I belong to a “Meet Up” sketching group. Last Sunday we went to Paramount Ranch to sketch/paint. I’d never even heard of the place, let alone been there. So, here is what I discovered while the wonders and mystery of my GPS showed me a map and the way to Paramount Ranch. It’s in the Santa Monica Mountains, between the hills of Agoura and Point Dume, Malibu. It’s a lovely, hilly area with lots of huge coast live oaks. There wasn’t much traffic on the 101 that morning so I was in good spirits when I arrived. And once I saw the countless oak trees at the visitor center, a particular favorite of mine, I was certain being there for a couple hours would be fabulous. While a waited for some of my painting buddies to show up I ate some yoghurt. Behind me there were a couple fire fighters washing a fire truck. (Always glad to see fire fighters out in such a place, as this area will be very dry and hot in a few weeks.) I wasn’t exactly sure what I was in for, but pretty soon a guy with a huge horse trailer pulled up. He jumped out of the truck and systematically began to unload 8 horses from the trailer, tying each one off at the side. I was starting to get the picture that Paramount Ranch and these horses were somehow going to be joined at some point.
A Background Paragraph on Paramount Ranch
This seems an opportune moment to provide a little background. (I looked all this up on the Internet when I got home later that day.) In 1927, Paramount Pictures bought the land and built some western town movie sets. Paramount used the sets for westerns they made for about 25 years. Then in 1953, they sold the property to a new owner and it became an independent movie ranch. At that time the new owners expanded the size of the Western Town set so the many production companies that were making westerns for television in the 1950s could use it. In the 80’s, the National Parks Service bought most of the land (including the Western Town) and now they rent it out to various production companies who are in need of a ready-made western set. Such production companies are allowed to make alterations to the buildings, but the western town theme is to stay in tact. Based on the photos I saw on the Internet it looks like Western Town can also be rented out for weddings too.
So, once I had finished my snack and my friends had arrived we started into Western Town. On our way in a friend noticed that what appeared to be wooden siding on an old building was actually a sheet of metal siding that had been fabricated and painted to look like a wall of huge wooden beams. But as we both realized, nothing would be as it seemed in this fake western town and I’m sure no one would notice such a fake wall when watching a TV western that might include that building. As we turned the corner I saw quite a few artist posses on each street corner. They had already set up their supplies and were already painting. None of these artists were wearing cowboy hats or western boots, but rather had on sensible sun hats and shorts. It was such a great juxtaposition of yesterday compared with today, real versus fake. And almost as if on cue, the real came along side the unreal when a huge group of people on 21st century bicycles zoomed past us—past the general store, with Dry Goods, Groceries and Clothing, the Hotel Mud Bug and the Great Bend Jail and Sheriff’s office. It was about that time I figured out that the guy with the horses had a plan. And it was about this time that I realized once again the craziness of the California dream, with entrepreneur opportunities galore. It was great!
I wandered around the town a bit and found a great shady spot under a huge coast live oak tree. (Last week’s blog was all about California’s oak woodland and the history behind those magnificent and important trees.) For this adventure I was delighted to find a nice spot, in the shade, under such an oak. It must have been at least 300 years old. I wondered who else might have sat under that tree to cool off. Episodes of the TV show Gunsmoke were filmed here. Maybe the marshal or a bad guy sat under the tree with his or her horse tied off nearby. To my right was a wooden wagon that looked to be at least 100 years old (probably another fake) and directly in front of me was the old church you see here. Of course it’s part of this western town and a fake as well. It was only recently added to the property and used for the HBO show Westworld. If you look it up you can see how it was a white church with a pretty tall steeple and faux graveyard to the right. It was pretty nice to peacefully sit there and imagine days gone by with wagons and horses. But of course the 21st century was clearly still here as directly behind me a group of Eagle Scouts was engaged in some kind of project. Near as I could tell, they were shoveling large amounts of leaves and dried acorns into wheelbarrows. Then they looked for places to distribute all these trimmings to other places on the property. Of course one of the spots they chose to dump the yard waste was only a couple yards away from me. These 13 and 14-year old boys seemed to be having only a minimal amount of fun, kind of complaining about the work they were doing and talking. Most of the conversation I heard was about school and that the grade F for sure meant Fail, but that you could earn an E if you were Emotional. Pretty funny and emotional if you ask me.
We had a throw down on one of the streets in Western Town after a bit. A throw down is when we gather together and place our sketchpads side by side and we talk about our art. For this one, we lined up our art on the wooden sidewalk up against a fake old building. And as I had guessed, the horse entrepreneur had rented horses for people to ride around Western Town as some of the artists had captured just that. Most artists had painted the various buildings, with and without horses. Others had painted the same church, but of course their interpretation of the old looking building was completely different from mine. It was all really great to see. We talked quite a bit about who we were, the art and materials we used. I am always amazed with the people who come to these events—animators, architects, graphic artists and then just regular folks like me.
After we finished the plan was to eat lunch under some trees. I had planned to do that and had my customary peanut butter and jelly sandwich prepared. But I knew the traffic on 101 would just be getting worse as the afternoon went on. Reality was creeping into the wonderful unreality of the morning. So, I ate my peanut butter sandwich and pretzels in the car on the ride home. And yah, the traffic was awful. But I have this little piece of art I can look at to remind me of the old days—the old days of today and long ago. It is a bit confusing at times, but that’s LA for you! Gotta love it!