Founded in 2006 the museum, located in Lone Pine, California collects, preserves, and exhibits a broad and diverse collection of western film memorabilia associated with the American western film genre. Film programs, artifact preservation and exhibits, including interpretive projects and displays, provide narrative support for the movies, actors, directors, and producers and importantly, the landscapes that served as a canvas for their stories.
Our exhibits and archival documents are the core of educational programs created to stimulate interest in the enduring legacy of our American West and local landscapes. The Museum attracts visitors from around the world that have sought out our unique museum to gain a better understanding of the western film and the history that has permeated American and worldwide cultures.
The Museum collection, one of the largest and most significant in the United States, is complemented by a publishing arm that supports the Museum’s mission with complementary works. In addition, we hold our annual Lone Pine Film Festival that features three days of screenings, panels, western authors and Hollywood professional presentations, and geographical movie site tours featuring the landscape of the Alabama Hills and the Eastern Sierra. This landscape is the venue to over 400 films and over 1000 commercials. Individual events throughout the year provide additional resources to enhance the museum’s mission.
The Museum inhabits a unique niche of western history and culture. Although there are many museums featuring documentation on films and historic screen figures, The Museum of Western Film History is the only museum devoted to chronicling western film history and its impact on American culture.
Hollywood first came on location in Lone Pine in 1920, using the unique scenery in more than 400 feature films The Alabama Hills, the Sierra Nevada and the Owens Valley are still being used in movies and car commercials. Most recently, scenes for the Academy Award-winning “Gladiator”, Disney’s “Dinosaur”, “G.I. Jane”, “Maverick” and “The Shadow” were shot in the Alabama Hills. The natural scenery remains unspoiled and unchanged since that first film in 1920, a silent Western for Paramount called “The Round Up” with Fatty Arbuckle. And as you slowly drive the dirt roads of the Alabama Hills — roads made by movie companies years ago, you’re driving where John Wayne rode in 12 movies, and Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones and Ken Maynard, as well as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy.
Just off Movie Road is the Movie Flats area, where so many of cowboy heroes filmed exciting chase scenes in reel after reel of Saturday matinees. But it wasn’t just Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy who helped immortalize Lone Pine. Other familiar names worked here too: John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Jack Palance, Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward, Gregory Peck, Spencer Tracy, Ida Lupino, Alan Ladd, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon and Natalie Wood, just to name a few. For many years, Russell Spainhower’s Anchor Ranch just south of Lone Pine provided the movie-makers with horses and cattle, wagons, a mission-hacienda set and a Western street called “Anchorville”. None of the old wooden sets are left.
In October of 1990, the first Lone Pine Film Festival was held to celebrate all this movie history. Roy Rogers returned to Lone Pine to dedicate a permanent historical marker at Movie Road. The Los Angeles Times once called the festival “the most focused” of all the nation’s film conventions because it only shows films made here and it always invites guest stars who worked here. Festival highlights include lively discussion panels with the guest stars, film historians and stunt actors. Throughout the festival weekend, over 30 guided tours of actual movie locations are offered out in the movie rocks and surrounding landscape. These tours demonstrate the magic of specific scenes with participants getting a chance to line up camera angles with movies stills and stories each tour guide has researched around Lone Pine. Over the years, the festival has featured tributes to John Wayne, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Tim Holt and the Lone Ranger. Held each Columbus Day weekend in October, the Lone Pine Film Festival is a must for movie fans.
The name Alabama Hills was established during the Civil War. In 1863, Southern sympathizers in Lone Pine discovered gold and named their mining claims after a celebrated Confederate ship. Before long, the name applied to the whole area.
Coincidentally, while there were Southerners prospecting around Lone Pine, there were Union sympathizers 15 miles North near Independence. And when the Confederate ship USS Alabama was sunk off the coast of France by the USS Kearsarge in 1864, the miners in Independence named their mining claims “Kearsarge” as a mountain peak, a mountain pass and a whole town. For more history on Lone Pine and the movie making here, see Dave Holland’s book and video, “On Location in Lone Pine”. Both tell you how to find some of the locations on your own and are available at the museum.