Hollywood Creates a Ghost Town, Everyone Wins: Exploring Pioneertown

Pioneertown, CA. Created as a Wild West movie set in 1946, Pioneertown was founded by Hollywood investors as a frontier town that served as a backdrop for Western movies. Some of the big names that helped establish Pioneertown included Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Russel Hayden and the Sons of the Pioneers (which gave Pioneertown its name). The 1940s and 1950s saw Pioneertown as a popular filming destination, with more than 50 films and television shows featuring the stables, saloons, jails and shops of the main street. As part of the set-up, a functioning motel provided quarters for the Hollywood set who were there for filming. When not filming, Pioneertown did double duty as a roadside attraction and tourist spot. Visitors came for an ice cream parlor, bowling alley and the motel.

The adjacent Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace was originally part of the set as a dusty cantina facade. It was eventually turned into a functioning cantina that served as a biker burrito bar from 1972 to 1982. In 1982, the cantina debuted as “Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.” It’s still going stronger than ever, high desert mecca for music, cold beer and a mix of locals, tourists, bikers and artists.

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Today Pioneertown continues as a family-friendly attraction. You can wander the main street, taking in the frontier buildings. The original sound stage has been restored and now features live music some weekend afternoons. There are also a handful of retail shops (open weekends) that feature gifts, soap and pottery. And of course, no Wild West town would be complete without a staged gunfight, available on Mane Street most weekends.

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All materials copyright Jenna Blough. More posts like this can be found in the travel guide Moon Palm Springs and Joshua Tree where this piece was originally published.

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