Hollywood in the desert – Tucson, AZ
Old Tucson Studios
Another attraction we checked out while hanging in the Tucson area was the Old Tucson Studios, a movie studio / theme park. The complete western town spread out over 300 acres in the beautiful Tucson Mountain Park and the incomparable Saguaro National Park. It was built by Columbia Pictures in 1939 on a Pima County-owned site as a replica of 1860’s Tucson. It was originally configured for the movie Arizona starring William Holden and Jean Arthur, and since then it’s been the backdrop in hundreds of western movies, TV shows and commercials.
As usual, we joined a guided historic tour and were shown several buildings and other locations where movies featured the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. This tour is interesting for folks who like westerns, and the town consists of several streets with old west buildings including a spanish mission, courthouse, old Indian village, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop and railroad depot.
Steve couldn’t wait to ask the guide which areas had been featured in his favorite series, Gunsmoke. Unfortunately, the only structures used in that series were destroyed in the studio’s major fire of 1995.
More than 300 films and TV productions have been filmed here, but it was hard for me to imagine casts and crews making well-known scenes amongst these western facades, as I was not into westerns in the past. However, I did recognize a few buildings, such as the chapel seen on Little House on the Prairie (yes I did watch that one).
The mock-up mission church facade built for Arizona was also used for the introductory wedding sequence of the 1993 film Tombstone, and was featured in the movie Three Amigos. It was the stage for a stunt show involving several young cowboys that we watched during our visit.
The mountain overlooking Old Tucson Studios is Golden Gate Peak, an often-filmed background in many western movies.
While still considered a functioning studio, Old Tucson doesn’t draw big Hollywood productions as it did in its heyday. And if you are not a western movie buff this may not be the place for you. However, the shows (indoor and outdoor), rides (stagecoach and train), and games could keep a family occupied for most of a day.
For a list of movies filmed at this studio, click here.
Next up: Hiking around the mountains of Tucson