed Trail 1946

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