Keeping western movie history alive: Mescal movie set renovations continue

Published: Aug. 13, 2023 at 11:32 PM MST|Updated: Aug. 14, 2023 at 6:35 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - From famous gun fights to famous actors, history has been made at the Mescal Movie Set. And new ownership is working to restore the historic set and bring filming back to the forefront of Southern Arizona.

“Every building here is important for us because of the history of it. So, we want to save every one of these buildings,” said Mark Sankey, director of marketing and media at the Mescal Movie Set.

The Mescal Movie Set is one of the most recognizable Western film towns on the big screen. It has been home to many iconic names over the years.

“We’ve had Lee Marvin, we’ve had Paul Newman. Kenny Rogers was here for a TV movie. We’ve had Clint Eastwood, we’ve had Chief Dan George. He was also in Outlaw Josey Wales with Clint Eastwood, and of course the entire ensemble from Tombstone,” said Dan Sprinkle, historian for the Mescal Movie Set.

For the past two and a half years, the sound of construction has become common around the set. When the set came under new ownership in 2021, it had 28 buildings in need of repair.

“You virtually could not drive down the street because of the broken glass, the nails. A lot of big buildings were barely standing. They all had a lean to one side or another,” said Sankey.

All the repairs are being done entirely by volunteers. Money from tours and special events is used to buy building materials and supplies.

“It’s a lot of carpentry work and it is a lot of putting everything back together and framing buildings up so they’re sturdy and structurally sound,” said Steve Peterson, a volunteer working on the repairs for the Mescal Movie Set.

Lynn Steele, who used to work in films on the set, said it is important the history of the set live on.

“They’ve filmed movies out here since the 1950s and my take on it is westerns are the big thing. We’re out west. This is kind of where it all started. So for me to preserve the history of this place, I’m all for it because they filmed over 100 movies here,” Lynn Steele, former actor and volunteer at the Mescal Movie Set.

Officials said while there is still a long way to go, the progress is already showing up on the big screen. They had four productions set to film this fall but the SAG-AFTRA strike has reduced that down to two.

“Hopefully next year, once the strike gets resolved, then we can get back into the spring, we can start filling up the schedule again with filming, and still have historical tours and dates for the community to come in and tour in between all the filming,” said Sankey.

As the restorations continue to bring more films back to the Old Pueblo, they hope to eventually expand.

“Our hope is to build it back up and build additional buildings such as blacksmith shops, more barns, more houses and more commercial buildings. And where we have one main street now we would like to eventually in the long term turn it into three streets with alleys in between,” said Sankey.

The set is not open on a regular basis due to filming and special events. If you want to visit the set, you can find more information on the Mescal Movie Set website here.

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