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Spahn Movie Ranch
The Spahn Movie Ranch, with a portion of a back road.
|Founded by||Lee and Ruth McReynolds|
|• Total||22 ha (55 acres)|
|Elevation||415 m (1,364 ft)|
|Time zone||UTC-8 (PST)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-7 (PDT)|
Spahn Ranch, also known as the Spahn Movie Ranch, was a 55-acre movie ranch in Los Angeles County, California. In 1947, Lee and Ruth McReynolds purchased the acreage from Sharon M. Atkins, who had purchased the property in 1928. Lee built some movie sets (a western town) next to his Trading Post on the property to catch some overflow from the very successful Iverson Movie Ranch. In 1953 the 55 acres was sold to George Spahn and became known as the Spahn Ranch. Spahn added more sets and rental horses, making it a popular location for horseback riding among locals.
With mountainous terrain, boulder-strewn scenery, and an "old Western town" set, Spahn Ranch was a suitable filming site for westerns, mostly B movies and TV series. As the westerns genre became less popular, however, the ranch became almost deserted.
No longer in use, the entrance to the historic ranch was originally at 12000 Santa Susana Pass Road (street numbers have since been changed) of the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains above Chatsworth, California. The land is now part of the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park. Spahn Ranch is notorious for having been the primary residence of Charles Manson and his followers, the "Manson Family", for much of 1968 and 1969.
The ranch took its name from dairy farmer George Spahn, who purchased the property in 1953. Silent film actor William S. Hart owned the ranch in the 1920s to rent houses to local filmmakers. The property was originally homesteaded by Dionisio Sanchez and James Williams. A few western-themed movies and television shows were filmed on the ranch, although much of the information that has been reported about specific productions filmed there is unreliable. Among the productions that are rumored to have been filmed at Spahn Ranch are The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore, Duel in the Sun directed by King Vidor, and a few television episodes of Bonanza. The "Duel in the Sun" reference is known to be false. Spahn Ranch is also often cited as the filming location for the B-movie The Creeping Terror.
"Spahn Movie Ranch" is featured in the Quentin Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, set in 1969 at the time of the Manson Family murders. The scenes for the movie were actually filmed at the nearby Corriganville Park in Simi Valley, which was also a Movie ranch at one time.
In the movie, a character played by Brad Pitt checks on his old colleague George Spahn (Bruce Dern). Pitt's character had given a ride to a hitchhiker there, only to find the ranch taken over by members of Charlie Manson's group.
Spahn was 80 years old, going blind and living at his ranch when he allowed the Manson Family to move in, rent-free, in exchange for labor. The family did daily chores and helped run the horse-rental business, which had become Spahn's main source of income. Manson Family member Lynette Fromme later wrote, “I was impressed with George Spahn’s hardiness. He was eighty years old and, although his blindness had for five or six years kept him in a world apart, he was mentally still present, living alone and working through all the frustrations of having lost authority in the running of his own business.”  As was later described in his telling of the Manson story, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi stated that Manson would occasionally send one of his girls to Spahn for intimate relations. A Spahn employee, ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea, had known Manson in the past and had a physical confrontation with him. Under the direction of Manson, Susan Atkins lured Shea to a remote spot on the ranch where he was ambushed and killed by Bruce M. Davis and Steve "Clem" Grogan on 26 August 1969, because they believed he had reported them to the police. His remains were not found until December 1977 after Grogan agreed to lead investigators to the spot where he'd been buried.
Spahn was unaware of the reason for Shea's disappearance and was never accused of any role in the many murders for which members of the Family were later convicted, the most infamous being the Tate–LaBianca murders committed on August 9 and 10, 1969. In late 1969, Robert Hendrickson began filming the Manson Family at the ranch for his documentary film Manson. There he filmed Spahn, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, Bruce Davis, Nancy Pitman, Catherine "Gypsy" Share, Sandra Good, Paul Watkins and others. It is the place where the "family" lived while committing the 1969 Tate–LaBianca murders in Los Angeles. The "family" also stayed at Barker Ranch, which is located in the Panamint Range between Death Valley and the Panamint Valley in the northern Mojave Desert.
Fire, Spahn's death, and incorporation into a state park
A wildfire destroyed all of the Spahn Movie Ranch's film sets and residential structures on September 26, 1970. George Spahn died on September 22, 1974, and is buried in Eternal Valley Memorial Park in nearby Newhall.
The Spahn Movie Ranch site is now part of California's Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, with the "Devil's Slide" section of the historic Old Santa Susana Stage Road on the park's western side. There are several hiking trails which give access to extensive views of the San Fernando Valley.
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