Spahn Ranch

Coordinates: 34°16′18″N 118°36′59″W / 34.27167°N 118.61639°W / 34.27167; -118.61639
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Spahn Ranch
Spahn Movie Ranch
The Spahn Movie Ranch, with a portion of a back road.
The Spahn Movie Ranch, with a portion of a back road.
Spahn Ranch is located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
Spahn Ranch
Spahn Ranch
Location within Los Angeles County
Coordinates: 34°16′18″N 118°36′59″W / 34.27167°N 118.61639°W / 34.27167; -118.61639
Country United States
State California
CountyLos Angeles
Founded byLee and Ruth McReynolds
 • Total22 ha (55 acres)
415 m (1,364 ft)
Time zoneUTC-8 (PST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)

Spahn Ranch, also known as the Spahn Movie Ranch, was a 55-acre (22.3 ha) movie ranch in Los Angeles, California. For a period it was used as a ranch, dairy farm and later movie set during the era of westerns. After a decline in use for filming by the 1950s, its owner George Spahn established a stable for renting horses for riding on the varied acres. It became known in the late 20th century as the primary headquarters of Charles Manson and his cult followers, the "Manson Family", for much of 1967 and 1968. They were notorious for the Tate-LaBianca murders of August 1969.

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. It is no longer in use. After Spahn's death and a wildfire that destroyed the main ranch house and outbuildings, the land was incorporated into the Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park.[1]


1880s–1968: Initial ownership and movie ranch[edit]

Beginning in the 1880s, a piece of land, including what would later become the Spahn Ranch, became homestead of Mexican immigrant Dionisio Sánchez and Indianan James R. Williams, along with their families.[2][3]

The property was purchased in 1928 by Sharon M. Atkins and in 1947 by couple Lee and Ruth McReynolds. Lee built some movie sets next to his trading post on the property to catch some overflow from the Iverson Movie Ranch. With mountainous terrain, boulder-strewn scenery and an "old Western town" set, Spahn Ranch was a suitable filming site for westerns and had been used mostly for B movies and TV series.[4][5]

In 1953, McReynolds sold the site to dairy farmer George Spahn, and it became known as the Spahn Ranch. He continued to allow some filming there. Much of the information reported about specific productions filmed there is unreliable. The rumor that the location was used for the film Duel in the Sun (1946) is now known to be false. Among the productions said to have been filmed at Spahn Ranch are The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore,[6] and several episodes of the Bonanza television series.[7] Spahn Ranch is also often cited as the filming location for the B-movie The Creeping Terror (1964).[8]

After the decline of filming and his dairy business, Spahn added more sets and rental horses. The ranch became popular among locals as a place to go horseback riding.[9] By the late 1960s, however, the ranch became almost deserted.[10]

1968–1969: Manson Family headquarters[edit]

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.[11] The family did daily chores and helped run the horse-rental business, which had become Spahn's main source of income.[12] 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."[13]

In the 1970 murder trial, Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi later claimed that Manson would occasionally send one of his girls to Spahn for sexual relations.[14] A Spahn employee, ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea, had known Manson in the past and had a physical confrontation with Manson.[15] On August 26, 1969, after the Tate-LaBianca murders, Susan Atkins of the Family lured Shea to a remote spot on the ranch where he was ambushed and killed by Bruce M. Davis and Steve "Clem" Grogan. [16][17] The Family members allegedly believed he had reported them to the police.[18] His remains were not found until December 1977, when Grogan agreed to lead investigators to the spot where Shea had been buried.[19] Spahn was unaware of the reason for Shea's disappearance; he was never accused of any role in the 1969 murders for which several Family members were later convicted.[20]

In late 1969, Robert Hendrickson began filming the Manson Family at the ranch for his documentary Manson,[21] including Spahn, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, Bruce Davis, Nancy Pitman, Catherine "Gypsy" Share, Sandra Good, Paul Watkins and others.[22]

1970–present: Fire, Spahn's death, and incorporation into a state park[edit]

A wildfire destroyed all of the Spahn Movie Ranch's film sets and residential structures in September 1970.[23] George Spahn died on September 22, 1974, and is buried in Eternal Valley Memorial Park in nearby Newhall.[24]

