Friday, February 14, 2020

On Location: The Walker Cabin in “Call of the Desert”

After Tom Tyler wrapped up his final silent film for FBO in 1929, he sought work with another studio, J. P.  McGowan Productions. Luckily for Tom, he signed a new contract for eight silent films to be distributed by Syndicate Pictures. The filming location for these eight silent films was at Santa Clarita, California. One of the most notable buildings in Santa Clarita that appears in these silent films is the Walker Cabin. Located on the Walker Ranch in Placerita Canyon, the cabin became a popular filming location for many western films from 1930 to the 1940’s.

Tom Tyler and Bobby Dunn standing in front of the Walker Cabin
In the 1930 silent film “Call of the Desert”, the Walker Cabin is where Tom is carried by Hardrock (Bobby Dunn) and Nate (Cliff Lyons) into Jean Walker's (Sheila Le Gay) ranch home where she lives with her uncle Tod (Bud Osborne), to nurse him back to health. Not coincidentally, the character names who reside at the Walker Ranch bear the Walker name, to give the story a feel of authenticity. With the spacious living room and set of books on the large square table, the bedroom where Tom quietly recovers from being struck ill while out on the desert trying to make his way to the spot in Placerita Canyon where his father left the gold claim for his son, the Walker Cabin is a vision of comfort and friendliness, the way a ranch home would be to a needy stranger, Rex Carson (Tom Tyler). The town center which has its gold claim recorder and other local offices, along with a horse rental business, is comprised of other cabins on the Walker Ranch.

The Walker Ranch was established by Frank Evans Walker, who was the region’s first homesteader. He built the family cabin in 1909 so that it could be surrounded by the oak trees, near a seasonal stream lined with idyllic willow and sycamore trees. It was not long before their ranch grew to include more cabins, primarily to house local gold panners. It should be mentioned that it was at this location where the first gold in California was discovered. This camp included picnic tables, stoves, barbecues, and full housekeeping amenities for those who decided to stay for extended periods, searching for gold. Sadly, the first Walker cabin burned down in 1918, but Frank built a new one which became the filming location for “Call of the Desert” and “Canyon of Missing Men”.  Upon taking into consideration the westerns made during Hollywood’s early years, Frank Walker rented out his ranch to filmmakers, which brought in income to help feed his family of twelve children and keep the mining camp in operation until the 1950’s. Many a famous western actor set foot upon the Walker Ranch for filming: William S. Hart, who was also a neighbor of Frank Walker; Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, John Wayne, Bob Steele, and many others. The earliest silent film shot at Walker Ranch was in 1928 – meaning that Tom Tyler was among the first silent film actors to set foot on the famous property. In 1950, Placerita Canyon State Park was established, its ownership being under Los Angeles County.

While the multiple cabins on the Walker Ranch no longer exist, the good news is, the existing Walker Cabin has been restored so that visitors to the park might see what it looked like during Hollywood’s western silent film days.