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Memories from the Homestead: Old Tucson is back!

Today the Sons of the Pioneers and I are performing at one of our favorite movie/television filming locations, Old Tucson Studios, located just west of Tucson, Arizona. This property has a rich history, and we are thrilled to be performing the next three nights inside the Grand Palace Saloon. It's been a spell since we've been here; March 2018 was the most recent time we performed here.



     Old Tucson was constructed in 1939 by Columbia Pictures for the film "Arizona," which starred Jean Arthur and William Holden. It was here that a replica of the 1860s’ era Tucson was built. They constructed fifty buildings in forty days.  

 

     "Arizona" was based on a 1939 novel. The film was a refreshing Western saga. The authentic staging gave it a true time period feel. Both Arthur and Holden played their parts well. The film was nominated for two Oscars.

 

     A few years would go by and the property would be used in the filming of "The Bells of St. Mary's." This December 1945 film starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman is a sequel to "Going My Way." This musical/comedy deals with a priest who attempts to save a rundown Catholic school. "The Bells of St. Mary's" won Best Sound Recording at the 1946 Academy Awards.

 

     The late 1940s would be a busy time for the Old Tucson location as Gene Autry's feature, "The Last Round-Up" was produced here in 1947. This would be Autry's first Columbia Pictures film. Also featured in the release was Jean Heather and Ralph Morgan.

 

    Other films would follow over the next forty years. Today sixty buildings are located at the 20-acre studio.  I'm sure many of you have seen a number of the following, filmed here over the years, such as "Rio Bravo," "Joe Kidd," "Winchester '73," "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "Cannonball Run," "Three Amigos," and "Tombstone." Many of the great television Westerns were filmed here as well, the most remembered being "The High Chaparral."

 

     Over five hundred films and television shows have been produced here. My family and I stopped by here for the very first time in November 1994 when we were here for the 60th anniversary Sons of the Pioneers reunion concert event, which took place on the University of Arizona campus.

 

     In April 1995 a fire destroyed 25 of the buildings and their wardrobe department, resulting in just over $10 million in damages. The historic property reopened twenty months later in January 1997 with entirely new buildings, sets and wider streets. Movie and television filming continued. 

 

     A 2011 project took place to give the buildings a more authentic look, touching upon the era of 1865 to 1900. Twelve new buildings were constructed. Dressmaker shops were added as well as daily living history presentations. 

 

     In March 2018, the Sons of the Pioneers line-up of Tommy Nallie, Ken Lattimore, Dusty Rogers, myself, and Paul Elliott performed in front of sell-out crowds, four shows in two days, in front of just over 700 people. We had a blast and had a great time doing photo shoots around the property in between performances.

 

     The Covid pandemic caused the landmark property to close in September 2020, and Pima County took over the responsibilities of the studios. They soon invested over $1 million in upgrades, preparing the property for a new operator. 

 

     In April 2022, Pima County selected American Heritage Railways as the new operators of Old Tucson. It reopened to the public in October 2022. Their popular fall and Christmas themed events have returned and are very well attended.

 

     The Sons of the Pioneers and I are very excited to kick off Old Tucson's 2024 concert series as we celebrate our 90th anniversary and the release of our newest album, Campfire Spirituals. It's been a beautiful day out here; shortly we are going over to the saloon for load-in and soundcheck. We will be performing through Sunday. 

 

Happy trails, ya'll!

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