Sunday, October 11, 2009

Movies in the Santa Clarita Valley, Part 6: Hill of the Winds: The William Hart House

This installment will cover the basics of William S. Hart and his house, La Loma de Los Vientos, (Hill of the Winds) which is located in Newhall, California. Also known as Horseshoe Ranch, it is now maintained by the County of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation District.

William Surrey Hart (1864-1946) was one of the great silent film stars and according to some, was the biggest film star of his day. He certainly was one of the biggest Western stars. Interestingly enough, he didn't act in his first movie until he was 48. For the 25 years before that, he was on the stage.

Hart moved out to Los Angeles in 1914 and began filming Westerns with Tom Ince, his friend at the time and the head of the New York Motion Picture Company. For many months, Hart was fiercely loyal to Ince, even though he was only being paid $125 a week. Later, when Hart and Ince ended their relationship, Hart moved over to Artcraft in 1917 and made 16 pictures with them. For each picture he was guaranteed $150,000 plus a percentage of the profits. In 1919 his salary was increased to $250,000 per picture and also 75% of the gross. No, that is not a typo.

So between 1914 and 1925, Hart made an astounding 76 films. He also directed 53 films, produced 18, and wrote 11 scripts. No wonder he retired in 1925. By this time, anyway, he was 60 years old and fabulously rich. And during that time, in 1921, he also married Winifred Westover, but the marriage lasted less than one year. One son, William Hart Jr. was born.

Hart filmed his last film, Tumbleweeds on the Horseshoe property, now the location of his home, in 1925. After the film was finished, Hart purchased the property. Los Angeles architect Arthur Kelly designed Hart's home, a lovely Spanish style home atop a hill overlooking the valley. Hart christened the home La Loma de los Vientos (Hill of the Winds) and moved into it in 1927.

Hart died in 1946. Upon his death, the property was bequeathed to the County of Los Angeles, the stipulation being that people be able to visit the property free of charge. When he had announced that the property would go to the public, Hart said, "While I was making pictures, the people gave me their nickels, dimes, and quarters. When I am gone, I want them to have my home."

The home is called La Loma de los Vientos (Hill of the Winds) but the home and land combined are still called Horseshoe Ranch. It now consists of 256 acres and includes a park at the bottom of the hill, a gift shop, a petting zoo, a herd of bison (that did not arrive until 1962, a gift from the Disney Studios up the street) and various other structures, including a dog graveyard where his beloved Mack the bulldog is buried. His favorite horse, a small pinto named Fritz who was almost as famous as Hart himself, is also buried on the property.

The Hart property is an institution in the Santa Clarita Valley, but from what I gather, many people who live in the Valley have never visited it. I guess it's one of those things common to many places: if you live there, you just end up taking these places for granted.

The house sits on top of a very steep hill. You park at the bottom and put on your walking shoes and walk up a long dirt path to the home. It's a pretty walk but it's not a leisurely hike for many. We had to stop more than a few times to catch our breath. But that's ok - you can stop and enjoy the view.

We stopped and said hello to the bison herd (rather, we yelled a hello, as they were at the bottom of the hill near the water troughs). I've seen them a little closer on previous visits, so it was disappointing that they weren't closer so I could get some good pics. But bison will be bison.

When you get to the top of the hill, you're greeted by the magnificent house with a turquoise door with a sign that tells you that there are tours of the home on the half hour. We didn't have to wait long.

There were only four of us on the tour - I'm telling you, nobody knows about this place. And with a tour guide, we felt very special.

The first room we're taken into is the dining room which hosts a large portrait of Hart and Fritz.

We're then taken through the kitchen and then taken back into the foyer, which is the centerpiece of the house.

It truly is a spectacular way to be greeted when you walk into the house. The spiral staircase is decorated with artwork that was originally used in the novels that Hart wrote after he retired. The stairs, and the landing above the stairs, are one solid piece of concrete.

Upstairs is what could be called the great room, with all of Hart's belongings. (The entire house with his belongings, down to his boots and his books, are still in the house).

There are fifteen Charles Russells scattered throughout the house.

This watercolor, of Hart and Fritz, is used on the cover of Hart's autogiography, My Life East and West.

I've spoken before of Hart's devotion to his animals, especially his dogs. Apparently he was a big fan of Great Danes, especially harlequin Great Danes, and owned several during his lifetime. They even ended up with their own bedroom, shown here. (The black and white cutouts were added by the tour later, to show youngsters on the tour how big these dogs are). Hart even had custom beds made for his dogs. That's a paper mache model of Mack on the left.

From what I understand, all of these dogs are now resting in peace along with Mack in the boneyard, er, I mean the graveyard.

We were also shown some of smaller rooms with the various oddities, like the phone room. The kitchen had the marvelous stove that every antique lover would kill for now. And I was delighted to see a couple of movie magazines framed in one of the rooms.

All in all, I loved the place. Just being on top of the hill, with the wind blowing through the trees, I could totally understand why Hart chose this location for the house where he could enjoy the final years of his life - in style and comfort.

Hart had another home in West Hollywood. It is now the official home of The Actors Studio West.

For more information on the William S. Hart house, go here.


Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Wonderful tour and comments, Laurie. I'll try to get there when I visit the area next year. Thanks.

Ann Parker said...

I almost feel like I was on the tour with you... :-) Great photos and description. Thanks, Laurie!

Lana Gramlich said...

Wow...all so amazing! Thanks for sharing your experiences!


Isn't that house wonderful - nice pic of you too, laurie

Laurie Powers said...

Thanks all. It's nice that they allow you to take photographs, even if it's without flash. A lot of places won't even allow cameras.

Konrad said...

Looks like you missed us. The historical Society is in the park as well, but we are somewhat hidden. on the south side of the park. Ah well maybe next time.

I must say you did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the house, I have been there many times, and absolutely love it.

On a decidedly different note. You should come by this Saturday, the 17th as Zombies invade Newhall, with an attempt to break the world record for number of Zombies dancing to Michael Jacksons Thriller.

This even is to kick off the historical Societies Annual Haunt, this year them, the Nightmares of Newhall.

where else can you go to be scared, in buildings that are purported to be Actually Haunted.

Check us out at

Laurie Powers said...

That sounds like a lot of fun, Konrad. Unfortunately I have plans for the weekend. I think LA Live is doing the same kind of thing on the 24th.

None said...

Hart's horse Fritz was actually a pinto. Hart collected old west guns and many were stolen in a break-in many years ago. Hart asked the artist Charles M. Russell's widow to marry him. She declined, but he kept a photo of her next to his bed.-Sage

None said...

Russell painted the watercolor of Hart on a sorrel horse before Hart owned the famous pinto Fritz. Russell actually drew sketches to show Hart how early cowboys dressed and heavily influenced Hart. Charlie Russell rode a famous pinto named Monty (Not Monte) long before Hart ever owned his pinto. Hart copied Russell's hat style, sash, saddle and horse. After Hart's death, Hollywood invented fantasy costumes that were nothing like those worn in the Old West.-Sage