2006-06-09 / Neighbors
Will Corriganville ever be restored to its past glory?
His visions include a '50sstyle drive-in movie theater that would show the hundreds of old Westerns filmed in Simi Valley, and covered-wagon transports to shuttle visitors between the historic Santa Susana Train Depot and Corriganville, the oncefamous Hollywood movie ranch that played home to such stars as John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
But more than anything, Meredith, who sits on the board of the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, would like to see Silvertown-Corriganville's original Old West movie set- at least in part rebuilt to its original glory.
"It's become my own 'Field of Dreams,'" said Meredith, referring to the famous Kevin Costner film. "I think if we get together and build this thing, people will come."
Due to years of seasonal brushfires, all that remains of the old set are a few fractured concrete slabs that made up the foundation of what were the blacksmith's shop, the sheriff's office and the horse stable. Many of the trails that film crews used to get in and out of the park are overgrown with weeds and shrubbery.
Meredith and others like him see rebuilding Corriganville as an opportunity to honor Simi's past. They also see it as a way to attract tourism, one of the goal's set forth recently by the Simi Valley City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, which just this year formed the Simi Valley Tourism Board.
"What I want to do is rebuild Silvertown, and not just as a set. I'd like to put in a good restaurant, an Old Western photography place and other shops," Meredith said. "That would put a lot of young people to work and it would help restore the park's history."
A longtime member of the now-defunct Corriganville Preservation Committee, Meredith likes to remind all those who will listen that Corriganville Movie Ranch in the late 1950s once boasted greater attendance figures than both Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. But he feels that many of Simi Valley's younger residents have grown up without knowing they have a piece of Hollywood history right in their own backyard.
"I'm sure there are many people who don't even know where it's at," Meredith said. "It's history was so prominent and great and to see it as it is now, which isn't bad, I would just want to bring it back to its former grandeur."
An estimated 22,000 visitors per weekend came during Corriganville's golden years to see the set of countless Westerns, including "Fort Apache," "Wyoming Outlaw," "Vendetta" and "The Gun That Won the West."
"Those were our action films," said Gregg Anderson, local Corriganville historian. "To a young boy growing up in that day and age, Westerns were the biggest thing on television. . . . Today, we have reality TV, then it was Westerns."
Anderson, 58, is another former member of the Corriganville Preservation Committee who would like to see the park developed-only not to the extent that Meredith would.
"If we built a couple buildings there, it would start to take on the Western persona it once had," Anderson said. "Then people could at least be re
minded of its history. . . . It's never going to be the way it once was; there's just not the parking."
Anderson also suggested that a better-kept Corriganville Park would make a great culmination point for the Simi Valley Days parade.
"I think it makes a lot of sense. They could have pony rides, stunt shows, Old West reenactments," said Anderson, who still gives guided tours of the park that include detailed descriptions of what famous movies were shot where.
Despite the visions of Meredith and Anderson, however, the likelihood of such development seems to be riding off into the Simi sunset.
In addition to opposition from homeowners who live on Smith Road near Corriganville Park, there are simply not enough funds available for such a project, said Colleen Janssen, marking and community outreach specialist for the park district.
"To do something like that (would take) millions of dollars, and the rules for doing things are different than what they used to be," Janssen said. "Nowadays there are permits, regulations, safety codes . . . that are all very necessary for any project. It ends up costing a whole lot more money. It's not like somebody could go in with a couple thousand dollars and build the town again."
Right now, Janssen said, the park district's primary objective is to protect Corriganville's remaining 205 acres of natural beauty from any other kind of development. Many Simi Valley residents use the scenic park for outdoor recreation such as hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Family picnics are also popular.
"Right now there's no money and no plan, so we just want to protect it until the future until they can decide what they want to do with it," Janssen said. "A lot of people enjoy the park as it is now."
It's clear what Anderson and Meredith believe that future should be.
"If it's going to be anything, it needs to be a Western-themed park," said Anderson, who added that the objections of a few neighbors shouldn't rob the rest of Simi Valley from enjoying Corriganville's glamorous past.
"Corriganville belongs to all the residents of Simi Valley, not just to the families that live on Smith Road," Anderson said.
Despite his passion for the former movie ranch, Meredith is willing to accept that it might take a Hollywood-size miracle to see his visions realized.
"It's going to take some benefactor to say I'm interested in doing something here," he said. "I can talk all I want, but for me, it's just a dream."