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Hart museum gives glimpse of cowboy days

Community: Western star’s former home allows for a personal, historical look at SCV’s silver-screen

Posted: July 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.

The living room remains just as it did when silent movie star William S. Hart lived in the house, decorated with a Charles M. Russell oil painting, center, and an Alaskan Kodiak bearskin rug that was given to Hart as a house-warming gift by Will Rogers in 1927.

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When you have to turn people away, it means you still have what they want.

That’s what happened at the William S. Hart Ranch and Museum recently, when two days of paving the access road to the Western star’s home-turned-museum left people knocking at the door wanting more.

“We did have quite a few people come to the park wanting to see the museum, and they couldn’t,” said museum tour guide Rachel Barnes.

“And that was a little sad,” she said. “There was one lady who was really upset. She said she had driven a great distance.”
The paving was necessary, however, Barnes explained.

“We were concerned for the safety of pedestrian traffic,” she said. “So, while the road was being paved we closed the museum to deter people walking up here.”

The museum remains one of the key attractions in the Santa Clarita Valley, offering a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous, and those handy with a six-gun.

And, as Barnes points out on her tour, there’s something for everyone.

Art lovers are generally in awe, she said, of personal paintings done for the silent screen movie star by Charles Marion Russell and James Montgomery Flagg.

Kids are usually intrigued by the bearskin rug of a snarling open-jawed Alaskan Kodiak.

Movie buffs are further intrigued to learn that the rug was a gift from Hart’s friend and fellow Western star Will Rogers.

She said historians walk away from the tour thrilled they’ve seen a painting done by Flagg — the man who drew the iconic World War I recruitment poster of Uncle Sam pointing and saying: “I Want You for U.S. Army.”

Insights into Hart’s life are revealed in the latter stages of the tour of his Spanish-style ranch house.

He kept his food cold in an antique icebox, despite the fact electricity was available, just so he could keep receiving weekly visits by the Newhall Ice Company iceman and keep up on Santa Clarita Valley gossip.

Hart turned over the big room at the back of his house to his two Great Danes — Prince and Gal — and built an addition onto the house that became his bedroom.

Visitors are left with a romantic image of the Western movie star as they leave his home — Hart’s boots and spurs by his bed.

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