Mountain in the Middle of L.A.: Paramount Studios’ Western Street and Its Fake Mountain
Once there was a mountain in the middle of Los Angeles. And no, we’re not talking about Disneyland’s Matterhorn, which isn’t in L.A. anyway.
Most movie studios, in their backlots or in movie ranches in the San Fernando Valley or in environs close to L.A., had a Western town. It was simply part of the time. Starting with The Squaw Man in 1913 (or The Great Train Robbery, 1903, considered the first Western film), all the way up to the late 1960s, Hollywood pumped out likely thousands of Western full-length features, shorts, and serials. The viewing public could not get enough.
Then the Sixties happened. When it happened, the classic Western fell quickly, deeply out of favor. Westerns were seen as racist, imperialistic, colonialist, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, albeist, sexist, homophobic. The only cure, supposedly, was the anti-Western, with such grotesqueries as Little Big Man.
This is the background behind Paramount Studios pulling up stakes on its Western street in 1979. It was time. The old days were over.
Western Street’s Mountain Backdrop
One victim of Paramount’s Western town pull-out was the scaled down mountain backdrop behind Paramount’s Western town. Steven Bingen, in his excellent Paramount: City of Dreams, tells us that this mountain went up in 1955 and was constructed of chicken wire and plaster.
He goes on to say that initially a painted backdrop of a cloudy blue sky was erected behind the mountain, “similar to the B-tank backdrop,” but this proved unnecessary because of Los Angeles’ already cloudy blue skies. Currently, B-tank is a massive 914,023 water tank with a backing that measures 175’6″ wide by 61′ high.
Accounts that I have read from people who worked at Paramount in the 1970s say that, by the late Seventies, the mountain was already looking decrepit, before it was finally torn down.
This is a tight close-up of the backside of the mountain in 1960. Due to the angle of the shot, the mountain’s size is almost impossible to detect. The first image in this article, the one with all of the movie making equipment laid out, was taken around the upper-right side of the photo, pointing leftward. That was one of the favored angles for many TV shows and movies to come.
In the Mission Impossible TV series, S3/E12 (“The Exchange”), for the 1968-1969 season, you can see the back of the mountain. Most likely, they are on what was then called Park Avenue and is now called Avenue E. This is at the base of the iconic Paramount water tower. The edge of the mountain can be seen in the upper-left of the next two images:
The last photo of Paramount Mountain, 1976, roughly the same angle as the 1960 image.