Unlike the Will Rogers estate (which is located in the heart of Sunset Blvd. between Beverly Hills and Malibu), the Hart ranch requires a fairly long drive north, out past the San Fernando foothills, to a 265-acre grassy mesa covered with sycamore trees, near Magic Mountain.
There aren't many fans left who remember William S. Hart as the superstar of early silent Westerns. Hart was one of the first movie cowboys, starring with his horse Fritz in over 60 silent black & white sagebrush classics, including "The Narrow Trail" (1917) and "Hell's Hinges" (1916).
Born in 1864, Hart spent his childhood in the Midwest, including early contacts with cowboys, ranchers and American Indians. So he always strove for authenticity in his costumes, sets and scenery; his early six-gun adventures inspired most of the later silver screen cowboys such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. But Hart's last movie was 1925's "Tumbleweeds," so most of us grew up long after he had retired to his ranch home in the Valley to write novels.
But William S. Hart didn't forget his loyal fans. When he died in 1946, he left his beautiful home and its surrounding 265 acres to be used free of charge by the public, as a county park. You'll still find the ranch waiting there today, a Old West preserve in the middle of modern suburbia.
You can take a docent-led 30-minute tour of his stately home (named "La Loma Los Vientos," Spanish for "Hill of the Wind"), which is situated atop a small hill. Built in the 1920's, the home is lavishly decorated in Spanish-Revival style. Like Will Rogers, Hart collected Western art, such as Remington sculptures and oils, Charles Russell pieces, Navajo rugs, saddle and guns, and Western movie memorabilia - and you'll see his fine collection on the tour. Outside the home you'll find grassy picnic areas, hiking trails, a herd of live American buffalo (bison) and deer, and a barnyard animal petting zoo.
Alas, William S. Hart County Park is located a long way from Hollywood, up in the Santa Clarita Valley, just before you reach Magic Mountain amusement park. So for some people, a trip to nearby Will Rogers State Park might appear more practical. But if you're a fan of Hart's, a lover of Western lore, or just curious, it's well worth a visit. And with its herds of buffalo and nostalgic ranch atmosphere, it has its own special charm.
Each May (since 1992), the
park also hosts an annual "Animal Fair," featuring celebrity
movie animals (such as "Beethoven" and the dog from "Turner
& Hooch"), along with live bands, a Wild West show, exotic
animals, pony rides, face-painting, food, games & exhibits. Phone for
details about this year's Animal Fair.
Getting there: From West L.A., take the San Diego (405) Freeway, north through the San Fernando Valley and into the foothills, where it becomes the Golden State (5) Freeway. Then go about seven miles northwest on the 5, and get off at the Lyon's Avenue exit (about three miles before the Magic Mountain exit). Turn right (east) and go about two miles to San Fernando Road. Turn right (south) on San Fernando Road and go about five blocks south to the park entrance (on your left). / (While you're in the neighborhood, you might be interested to know that Gene Autry's "Melody Ranch" back lot is only a mile to the east of the Hart estate.)
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