The Spahn Movie Ranch site is now part of California's Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, the "Devil's Slide" section of the historic Old Santa Susana Stage Road being located on the park's western side.[25] Several hiking trails give access to extensive views of the San Fernando Valley.[26]

In popular culture[edit]

Spahn Movie Ranch is a setting in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), a drama film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and set in 1969 at the time of the Tate-LaBianca murders.[27] The scenes for the movie were filmed at the nearby Corriganville Park in Simi Valley, which was also a movie ranch at one time.[28] George Spahn was played by Bruce Dern.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Spahn Ranch Map
  2. ^ Bevil, Alexander D. (March 2007). "Santa Susana Pass State Historical Park. Cultural Resources Inventory. Historica Overview" (PDF). California State Parks: 48–50. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Existing Conditions and Issues" (PDF). Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park: 33–34, 37, 45. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  4. ^ "Experience the L.A. captured in 'Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood'"
  5. ^ How Spahn Ranch Became a Headquarters for the Manson Family Cult
  6. ^ Stanfield, Peter (2018). Hoodlum Movies: Seriality and the Outlaw Biker Film Cycle, 1966–1972. Rutgers University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780813599052.
  7. ^ Wiehl, Lis (2018). Rother, Caitlin (ed.). Hunting Charles Manson: The Quest for Justice in the Days of Helter Skelter. Thomas Nelson. p. 2. ISBN 9780718092115.
  8. ^ Medved, Harry; Akiyama, Bruce (2007). Hollywood Escapes: The Moviegoer's Guide to Exploring Southern California's Great Outdoors. St. Martin's Press. p. 275. ISBN 9781429907170.
  9. ^ "Spahn Ranch & Curtis Automotive" (PDF). Chatsworth Historical Society. November 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-07-15. Retrieved 2019-01-01.
  10. ^ Spahn Movie Ranch
  11. ^ Meares, Hadley (22 October 2014). "The Story of the Abandoned Movie Ranch Where the Manson Family Launched Helter Skelter". LA Curbed Blog. Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  12. ^ "Spahn Movie Ranch". Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  13. ^ Fromme, Lynette (2018). Reflexion: Lynette Fromme's Story of Her Life with Charles Manson 1967–1969. The Peasenhall Press. p. 480. ISBN 978-0-9913725-1-5.
  14. ^ McCormack, Win (29 July 2019). "The Manson Girl Who Got Away". The New Republic. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  15. ^ Montaldo, Charles (3 July 2019). "Manson Family Murder Victim Donald 'Shorty' Shea's Revenge". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  16. ^ Romano, Aja (7 August 2019). "The Manson Family murders, and their complicated legacy, explained". Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  17. ^ Rogers, John (5 August 2019). "Key figures in Manson case: Cult disciples, rich and famous". News1130. Rogers Media. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  18. ^ James, Peter (2017). The Crime Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. p. 467. ISBN 9780241307366.
  19. ^ Bonvillian, Crystal (12 August 2019). "Manson family murders: Two nights of brutality that terrorized 1969 Los Angeles". WPXI. Cox Media Group. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  20. ^ "Manson Family story evidence". Archived from the original on 8 March 2005. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  21. ^ Murley, Jean (2008). The Rise of True Crime: 20th-Century Murder and American Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 93. ISBN 9781573567725.
  22. ^ Craig, Rob (2019). American International Pictures: A Comprehensive Filmography. McFarland Publishing. p. 247. ISBN 9781476666310.
  23. ^ "How Spahn Ranch Became a Headquarters for the Manson Family Cult". HISTORY. 2019-08-08. Retrieved 2023-09-05.
  24. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). McFarland Publishing. p. 704. ISBN 9781476625997.
  25. ^ "Santa Susana Pass SHP". California State Parks. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  26. ^ "Escondido Canyon Park". Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Archived from the original on 28 October 2004. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  27. ^ De Semlyen, Nick (16 August 2019). "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: Recreating The Spahn Ranch". Empire Online. Bauer Media Group. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  28. ^ ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’: A Guide to the Los Angeles Area Landmarks
  29. ^ Sharf, Zach (7 August 2019). "Rebuilding the Manson Cult's Ranch for 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Angered Locals". Indie Wire. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 17 August 2019.

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