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Building the Town


Agoura Hills | Building the Town | Designers | Malibu Creek | P-Ranch | Maps

P-Ranch Accommodations | P-Ranch Directions | Shooting the Episodes


By Wolf Schneider
1996

The show's Western town set at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, Calif., was originally constructed in 1927. In remodeling the saloon, telegraph office, jail, general store and rooming house that would become Michaela's clinic, "We mainly went for the rough-board look," says original production designer Al Heshong("Gunsmoke"), who did the pilot.

Built was a country church with raised steps and a few windows on each side, a barber shop, a blacksmith area and a log cabin which was the first homestead. Sepia tones predominated.

Production designer Diamond has helped the town mature. He brought in a narrow-gauge, fuel-oil steam locomotive railroad train, laid a few hundred feet of track, built a train station and moved the telegraph office there. He even enlarged the sheriff's office to include a cell that's been getting more action as the town becomes more dangerous with the arrival of an onslaught of outsiders.

Diamond also oversaw construction of a little red single-room schoolhouse, an enlarged two-story log cabin for the new homestead; and this season, added a bank building with a brick facade. "It's more like Eastern architecture. neo-classical, very stylized," describes Diamond. "The town is now moving from this very crude fashion of rough timber, rough woods."

On a sadder note, the Cheyenne tribal camp, which had teepees marked with tribal colors and individualized with animal skins when the show began in 1867, has now been replaced with an Army controlled reservation where the survivors of several tribes are forced to co-exist in plain canvas teepees. "There were no markings allowed ' None of the crafts were really evident," says Diamond.

Relying on books and historical photographs, Diamond has used rough pine and cedar wood for most of his construction, darkening the wood with burnt umber, sienna and redwood stains. Phania tape dresses up the windows in the church and saloon, adding pattern and color. "It's a poor man's form of stained glass," he explains. A possible Western Victorian hotel is in the planning stages.

Props come from swap meets, catalogs and authentic replica companies, as well as individual craftsmen, like the guy in Kentucky who just sent the show some handmade brooms.

A book of patents from the U.S. Patent Office comes in handy for verifying what inventions existed at the time - like an icebox that figured into a story about con men. "People don't realize today that they had quite a bit back then. The thing is that the frontier towns, being at the end of the line so to speak, often didn't have a lot of those things only because they didn't quite have a way of getting to them easily." says Diamond.

Nature still plays its role in determining the look of the town, even as it did a hundred years ago. Rains cause mud every winter, and as darkness obscures the store-fronts each night. Kerosene lanterns offer the only source of light. Not for long, perhaps. Diamond points out, "A lot of these towns, even the Western ones, had street lights. Granted, they were very crude and they were nothing more than just a form of coal oil lamps hung independently off the building." Through it all, Diamond has to continually plan the future, because change comes everywhere, even to Colorado Springs.

Copyright © 1992-2004 CBS Entertainment Productions and The Sullivan Company