Grand Palace Hotel
Our first visit took place in 1993, two years before the devastating fire that destroyed 40% of Old Tucson, taking with it 25 buildings and a great deal of movie memorabilia. The cause of the fire has never been identified. New buildings were put up in place of those that had been lost and Old Tucson reopened in 1997. This picture taken in 2008 shows one of the replacement buildings, the Grand Palace Hotel.
Gunfight outside the Mission
As a former set for Wild West movies, Old Tucson has seen plenty of make believe action in its time and it still specialises in putting on Wild West shows. Here in 1993 a stunt team recreates a gun fight at the mission. Needless to say, the place where the guy falling off the mission landed was screened from view! The Mission shown in this picture was a complete building with its interior fitted out as a mission church. It was destroyed in the 1995 fire and the replacement is only a facade used solely for staging stunt shows. Click Tab 2 to see the Mission facade in 2008.
An old west movie set has to have a station and a steam train, and in 1993 Old Tucson’s looked pretty good. The steam locomotive ‘Reno’ was built in 1872 for Nevada’s Virginia & Truckee Railroad. In the 1930’s when the V&T and went into decline, ‘Reno’ was bought as a working movie prop. The train was badly damaged in the 1995 Old Tucson fire. ‘Reno’ has since been cosmetically restored, but is no longer functional. If you want to see a working train there is a little one that takes tourists on a circular tour round the site. Click Tab 2 to see the ‘Reno’ in January 2008.
While the biggest attractions in Arizona are natural and historic wonders, there are also some modern man-made attractions. Old Tucson is not a rebuilt ghost town; it calls itself an Old West Theme Park and movie location. In 1939 Columbia Pictures built a replica of 1860’s Tucson just outside the modern city for filming the movie ‘Arizona’. When filming finished the replica of over 50 buildings was abandoned until the end of World War II, when it became the set for a succession of movies. From 1960 was also open to the public as a tourist attraction. After a major fire in 1995 Old Tucson was rebuilt but since the fire all major filming has been done at a sister site in Mescal and Old Tucson has become just a tourist attraction.
Main street of Old Tucson
Walking down the main street of Old Tucson when it is not crowded with tourists it is easy to image that you are back in the Wild West. The buildings aren’t just facades so the magic isn’t destroyed if you look more closely. It is only when you go inside and find modern tourist shops and restaurants that the Wild West image begins to crumble. Westerns filmed here include ‘Rio Bravo’, ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’ and ‘Tombstone’. The set also has an extensive television pedigree with ‘High Chaparral’ based here and it was also used for episodes of ‘Little House on the Prarie’ and ‘Bonanza’. This picture shows the main street before the 1995 fire.
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And finally, a picture that spans our two visits to Old Tucson. The Homestead Cabin sits slightly apart from the other Old Tucson buildings and hence was spared when the fire struck. So, is this the old Tucson of 1993 or 2008? The answer lies in the weather.
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