Woolsey Fire burned much of this historic movie ranch. Now, new buildings are going up.

Story by Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star. This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star.

Four new buildings are going up at a historic Santa Monica Mountains movie ranch, one of the local National Park Service sites damaged in the Woolsey Fire.

Peter Strauss Ranch after the Woolsey Fire. November 2019. National Park Service.

When the 2018 blaze reached Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, flames caught in a stand of willow trees before spreading into Western Town. Its rustic structures built for television and movie sets stood close together and without many of the fire-resistant standards required in most homes.

Only two survived the fire. A white chapel and mock train depot stood apart from the rest of the town.

But now, the ranch is making a comeback.

Framing on the new buildings started this month, said Jody Lyle, deputy superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. This time, things will be a little different.

Pieces of the Paramount era

For nearly 40 years, the National Park Service has managed close to 800 acres at the historic movie ranch, first owned by Paramount Pictures in the 1920s.

The backlot had been used for television shows from “The Cisco Kid” in the 1950s to “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” in the 1990s. More recently, the HBO series “Westworld” filmed there. Over the years, the site also hosted events from large festivals to small weddings.

Tucked beneath the more modern sets, remnants of the Paramount era had remained until the Woolsey Fire. The studio had built prop sheds and other structures that Lyle described as "very utilitarian," some with dirt floors. Over the years, they were covered up by other sets, she said.

The new buildings under construction – a pavilion, barn, small event center and restrooms – are going up within the footprint of those historic-era structures.

Construction to wrap up this year

The National Park Service has a $26 million contract with AMG & Associates, Inc., of Santa Clarita, to rebuild at Paramount Ranch and two buildings at Rocky Oaks in Malibu, which also burned in the fire. Construction is expected to wrap up by the end of the year.

At Paramount, the outside of the buildings will look like ones constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Lyle said. Inside, they will be event spaces, built to current codes for accessibility and fire safety.

They again will form a sort of backbone for sets. Temporary additions can be built or attached to the buildings and represent a variety of genres, not only a western town. In the past, some sets stuck around after filming ended, Lyle said. But park officials want to create a more dynamic place with sets changing as different film projects move in and out.

"What we want is to bring that creativity and activity of filmmaking back to Paramount Ranch," she said.

During construction, work areas will be closed to the public, but trail systems at Paramount Ranch remain open. Park-goers may access the Medea Creek bridge and follow the signs around the fenced-in construction area to get to the trails.

Cheri Carlson covers the environment and county government for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at cheri.carlson@vcstar.com or 805-437-0260.

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