“The White Church / Escalante”
Q. What is it supposed to be on the show?
A. A white country church, with a tall steeple.
Q. When do we see it?
A. We first see the church n
Episode 4, when Dolores experiences a strange flashback, in which she
sees very brief glimpses of the white church, and a graveyard
next to it.
One flash shows her digging at a grave, and when I lightened the
cross-shaped grave marker, I could see the name "Dolores" written on
(In an earlier episode, Dr. Ford had spoken to a young boy (host) about
seeing a non-existent white church, out on an open plain where nothing
but a lone steeple stood, by itself.)
The church returns in a major way in Episode 8, when Dolores finally
makes it to the end of her pilgrimage: a small Western town marked by
that white church & its steeple. At first, the town appears
empty. But then it appears (in a flashback) to be filled
with characters from the distant past, when Westworld was just
practicing for its initial opening. Dolores has strange visions of
people being massacred in the town, while she holds a pistol.
And when you see Teddy's flashbacks to his (artificial) memory of
massacring a town full of Union soldiers (with Wyatt), it is clearly
the same town - which Teddy refers to as Escalante.
And both the church and the town around it plays a huge role in the
show's finale (Episode 10), where much of the plot revolves around
Dolores's confrontation at the church with the Man in Black, and Dr.
Ford's new narrative being revealed at a gala in the town, being held
for the Delo corporate brass.
Q. What is it in real life?
A. This white church is a set at a movie ranch. (But it's a newcomer to the ranch.)
Q. Where can I find it in real life?
A. This church is located at Paramount Ranch, at 3000 Cornell Road, in Agoura Hills, CA.
But it wasn't a permanent set there, like the west of the Western town at the ranch. It was built especially for Westworld. But it will remain at Paramount Ranch after the production has
packed up and gone home (albeit minus its signature steeple).
Paramount Ranch used to be exactly what it sounds like: a 2,700-acre movie ranch owned by Paramount Studios.
The studio acquired it in 1927, and built quite a few sets there during the
next 25 years. But in 1953, they sold it, and the new owner
turned it into an independent movie ranch, expanding the size of the
Western town set to accomodate the flood of Western TV shows.
The National Parks Service bought most of the land in 1980's, and it is now
part of the government-owned land in the Santa Monica Mountains,
between Agoura Hills and Point Dume, Malibu.
But it is still open
to the public, They even fixed up the Western town, and during the
1990s, it was the setting for the hit TV show "Dr. Quinn, Medicine
Movies shot at Paramount Ranch include "Paleface" (1948) and "Son of
Paleface" (1952), "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1957), "The Virginian"
(1946), "Miracle of Morgan's Creek" (1944), "The Perils of Pauline"
(1947), "Geronimo" (1939), "The Streets of Laredo" (1949), "Buck Benny
Rides Again" (1940), "Ruggles of Red Gap" (1935)," "Gunsmoke" (1931),
"Wells Fargo" (1937), "Union Pacific" (1938),"The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer" (1938) and "Reds" (1981), to name just a few
Stars who filmed at the ranch include names like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Randolph
Scott, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Alan Ladd, Burt Lancaster, Roy Rogers,
Kirk Douglas, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene
Dietrich and Diane Keaton..
(You can read more about the ranch on my page here.)
But this little white church has not been a regular part of the Western town at Paramount Ranch. It is a newcomer.
This 2013 Google StreetView
shows a matching view the same as the photo above, including the
swing set next to the church, but note that in this StreetView, there is no white church
out on that grass lawn, next to the swing set. And more recent aerial
photos also show an empty lawn where the church now stands.
Which means that it was built there recently for Westworld.
In the photos above, the camera is looking southeast at the church.
In the early episodes, all we get are very brief glimpses of the
church, but in Episode 8, when Dolores finally tracks down the town's
location, the camera pulls back to show the entire Western town, which
is, of course, Paramount Ranch:
( However, in the last moments of this "Dolores returns home" scene,
when we cut to the time when there's just a steeple in an open plain, with the rest of the church supposedly
buried in sand, they have left Paramount Ranch, and are back at Vasquez Rocks.)
Paramount Ranch is located in the Santa Monica mountains, between Malibu and
Agoura hills, with the entrance road off the west side of Cornell Road
(Google maps would suggest its around 3000 Cornell Road), which runs
between Kanan Road and Mulholland Highway.
Here is a Google Earth aerial photo with a marker approximately where the church was.
Here is a map link.
Here is a Google StreetViewfrom
inside Paramount Ranch, looking towards the lawn where the church
was. Note the swing set in both the photo of the church and in
the StreetView. Move around on that StreetView for new views of the
Western town, and how they match up to what we saw in Episode 8.
The photos below show how the church changed in just a few months:
Note that in the photo below, taken at Paramount Ranch (by Liz of roamlab.com)
around January 2016, the church doesn't have a steeple, just a flat top!
Then, just a few months later, in this photo shot later in 2016
by Marika Sonja Cotter – there's that steeple!
Q. How the heck did you figure out where it was?
Now, remember this shot in Westworld of the steeple standing alone on an empty plain?
Well, that, and the fact that the same meadow is normally empty, with no church, led me to
believe early on that the church was probably built for the Westworld production. And it turns out it was.
( The steeple was removed by the Westworld people when
they left after the production was finished, so that the remaining
church they left behind at Paramount Ranch wouldn't look exactly like
thenow- famous one in Westworld -
especially since that particular steeple plays an important role in the
series. With a little luck, the ranch may be able to replace it with a
different steeple, so the church doesn't look flat-topped in the
first assumption was that this church was probably on a movie ranch,
given the mountainous background terrain and the fact that most of Westworld seems to have been filmed on various movie ranches.
So, I stated Googling for images of white churches at movie ranches.
I turned up the shot (above) of the church without a steeple, and at
course, I didn't recognize it. But when I took a closer look, and
remembered that steeple (by itself) lying in a field on the show, I
realized that it was indeed the same church, and I thought that perhaps
the producers might have added the steeple to an existing
steeple-less church at the ranch.
But when I contacted the people who shot both of the above photos, I learned that the shot without a steeple was taken around January 2016, while the shot with the steeple was taken only a month later. And I also learned that the church hadn't been there for long.
That confirmed my suspicion that it was almost certainly the Westworld people
who had built the church from scratch for the show, something I confirmed later.
UPDATE: I am writing this on November 9, 2018, while watching live TV
news coverage of major fires raging across the Calabasas hills area.
And from the reports coming in now, it appears that the classic Western
town set at Paramount Ranch has been burned to the ground. Needless to
say, that is a priceless loss to Hollywood history.
November 10, 2018. The aftermath (It appears the white church
might have been the one thing that survived this holocaust):
The Westworld screenshots from the show & all related characters &
elements are trademarks of and © HBO.
All other photos & text are Copyright © 2018-Gary Wayne
and may not be used without written permission.
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