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Valley Life | jaunts

Showplace for the Showdown

May 26, 2000|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bill Hertz migrated to the San Fernando Valley from New Jersey in 1946 with dreams of becoming a cowboy.

That never quite worked out, but he achieved what he considered the next best thing--running a western movie lot on what is known today as Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Hertz's son, Robert Hertz, a dental surgeon and docent at Malibu Creek State Park, will talk about how his childhood stomping grounds became a site for filming western movies and TV shows, in an outdoor slide presentation Saturday evening at the park.

His father made enough money in the metal recycling business during World War II to retire. He initially bought a small ranch in the Valley on Rhodes Avenue near unpaved Victory Boulevard. In 1952, he acquired the 326 acres in Agoura from a private party that had owned it since Paramount was forced to sell during financial troubles after the war.

The family turned it into a dude ranch and made it available to movie and TV producers. Later, Hertz acquired a ranch in Topanga to fix up in the same manner.

"The family rode for pleasure in those days, down Whitsett and along the Los Angeles River by Republic [now CBS] Studio, where there was just quicksand and cattails growing, all the way to Griffith Park," Hertz said.

Hertz said his father needed some income because of property taxes on the land in Agoura and thought, "Why not a dude ranch?"

"He brought in some 2-by-12 lumber and phone poles to build some western street facades," Hertz said. "We have a picture from the '50s of Bill Hertz with cigar in hand directing the building at the ranch."

The family never actually lived at the movie ranch, but it occasionally overnighted in the bunkhouse that Paramount erected in the 1920s.

"The original sets had been demolished," Hertz said. "But there was this oil derrick, and when we asked [the previous owners] why it was abandoned, they said, 'We drilled 212 feet down and all we found was water.' "

The Hertzes built a 50,000-gallon water storage tank and started irrigating to grow grass for grazing. It became a popular site among TV producers.

"They used to film two episodes of 'Cisco Kid' at the same time," Hertz recalled. "And Richard Boone shot episodes of 'Have Gun, Will Travel.' "

While in dental school, Hertz used his childhood experience as a horseman to appear in some riding scenes. "I was mostly with the good guys--in a white hat--doing the chasing of the guys in the black hats," he said.

Bordering the Hertz property in Agoura from 1952-56 was a ranch owned by actor Ronald Reagan. At the time, the future president was hunt master of the West Hills Hunt Club.

"They used to dress in red and have the scent of the fox dragged across our property for their hunts," Hertz said.

To handle the growing needs of the TV industry, Bill Hertz bought a movie ranch in Topanga where David Niven, Ida Lupino and Howard Duff produced programs until the place burned down in the mid-1950s.

The family sold the Agoura property to a private group in 1956, and it was turned over to the National Park Service in 1981 to prevent its development into a 150-unit subdivision.

BE THERE

"From Dream to Reality," a slide program on the history of Paramount Ranch, Saturday at 8:15 p.m. at Malibu Creek State Park. Enter on Las Virgenes Road, a quarter-mile south of Mulholland Highway. Free admission; parking $5. Call (818) 880-0363.

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