Old Tucson Studios

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Tucson Offers a Taste of the Old West at Old Tucson Studios Just Outside of Town

There are some things in life that are universal. Regardless of the year you were born, the city, state or even country... chances are when you were a little boy or girl, you wanted to be a cowboy or cowgirl. And this love affair with the cowboy way of life was born out of the Great Western.

The city of Tucson is lucky enough to still have Old Tucson Studios just beyond the the city limits. Some of Hollywood's greatest television westerns and films like Bonanza, Gunsmoke and the movie Rio Bravo starring none other than John Wayne and Dean Martin, were filmed right here at Old Tucson.

In 1939, Columbia Studios decided to film a movie based on the book called Arizona. Director Wesley Ruggles had fallen in love with the Old Pueblo while filming scenes for the movie Cimarron in 1930. So, they set about building a replica of 1860s Tucson. At the time, there was nothing there. Milman said they allocated $150,000. They had a map of Tucson from 1864, they hired 30 laborers, 180 carpenters, 120 bricklayers, the movie, Arizona, starred William Holden and Jean Arthur. At the time the film set a new standard for the way westerns were shot.

It said a real benchmark in the film industry. Prior to that, most sets were just false fronts: they stuck them up and put a camera there, people came and stood in front of them and said their lines. Old Tucson on the other hand, was a set where they could actually ride through a town. They could change, they could pan camera and you would see three dimensionally up one street down another street.

After the film, for a while old Tucson was forgotten. But when a slew of western films dominated the mid 40s and 50s, it came back to life.

Movie companies would come out here and they had a perfectly good western set they could use, and during their tenure from 1945 to 1959, 31 movies were made here. Gene Autry, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, Greer Garson I mean on and on and on.

Then came the Western television series. The first series, including some episodes of Bonanza were shot in Old Tucson, including High Chaparral.

They started filming in 1966, and for that set they built a ranch house and a barn just to the east of the main set, and they have since become classic sets here. One highly recognized set is called the "Mission set". The original mission was built here in 1939 as part of the set for movie Arizona. Over the years, it's been in probably a hundred movies. Throughout the years up until 1985, it appeared as a small Adobe Mexican style church. In 1985 when they filmed The Three Amigos, they put the facade on it that you see now. Also the opening scene of the movie Tombstone, where the Cowboys ride into town and they killed a wedding party.

The park opened to tourists in 1960, when Midwest entrepreneur, Robert Shelton, took over. At one point he even paved the parks Western streets. But he was given ultimatum by John Wayne after the actor found out about a horse riding accident that happened there.

There was an accident with a stunt rider making a hard right, slipped on the pavement and went down. John Wayne heard about that said, if he wanted John Wayne to do any more movies out here, he'd better remove the pavement, and they did.

From gunfights in the streets to a make-believe horse stampede that stirs up the dust, today, tourists come by the thousands every year to see and experience that taste of the Wild West. 

As Americans, we have always looked to the frontier. Americans have always been those that looked over the next Hill. The Wild West, even though it was such a short period of Time like 30 years, so ingrained in our imagination as the frontier, that people will still want that. They they might live in New York City... they might be cheek to jowl with other people, but in their heart, they want to be on a horse riding off into the sunset. And Old Tucson offers that taste of the Old West still today.  

As the slogan goes, "12 miles and 100 years from town."  Here at DC Roofing, we have to say that if you haven't been to Old Tucson, you really should check it out.

Looking for other ways to explore the area? Get to know the southwest by visiting The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum - an absolute must-do!