Old Tucson was originally built in 1939 by Columbia Pictures for Arizona. Many of the original adobe structures are still standing. However, it was a great loss to movie lovers everywhere when on April 24, 1995, a fire destroyed many of the buildings. We are lucky that some of the ones used in the 4 pictures John Wayne made in Old Tucson survived.
Up until 1958, the brick houses had taken on the appearance of a deserted ghost town. By that time, Old Tucson was still mostly what Columbia had built 20 years before. In that year, Howard Hawks (seen here with Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson) decided to add more structures to what is now the upper part of Old Tucson, a classic western street, with the Sheriff's office facing the street. Hawks had the new main street constructed in four blocks, therefore forever enlarging the pre-existing pueblo structures. He formed the town of Rio Bravo.
Still standing today: the shack from which John T. Chance and his troupe fight the Burdettes. It is actually...
...the same shack in which the Rio Lobo baddies fight Cord McNally...
...so in this one, Wayne walks towards the door - not out the door, as John T. Chance did in Rio Bravo. The Rio Lobo Cantina, seen here in the background, was one of the highlights of every visit to Old Tucson up until it got lost in the big fire.
That's the view that the bad guys enjoyed when they shot it out with McNally.
Right after Hawks wrapped Rio Bravo and had left Pima County, entrepreneur Robert Shelton leased the aging facility. He re-opened the movie town as a theme park. Wayne returned in 1963 for McLintock, again adding to Old Tucson, telling Shelton, "I wanna paint your town." Batjac spent $74,000 to build thirteen new structures and change the main street once more. Wayne’s investment helped attract other productions. This screenshot shows Wayne with son Patrick in front of the hotel which was, back in Rio Bravo, the "Alamo Hotel" - it is gone.
Still there: the structure where McLintock spoke out for the Indians.
When the director/star team of Hawks and Wayne returned to Old Tucson for El Dorado, from October 8 to November 22, 1965, the eighty-four buildings then making up the movie town underwent only slight alteration. They erected the Sheriff’s Office in the same place as the Rio Bravo jailhouse.
Also still existent of the precious few buildings that survived the blaze is “Swede’s” gunsmith shop from El Dorado...
... in which Thornton buys a shotgun for Mississippi - not a studio sequence but shot on location.
The cactus-studded Avra Valley in Pima County was chosen for the long dolly shots of Thornton and Mississippi philosophizing over an Edgar Allen Poe poem. More outdoor scenes followed near the Sonoita Creek on the Oak Bar Ranch, located between Nogales and Patagonia. When Thornton, suddenly paralyzed, rolls into the creek, he lands in the present Patagonia Lake State Park.
Pictured here is the little wooden bridge that combines the upper part of town with with the old adobe buildings from of the original Arizona. This is where Dude stands watch in Rio Bravo. Cole Thornton crosses that same bridge in El Dorado twice - supposedly in two different towns.
Remnants of the original adobe brick walls. They provided cover for John T. Chance and were seen when Thornton came to see Bart Jason. They also provided the background for the last scenes in Rio Lobo, Hawks' final movie, shot from March 16 till mid June, 1970.
The 1995 fire ravaged the old mission in Mexican Plaza – in El Dorado, the bandits were hiding in the churchtower. This new church stands in its exact place now.
Also a proud survivor: one of the cannons made for The Alamo that Wayne had sent up to Old Tucson where they were displayed for years.
Old Tucson eventually recovered and rebuild. Even the old Reno locomotive, used in different Wayne westerns, that had melted in the fire has since been restored and brought back. Today, the theme park west of Tucson, Arizona, close to the western portion of Saguaro National Park, is going strong and attracting movie companies.
The cast members were usually housed in motels along the Miracle Mile in Tucson. The stars found a quiet retreat named Lodge on the Desert at 306 N Alvernon Way. It boasts that Wayne was one of the high profile guests. During El Dorado, Hawks and Wayne stayed downtown at the Ramada Inn (spring training headquarters for the Cleveland Indians). At Rio Lobo time, Wayne would stay at a hotel which is now recognized as a premier historic resort: the Hacienda Del Sol. The Spanish Colonial style guest ranch, pictured here, is included in the National Registry of Historic Places in Arizona and is a member of the Historic Hotels in America. The place was the secret hideaway for Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. It is therefore quite fittingly that the hotel at 5501 N. Hacienda del Sol Road advertises “lots of privacy”.
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All pictures posted on this website are from the collection of the author, unless otherwise noted