Monday, January 17, 2011


Yesterday, just as they do every third Sunday of the month (except in December), the folks at Los Encinos State Historic Park, in Encino, have a Living History Day. A January day with the temperature in the mid 80s seemed like a perfect time to drop by. At the corner of Balboa and Ventura Boulevards, the park’s pond is fed by a natural spring which has attracted settlers for thousands of years.

My first stop was the blacksmith shop. As Dennis Palmer forges tools in the fire, Gary Staneke explains the role of the blacksmith in the 1870s. “No matter what job you had, before the Industrial Revolution, you would have to come to the blacksmith to have your tools made. The blacksmith shop is the repair-place for the entire ranch and surrounding area. Half my day is taking care of the horses. We make the horse shoes here. Every six weeks we have to take the horse shoes off, trim the hoof, put the old horse-shoe back on – it’s got another six weeks of life to it – or make a new horse shoe. The other half of the day, we repair everything.” He gestures towards the ‘main street’ of the San Fernando Valley, Ventura Boulevard, but refers to it by its original name: “We’ve got the El Camino Real going right by here. All of the wagons, the carriages, the ox-carts. If they need repair, they come here.” He shows an ancient ‘L-bracket’ that came off of a carriage. “I don’t have these in stock – I have nothing in stock – but we have iron in stock. Here there’s a weld where they took one piece of iron, cut it, overlapped it, melted it together as an ‘L’, punched the holes, forged the rivets, put it back onto the wagon, and they were off and running. They made the wheels as well.” On display and for sale were newly-minted tin soldiers and Civil War round bullets and Minie’ balls.

“This building was built by the Garnier brothers, who came here as shepherds. They had a few thousand sheep, and they would sheer them for the wool. And they did very, very well – this place was astoundingly rich in the 1870s. But in the 1880s, unfortunately, the bottom dropped out of the wool market. Because when people saw how much money there was in it, next thing you know, everyone’s raising sheep in South America. You’d sell your wool in the city -- in Southern California (at that time), when you said you were going to the city, that meant San Francisco. Los Angeles – mud streets, highest murder rate per capita for any city in the entire U.S. – that was not a place you wanted to go shopping, do business. You’d go to San Francisco – they had paddle-wheelers going up twice a week. Garnier went on a Friday, talked to the Eastern buyers, didn’t quite like the price, thought he’d try again Monday. Saturday the telegram arrived: ‘Buy no more wool. We’re done.’ It took him a year to sell that wool for a third of what he’d been offered on Friday. It was a disaster.”

Just outside the blacksmith’s shop Nita Staneke was demonstrating outdoor cooking, making apple fritters. “By the 1870s, a lot of people had indoor ranges – they weren’t just cooking over an open hearth. This is more like a chuck-wagon would use.”

The De la Ossa Adobe, the long building facing the pond, is normally just open at 2:00 p.m. for guided tours on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, was open, and full of historical displays of the many families and Indian tribes who owned the buildings and land over the centuries. In the 1880s the building passed into the hands of one Simon Gless, and a beautifully reserved wedding gown on display was worn by a bride to whom, I am told, actress Sharon Gless is a direct descendant.

In 1993, a great deal of money and labor were spent rebuilding and preserving Los Encinos, and on this very date – January 17th – in 1994, just after the Park’s reopening, Los Angeles was hit with a devastating earthquake, which shuttered the buildings in the Park for several years. In the process of re-rebuilding, it was found that, beneath the layers of plain paint, the main dining room once had handsome faux marble walls (see the picture to the left). The family could have well-afforded the real thing, but the adobe walls could not support the weight of marble, so it was painted on.

Just outside the Adobe I met Jennifer Dandurand, Park Ranger and Park Interpretive Specialist, “…so I basically do all of the education aspects of the park, as well as take care of the buildings, the odd jobs, and I take care of the ducks. We have these Living History events every third Sunday of the month, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. It’s a small even, but very family-oriented. I’d like to do some kind of special event this calendar year – we’ll see what the budget allows. I really want to do a sheep-shearing. Our biggest concern is fencing – our corral is not big enough.”

Though the Living History event is only once a month, the Park is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. With numerous picnic tables, it’s a great place to bring your lunch. And bring a few quarters, too, to buy seed and feed the ducks and geese. To learn more, and see their extensive historic photo archives, visit their website here:


Anybody who knows anything about Westerns knows Tex Ritter sang the theme from High Noon (1952), ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling,’ but many are not aware that Ritter, in addition to a hugely successful career in country music, was a Western movie star in his own right, with 72 screen credits. Born in Panola County, Texas, in 1905, Ritter was already a fan of Western music when he appeared on stage in Green Grow The Lilacs, the play that was the basis of Oklahoma. Starting in 1936, singing cowboy Tex and his horse, White Flash, starred in 32 B-westerns Grand National and Monogram, numbering among his co-stars the lovely Rita Cansino before she became Rita Hayworth. In 1938 he met beautiful leading lady Dorothy Fay, with whom he made four films, before they married and she retired from the screen. In the early 1940s he moved to Columbia Pictures to star in a series with Wild Bill Elliot. When Elliot moved to Republic, Tex moved to Universal, to co-star with Johnny Mack Brown and Fuzzy Knight. Tex’s last studio switch was to PRC, where he made eight pictures with Dave O’Brien. I had the privilege of meeting Tex and Dorothy at my sister’s law school graduation – she and their son Tom were in the same class at Vanderbilt University - and they were both charming people and proud parents. If you’d like to see a Tex Ritter western, there are six available on imdb HERE:
If you’d like to hear him sing ‘Do Not Forsake Me’ while you watch the opening of High Noon, click HERE :


Apparently, some folks at National Public Radio are astonished that the Coen Brothers' True Grit has taken in $100,000,000 and is still going strong, because they didn't think anyone like Westerns. They turned to NPR film critic Bob Mondello to list five great westerns, as a sort of starter-kit to introduce the form to the underprivileged. I think it's a great idea, and he made some great choices: Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956), The Wild Bunch (1969), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Unforgiven(1992). Would you send me a comment with your five top choices? And you can hear the NPR story by going to this LINK. Incidentally, they have tons of comments on the site, some terriffic suggestions, as well as a few movies whose negatives ought to be burned, if you ask me (which you didn't).



Events include a parade, rodeo, frog-jumping contest, food, music and melodramas. For more info, call 760-376-2629, or visit


Events include Civil War reenactments, authentic encampments, drills, music, living history displays, period fashion shows, and a reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. To learn more, call 800-86-CALICO (862-2542) or visit


Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.


Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.


This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.


A staggering number of western TV episodes and movies are available, entirely free, for viewing on your computer at HULU. You do have to sit through the commercials, but that seems like a small price to pay. The series available -- often several entire seasons to choose from -- include THE RIFLEMAN, THE CISCO KID, THE LONE RANGER, BAT MASTERSON, THE BIG VALLEY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and one I missed from 2003 called PEACEMAKERS starring Tom Berenger. Because they are linked up with the TV LAND website, you can also see BONANZA and GUNSMOKE episodes, but only the ones that are running on the network that week.

The features include a dozen Zane Grey adaptations, and many or most of the others are public domain features. To visit HULU on their western page, CLICK HERE.


Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They run a GUNSMOKE Monday through Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and on Friday they show two, from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. They're not currently running either series on weekends, but that could change at any time.


Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run DANIEL BOONE at 1:00 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.

Once again, I'm under the (six)gun, timewise, so I expect I'll have a few updates as the week progresses. Happy Martin Luther King Day!


Copyright January 2010 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved

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