December 13, 2015

Old West lives on at Pioneertown

What started as an Old West movie set built in the 1940s, Pioneertown still lives on as a getaway that recalls those days. (Photo by Trevor Summons)

By Trevor Summons
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

One of the few places that never seems to change is the small Western town of Pioneertown, or Pi’ Town as many of the locals call it.

A walk down Mane Street — only hoof and foot traffic allowed — is always interesting. If the original builders of the town were to come back they would feel right at home.

Some of these builders were the stars of the old Western movies, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. They decided to convert the sets of their films into overnight dwellings and then they put in a small 18-room motel where they could stay after a day’s shooting out in the hot sun.

The six-lane bowling barn is still there, but it’s not functioning at the moment. It’s been up for sale a few times but it’s hard to find many takers; it’s difficult to make money from occasional bowlers.

It’s a shame as the bowling alley is an original — Roy Rogers bowled the first ball back in 1947 and it was a strike (of course!) A decade later school boys and girls were replaced with automatic pin setters, but then gradually business fell off.

At the end of Mane Street, sits Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, which is a thriving bar and restaurant business with regular concerts on the weekends. Its outside walls were some of the original sets used in those early films.

Today, during the daytime, you will find lots of horse trailers unloaded as today’s modern cowboys trail their mounts over the impressive terrain. It was this scenery that attracted Rogers and Autry to film so many movies and early TV series here.

Often at night they would gather in the motel, at the rear of Pappy and Harriet’s, play cards and carouse around. Room No. 9 became known as Club Nine for the fun they had there.

Last time I was there, I met up with John Jeffries who with his partner, Gary Suppes, makes saddles and other leather goods. As I walked along in the center of town he was there again. It was good to see him.

He is one of about 400 who make up the permanent population of the town. Of course that is not just Mane Street, but several blocks on either side.

“We’ve had a very good summer,” he said. “Lots of buses with foreign tourists from all over the world.”

It was a Thursday in late October when I was there, and it was pretty quiet at that time.

“At the weekend, things begin to build up,” Jeffries continued.

They do a lot of weddings, he told me.

“We offer a particular service,” he said. “For a $50 fee, we’ll try and talk ’em out of it!” he laughed into his grizzled beard. “We haven’t had any takers yet. But it might save them a lot of money later on.”

I can never quite work out exactly how many people live on the main street there, as there are a number of places with obvious signs of habitation. Perhaps there is a resident of the shop that sells Soap and Goats, but I never saw anyone about, not even a goat.

Pioneertown is a fun place to visit, and if you want to stay over like the old movie stars, then go online to the motel and see if they’ve got room. Prices vary from $110 to $210 per night. And if you’re thinking of getting hitched, then maybe a visit to the saddle maker might be an idea first.