Spahn Ranch

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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; -118.61639Coordinates: 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. 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 Iverson Movie Ranch. In 1953, the site was sold to George Spahn and became known as the Spahn Ranch. He added more sets and rental horses, making it a popular location for horseback riding among locals.[1]

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.[2][3] As westerns declined as a genre, however, the ranch became almost deserted.[4]

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.[5] Spahn Ranch was the primary headquarters 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.[6][7] The property was originally homesteaded by Dionisio Sánchez and James Williams.[8][9] 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,[10] and several episodes of the Bonanza television series.[11] The rumor the location was used for the film Duel in the Sun (1946) is now known to be false. Spahn Ranch is also often cited as the filming location for the B-movie The Creeping Terror (1964).[12]

Manson Family headquarters (1968–1969)[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.[13] The family did daily chores and helped run the horse-rental business, which had become Spahn's main source of income.[14] 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."[15] Vincent Bugliosi claimed that Manson would occasionally send one of his girls to Spahn for intimate relations.[16] A Spahn employee, ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea, had known Manson in the past and had a physical confrontation with Manson.[17] 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 August 26, 1969,[18][19] because they allegedly believed he had reported them to the police.[20] His remains were not found until December 1977, when Grogan agreed to lead investigators to the spot where Shea had been buried.[21]

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, including the Tate–LaBianca murders.[22] In late 1969, Robert Hendrickson began filming the Manson Family at the ranch for his documentary film Manson.[23] There he filmed Spahn, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, Bruce Davis, Nancy Pitman, Catherine "Gypsy" Share, Sandra Good, Paul Watkins and others.[24] It is the place where the "Family" lived while five members committed the 1969 Tate–LaBianca murders in Los Angeles.[25] 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.[citation needed]

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood[edit]

Spahn Movie Ranch is a setting in the 2019 film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and set in 1969 at the time of the Tate-LaBianca murders.[26] The scenes for the movie were filmed at the nearby Corriganville Park in Simi Valley, which was also a movie ranch at one time, not the actual Spahn Ranch.[27]

In the movie, stuntman Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt checks on his old colleague George Spahn (Bruce Dern).[28] Pitt's character gives a ride to a hitchhiker there, only to find the ranch taken over by members of the Manson Family.[29]

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 on September 26, 1970.[30] George Spahn died on September 22, 1974, and is buried in Eternal Valley Memorial Park in nearby Newhall.[31]

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.[32] There are several hiking trails which give access to extensive views of the San Fernando Valley.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Spahn Ranch & Curtis Automotive" (PDF). Chatsworth Historical Society. November 2008. Retrieved 2019-01-01.
  2. ^ "Experience the L.A. captured in 'Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood'"
  3. ^ How Spahn Ranch Became a Headquarters for the Manson Family Cult
  4. ^ Spahn Movie Ranch
  5. ^ Spahn Ranch Map
  6. ^ McBride, Jessica (29 July 2019). "George Spahn & Spahn Movie Ranch: What's the Real Story?". Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  7. ^ Knight, Jacob (11 May 2018). "A Brief History of the Spahn Movie Ranch, an Important Location in Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'". Slash Film. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Existing Conditions and Issues" (PDF). Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park: 33–34, 37, 45. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  10. ^ Stanfield, Peter (2018). Hoodlum Movies: Seriality and the Outlaw Biker Film Cycle, 1966–1972. Rutgers University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780813599052.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Spahn Movie Ranch". Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ McCormack, Win (29 July 2019). "The Manson Girl Who Got Away". The New Republic. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  17. ^ Montaldo, Charles (3 July 2019). "Manson Family Murder Victim Donald 'Shorty' Shea's Revenge". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  18. ^ Romano, Aja (7 August 2019). "The Manson Family murders, and their complicated legacy, explained". Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  19. ^ Rogers, John (5 August 2019). "Key figures in Manson case: Cult disciples, rich and famous". News1130. Rogers Media. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  20. ^ James, Peter (2017). The Crime Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. Dorling Kindersley Ltd. p. 467. ISBN 9780241307366.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "Manson Family story evidence". Archived from the original on 8 March 2005. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  23. ^ Murley, Jean (2008). The Rise of True Crime: 20th-Century Murder and American Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 93. ISBN 9781573567725.
  24. ^ Craig, Rob (2019). American International Pictures: A Comprehensive Filmography. McFarland Publishing. p. 247. ISBN 9781476666310.
  25. ^ "Police Raid Ranch, Arrest 26 Suspects In Auto Theft Ring". 17 August 1969. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’: A Guide to the Los Angeles Area Landmarks
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Sharf, Zach (7 August 2019). "Rebuilding the Manson cult's ranch for "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" angered locals". Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  30. ^ Schneider, Jerry L (2014). Western Movie Making Locations. Vol. 1 Southern California. Lulu Press, Inc. p. 45. ISBN 9781312711556.
  31. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). McFarland Publishing. p. 704. ISBN 9781476625997.
  32. ^ "Santa Susana Pass SHP". California State Parks. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  33. ^ "Escondido Canyon Park". Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Archived from the original on 28 October 2004. Retrieved 17 August 2019.

External links[edit]