Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures
Piru Scenes in "A Star is Born"
Warner Bros. 1954

Judy Garland and James Mason's characters foil the studio bosses' plot to make a Hollywood production out of their marriage: They slip away for a private ceremony in the fictional San Verdo Township in Los Angles County — the real-life town of Piru in Ventura County — during this 3-minute sequence in George Cukor's "A Star is Born" (Warner Bros. 1954).

We see the businesses along Center Street, the original Piru train station, and in the final frames, the old auto bridge over Piru Creek in the distance. Note the Blue Bird Cafe as Jack Carson (as Matt Libby) blows through the stop sign. Also note that Mason doesn't turn onto an actual street as he drives away; he takes the dirt road to the depot.

A stop along the 1887 Saugus-Ventura line, the Southern Pacific's Piru depot had been built by summer 1888. Passenger service ended in 1938, and through service ended in 1953 (the same year our movie started production). With rare exceptions, such as a tourist train that came through in 1963, the tracks fell silent. For five or six years in the early 1960s, the depot was the temporary home of the San Salvador Catholic Church, whose original stone church had been deemed unsafe and was razed. After the Catholic Church moved into new quarters in the late 1960s, the old train station was bulldozed.

Click to enlarge.

But that isn't the end of the story. Maybe it wasn't quite a blessing in disguise, but the 1994 Northridge earthquake led to the reconstruction of the depot. The earthquake had devastated the little town. Several businesses closed, and property owners boarded up their buildings. As a recovery effort, Ventura County undertook a $2.2 million redevelopment project in the early 2000s that included a new town square complete with a replica train station at the original location, as well as a community fountain and bandstand gazebo. Construction was underway in 2002, and in 2006 (March 18), the Fillmore & Western Railway tourist line carried its first trainload of passengers to the new Piru depot.

Back to our movie. Her first non-MGM picture, "A Star is Born" was supposed to be a comeback for Judy Garland, who hadn't appeared on screen in four years. It wasn't. It failed at the box office — depite her stellar acting and musical performances that earned her a nomination for an Oscar that many critics believed she should have won — and Warner Bros. canceled its future plans for her. Not until 1961 would she appear on screen again, as one of many all-star faces in the United Artists production of "Judgement at Nuremberg." It earned her another Oscar nomination.

The irony of the casting in 1954's "A Star is Born" was not lost on anyone. James Mason was a steady and hard-working actor until the day he died (in 1984 at age 75). His character, Ernest Gubbins/Norman Maine, was a fading movie star whose alcoholism destroyed his career and ultimately drove him to suicide. James Mason wasn't the first choice for the role; many other A-list actors who were less secure in their own skin begged off for fear of audience perception.

Judy Garland's character, Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester, was the model spouse, ready to sacrifice her own career to dry out her husband. Meanwhile, of course, the real-life Judy Garland was fighting depression and drug addition and had already attempted suicide by the time her second daughter, Lorna Luft, came along in November 1952. "A Star is Born" started production in October 1953 and was supposed to wrap in Feburary 1954 but didn't. Garland was blamed for the production delays. Afterward, in 1955, she bore a son, but her marriage to Sid Luft was in a downward spiral as his gambling addition devastated their finances. Three more marriages followed. Garland died from what was characterized as an accidental drug overdose in London in 1969. She was 47.

Emerson Treacy (1900-1967) is the justice of the peace in this film clip. Rounding out the credited cast are Charles Bickford, Tommy Noonan, Lucy Marlow, Amanda Blake ("Gunsmoke"), Irving Bacon, Hazel Shermet and James Brown.

Detail from 1947 aerial view of Piru. Click to enlarge. (Layered version on file.)

Screenshots: Click to enlarge.



"A Star is Born" 1954


Depot as Church 1960s



Christina Aguilera 2009 x2


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