The Golden Oak Ranch, setting for such diverse movies, television shows, and commercials as "Pete's Dragon", "Guns of Paradise", and Lipton Tea, is owned by the Walt Disney Company. It is located about thirty miles north of Los Angeles in the picturesque and historic Placerita Canyon. The ranch is run by Pat Patterson, the 20+ year ranch foreman, and his assistant, Jesus "Garcia" Guerrero, who has been at the ranch since 1963.
I had an 8 a.m. appointment to meet with "Garcia". Pat Patterson was on vacation the day I visited. Shortly after arriving at the ranch, I located him. During my two-hour stay there, I found that he was not only very friendly and courteous, but was also very knowledgeable about the ranch history.
Prior to the Disney Company purchasing the ranch, it had been used as a horse breeding ranch. For portions of three years in the middle 1950's, Disney rented the property for filming the "Spin & Marty" serial for the Mickey Mouse Club television show. Because of an increase in the live action filming created by his television shows, in the late 1950's Disney felt it was necessary to locate and purchase property close to the studio that could be used for their filming. After searching and visiting several locations, the Golden Oak Ranch was decided upon. In 1959, Disney purchased its 315 acres for $300,000. Over the next few years, the studio purchased additional adjoining acreage until it is now over 700 acres in size.
This property was almost cut in half when the State of California planned to put a new freeway through the area. This would have effectively limited the use of the property for filming use for two reasons: the noise from the freeway traffic and limited filming angles that would be possible. So, working closely with the state highway planners, Disney was able to work out an alternate route that lies just over a mountain ridge from the property, out of sight and earshot. Except for occasional overflying planes, the property is perfect for filming; the quiet of the area creates a tranquil setting for the film companies who work there, and on most of the property there is no problem with camera angles.
My tour of the ranch began immediately after Garcia and I introduced ourselves. I gathered my equipment together and joined him in his pickup truck. We then headed to the northern area of the ranch, passing the man-made lake with the covered bridge, which I will mention later. As we were rolling along in his truck, he mentioned that the first filming on the property after Disney purchased it was for their movie "Toby Tyler" in 1960.
The northern section of the ranch is located in a small narrow canyon. At the northernmost section is a set they refer to as the outlaw shack/cabin. About half-way down the canyon is a grouping of sets which include a two-story house, a barn and corral, and a few other buildings. The barn was used in a Disney movie starring Don Knotts and Tim Conway. The two-story house was used in the television show "Cherokee Trail", and recently it had been used by the "Guns of Paradise" tv show. In the same area were two false mine entrances built by Lorimar.
Moving down the road the way we had come, we passed the house used by Ethan Cord in "Guns of Paradise". While David Rothel in his book "Ambush of Ghosts" found it to be smaller than he imagined, I found it to be just the opposite--larger. So, I guess it is one's perspective that matters.
Near this set is a church. Then, down the road a piece was the location of the house in the Disney tv movie "Swamp Fox". It has since been dismantled so Paramount Studios could build a house and barn set for the Pee Wee Herman movie "Big Top Pee Wee" in 1988. While I was there, a crew was prepping the house for use in a Dairy Ease commercial.
We then headed down near the lake and drove up the northern side of it, up a ridge past the green guest house where Walt Disney occasionally stayed, past a swimming pool, and down into the town that was originally erected for the tv series "Roots II". It has since been used as the western town in "Guns of Paradise", in the short-lived series "Palmerstown U.S.A.", and the Kenny Rogers movie "Gambler 4", along with many other movies and television shows.
At the outskirts of the town, next to the church/school, stands an old oak tree. A plaque under it commemorates the spot as the location where gold was first discovered in California: "The Golden Oak *** Under this tree gold was first discovered in California by Don Francisco Lopez March 9, 1842".
Even though "Gambler 4" had filmed here recently, the town sets themselves were still dressed for the "Guns of Paradise" show because at the time "Gambler 4" was here, Lorimar did not know if "Guns of Paradise" was going to be back for another season (it wasn't) and wouldn't allow a change to them. So, the sets remained dressed for "Guns of Paradise".
After walking around the town for a while, taking photographs, we drove around to the backside (south/southwest) where they have a train depot and a short run of tracks.
We then drove across the stream that meanders through the property from the eastern section to the lake and drove to the east end of the ranch where there stands a two-story colonial mansion and outbuilding. The mansion is a really fine looking building--that is, until you walk to the rear of it and discover that there are only two sides to it (front and one side). While a vast majority of the buildings on the ranch are actual shells (all four sides, roof and floor), some, like the mansion, are just facades (no interior shooting possible). The colonial set (also known as the Plantation set) was built by Lorimar Television for the series "Boone". It was also used in the mini-series "North and South".
