Singing cowboy legend Gene Autry on Friday sold the last 10 acres of his Melody Ranch movie set in Santa Clarita--scene of countless shoot-outs in which the bad guys lost to Western stars from John Wayne and Randolph Scott to Roy Rogers and Gary Cooper--to a film production company that has promised to restore and preserve it.
Real estate agent Steve Weston, who handled the sale, said the ranch sold for $975,000, the asking price.
Over more than four decades as a Monogram Studios lot and under Autry, it appeared in TV series such as "Gunsmoke," Saturday afternoon serials for the kiddie market, and classic films such as "High Noon."
Autry kept it for some years as a home for his horse, Champion, and decided to sell when the horse died this year and was buried there.
"I wanted to find a buyer who would preserve it," Weston said. "There's a lot of history there." He said the company that bought the property asked not to be identified until escrow closes in 30 days.
Autry, now 83 and owner of the California Angels baseball team and KMPC radio, could not be reached for comment.
His secretary said he has been recuperating at his Studio City house from eye surgery.
But Weston said Autry and his wife, Jackie, are pleased that the ranch will be preserved as a movie location.
Santa Clarita officials said they are happy that the few Western sets and buildings that remain on the ranch in the Placerita Canyon area will not be bulldozed and replaced by houses.
"I would have hated to have seen a housing development called something like Melody Acres or Autry Acres there," said Jerry Reynolds of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
"There aren't many of the old movie towns around anymore. I doubt if there will ever be any more singing cowboys."
Autry made the first of his 93 feature films on what was then a 110-acre ranch in the 1930s when it belonged to Monogram Studios.
He bought the property in 1952 after Monogram folded and renamed the site--then called Rancho Placerito--Melody Ranch after a ranch he supposedly lived on in his films and radio show.
The cowboy star installed a miniature railroad to crisscross the many Western sets and buildings already on the property and continued to make his movies there. Among them were "Rancho Grande," "Melody Ranch," "Apache Country" and "On Top of Old Smokey," which also produced a million-selling record for Autry.
Other cowboy stars also made films at Melody Ranch--Rogers, Cooper, Wayne, William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy and Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger.
Most, like Autry, played modest and virtuous good guys who wore white hats, fought for law and order and almost never kissed the heroine.
"The movies 'High Noon' and 'Stagecoach' were made there," Reynolds said. "Almost any old Western movie you might rent was filmed here."
Many early television series, including Autry's and "Gunsmoke," also were filmed at Melody Ranch.
"Joel McCrea made pictures out there, and Randolph Scott used it--John Wayne, and I guess just about everybody else sooner or later," Autry said in a 1988 interview.
He said at that time that he had been about to open the ranch to the public in 1962 when a spectacular fire swept through the canyon and destroyed $1 million worth of movie sets, including 54 buildings and movie streets, along with countless items from Autry's collection of Western artifacts.
Original stagecoaches, antique guns, Indian relics, Autry's film wardrobe and 17,500 recordings were destroyed in the blaze.
What memorabilia was saved has been moved to the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Griffith Park.
The fire ended Autry's dream of turning Melody Ranch into a tourist attraction and his interest in it waned. Over the years, he sold off all but the last 10 acres to developers.
Weston said that Autry kept the last bit of the property for Champion III, the third of his movie horses. After the horse died earlier this year at age 42, the Autrys decided to put the ranch up for sale. Champion III was buried on the grounds.
What remains of the ranch is not situated in the wide, open spaces of its heyday. It lies in a neighborhood of upscale homes, some in the $1-million range. A visitor standing in the horseshoe-shaped arch that frames the ranch's entrance looks directly into a neighbor's front yard.