Historic Pioneertown California
Character actor Dick Curtis lent an old lady $25, and when she was unable to return the money, she gave Curtis a deed to a small plot of California sand north of Los Angeles. After a while, Curtis sold the lot for a $150. He took the money to a Southern Pacific Railroad land agent and said, “Put this in some more sand for me.” The original investment of $25 grew until the actor awoke one day to the fact that he owned a considerable amount of property out in the desert. Curtis had never seen the land he owned but assumed it to be nothing more than a large parcel of worthless sand. When Curtis decided to take a look at the land he had purchased, he discovered that it could only be reached on horseback. Curtis rode up the dusty old cattle trail from Yucca Valley. When he reached a plateau of softly swaying bunchgrass nestled at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains, Curtis said “This is the place,” to his horse. This is the legend, If it is 100% true, we will never know. Dick Curtis passed away in 1952 from Cancer.
WHAT WE KNOW AS FACT
Dick Curtis visited the area that would become Pioneertown and was convinced that a movie ranch as well as homes, resorts, and dude ranches would be ideal and would become a money maker. Curtis, along with 17 investors, including Roy Rogers, the Sons of the Pioneers, Russell Hayden, Frank McDonald, Tommy Carr, Terry Frost, and Bud Abbott, in 1946, each invested $500. A corporation was established with offices in Studio City. The company purchased 32,000 acres, the entire valley where the town now sits in.
Originally planned on being called “Rogersville,” the town that was established was named “Pioneertown,” in honor of Roy Rogers singing group, the Sons of the Pioneers. To help promote interest in the area, Tim Spenser wrote the song “Out in Pioneertown” which was recorded by Milton Estes & the Musical Millers and the Sons of the Pioneers in 1947. A full-page ad run in the San Bernardino County Sun on March 25, 1947, invited people to join Dale Evans, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers as Pioneertown landowners.
Resembling an 1880’s western town, Mane Street began with several businesses established in fully functional buildings, not just facades. These businesses included the Golden Stallion Restaurant, Townhouse Motel, Nell’s Ice Cream Palace, The Red Dog Saloon, White’s Grocery, The Golden Nugget Coffee Shop, Maggie’s Feed Barn, Klip ‘N’ Kurl Beauty Shop, Trigger Bill’s Shooting Gallery, among others. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s Pioneertown was an entirely self-contained town.
Unfortunately, the development of the land around the town had one major problem; there is an inadequate supply of water in the area. It appeared that the venture was going to collapse when a movie producer who was producing the Cisco Kid series for United Artists visited the area. Philip N. Krasne liked what he saw and signed a 25-year lease and brought his production company to Pioneertown for filming.
Many of the Gene Autry Flying A television productions shot at the site, including “Range Rider,” “Annie Oakley,” “Buffalo Bill Jr.”, and “The Gene Autry Show.” Other television shows that filmed in the area were “Cisco Kid” and “Judge Roy Bean.”
In the mid-1960’s The Golden Empire had a grand plan to develop Pioneertown and Rimrock with an entertainment and shopping center, a lake, a golf course, and an airport. It never happened. Again, the lack of safe water put an end to the Golden Empire. But part of the plan was to make a road to Big Bear safe for automobiles, This led to Burro Races and The Pioneer Pass Golf Challenge as ways to promote getting the road completed.
Pioneertown did, however, become a community. The residents of this succluded little town are like-minded people who love the beauty of nature, the night skies, the sound of silence and the feeling of a small town.
The history of Pioneertown is almost as incredible as the beauty of this Mountain-Desert area itself.