From the mansion, we drove back along the stream, past two barn sets, until we reached one of the most recognizable features of the ranch--the man-made lake. In fact, I can still see the Ingalls' kids swimming and fishing there in "Little House on the Prairie". The covered bridge at the northwestern end was built by a production company for use in their commercials. Many times I have seen it in commercials and television shows. A man-made waterfall runs from the Disney house down into the lake. Garcia allowed me to see it in action, and it is pretty.
The rest of the buildings on the property are the actual living and working quarters of the employees, including the barn and stables for the horses.
In an area farthest removed from the main shooting areas is the "graveyard" of props, an area where they temporarily retire old props and scenery until they can be used again.
Some of the television shows filmed on the property (not mentioned above) include: Daniel Boone, How the West Was Won, Bonanza, Cagney & Lacey, Murder She Wrote, A-Team, New Twilight Zone, Beauty and the Beast, Sheriff Lobo, Dukes of Hazzard, BJ & the Bear, MacGyver, Matlock, Quantum Leap, General Hospital, Dallas, Our House, and Zorro [Tornado, Zorro's horse, lived at the ranch until his death around 1987/1988].
Like everything else that Disney owns, the ranch is kept beautifully green and neat. The property was a joy to visit (I wouldn't mind living there), but it must be remembered that the ranch is Private Property and is not open to the public. It is strictly a working motion picture ranch. I do wish to thank the Walt Disney Studio, especially Dean Escen and Jesus "Garcia" Guerrero, for their kindness and help in the research of this article.
DIRECTIONS: From Los Angeles, take the Golden State Freeway (5) north to the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) north. Exit at Placerita Canyon Road and turn right. The entrance to the Golden Oak Ranch will be on the left. DO NOT ENTER - private property. Travel a little farther along Placerita Canyon Road and before you reach the Walker Ranch site, you will be able to see from the roadway the western town on the ranch.
"Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus" (Walt Disney 1960) Directed by: Charles Barton. Cast: Kevin Corcoran, Henry Calvin, Gene Sheldon, Bob Sweeney, Richard Eastham, James Drury, Barbara Beaird.
"Shenandoah" (Universal 1965) Directed by: Andrew V. McLaglen. Cast: James Stewart, Doug McClure, Patrick Wayne, Rosemary Forsyth, Katherine Ross, Glenn Corbett, George Kennedy, Warren Oates, Harry Carey Jr., Paul Fix.
"Mame" (Warner Bros 1974) Directed by: Gene Saks. Cast: Lucille Ball, Barbara Bosson, Eric Gordon, Michele Nichols, Jerry Ayres, Alice Nunn.
"The Apple Dumpling Gang" (Buena Vista 1975) Directed by: Norman Tokar. Cast: Bill Bixby, Susan Clark, Don Knotts, Tim Conway, Slim Pickens, Henry Morgan.
"Gus" (Walt Disney 1976) Directed by: Vincent McEveety. Cast: Edward Asner, Don Knotts, Gary Grimes, Tim Conway, Dick Van Patten.
"Pete's Dragon" (Walt Disney 1977) Directed by: Don Chaffey. Cast: Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters.
"The Cat from Outer Space" (Walt Disney 1978) Directed by: Norman Tokar. Cast: Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Harry Morgan, Roddy McDowall, McLean Stevenson, Jesse White, Alan Young, Hans Conried, Ronnie Schell, James Hampton.
"The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again" (Buena Vista 1979) Directed by: Bernard McEveety. Cast: Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Jack Elam, Henry Morgan, Audrey Totter.
"Rhinestone" (20th Century Fox 1984) Directed by: Bob Clark. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Dolly Parton, Richard Farnsworth, Ron Leibman.
"Back to the Future I" (Universal 1985) Directed by: Robert Zemeckis. Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson.
"Roadhouse 66" (Atlantic 1984) Directed by: John Mark Robinson. Cast: Willem Dafoe, Judge Reinhold, Kaaren Lee, Kate Vernon, Stephen Elliott.
"Big Business" (Touchstone 1988) Directed by: Jim Abrahams. Cast: Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Fred Ward, Edward Herrmann.
"Big Top Pee-wee" (Paramount 1988) Directed by: Randal Kleiser. Cast: Paul Reubens, Penelope Ann Miller, Kris Kristofferson, Valeria Golino.
"Cry-Baby" (Universal 1990) Directed by: John Waters. Cast: Johnny Depp, Amy Locane, Susan Tyrrell, Polly Bergen.
"Gambler IV" (CBS-TV 1991) Directed by: Dick Lowry. Cast: Kenny Rogers, Rick Rossovich, Reba McEntire, Claude Akins, Gene Barry, David Carradine, Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford, James Drury, Linda Evans, Brian Keith.