Remembering the Golden Years of Filming in Santa Clarita
When you think Santa Clarita, what comes to mind? The quiet beauty, rugged landscapes or rich local history? There are moments of Santa Clarita history that echo throughout the centuries and into some of your favorite films. But if you look close enough, you may just be able to step back into time and revisit the valley’s early years of Western cinema.
It was in 1903 where film cameras first captured Santa Clarita. It wasn’t until D.W. Griffith filmed the area’s first full-length film: “Ramona” (1910), starring Mary Pickford, where the motion picture industry turned its attention to the little valley in the north. Soon after, Newhall became a filming destination where stars, including Charlie Chaplin, filmed scenes from “The Pilgrim” at the Saugus Train Station, and Tom Mix realized Santa Clarita’s on-screen potential. Mix was known for his daring stunts and, with the magic of yesteryear post-production, created a scene where he and his noble steed, Tony the Wonder Horse, famously jumped across Beale’s Cut.
In 1921, silent film actor William. S Hart filmed “The Half Breed” and “The Testing Block” at a small Newhall Property. After falling in love with the area, Hart purchased the 300-acre property on February 5, 1921. He would go on to donate a lot in Newhall that later turned into the American Theater, which cost $25,000 to build, featured 400 seats and on opening night played a newsreel and cartoon. Hart would enter the theatre – radiating western swagger – to a standing ovation and thunderous applause in appreciation of his donation. The tickets were just 50 cents.
Today the average movie ticket costs $9.11, and Santa Clarita has numerous movie houses that feature blockbuster films – some of which were filmed right here in Santa Clarita, even as close as just down the street. The City is home to over 20 soundstages, 10 movie ranches and thousands of film-friendly locations that all kinds of productions continue to use. The abundance of film locations has made the number of productions to film in Santa Clarita exponentially increase. Filming has recently reached a record high. In 2019, Santa Clarita’s Film Office recorded 576 film permits and 1,490 location film days, which generated nearly $33 million in positive economic growth.
But if you’re more interested in Hollywood history, you can always head over to Heritage Junction Historic Park at William S. Hart Park in Old Town Newhall – where structures representing the history of Santa Clarita look as new as the day they were built. The recent renovation of the historic buildings by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society will ensure they will be used as backdrops for filming, well into the future.
One of the first additions to Heritage Junction was the historic Saugus Train Station, which was donated by Southern Pacific in 1980. The train station has been featured in a number of films, inducing a film by Frank Sinatra called “Suddenly,” which also featured most of Downtown Newhall, and the most recent big-budget movie, “The Grifters.” Seated beside the station is the 75 ton Mogul Engine 1612 that was donated by ‘The Singing Cowboy’ himself, Gene Autry, in 1981. It was featured prominently in many western films. Other Hollywood heavyweights, including John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Will Rogers, Joan Crawford and Harry Carey have all filmed at some of these historic structures.
The preservation of these historic buildings is a testament to the City of Santa Clarita’s commitment to preserving local history – and with it, Santa Clarita’s rich history in cinema. To find out more about productions that have filmed in Santa Clarita, please visit filmsantaclarita.com.
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