The SCV’s fascinating backyard: The Legend of Hart Park

A costume worn by William S. Hart from the 1918 movie, "Shark Monroe," left, stands in the living room of the William S. Hart Museum at William S. Hart Regional Park in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

A sanctuary of all things cowboy — in the core of our city, William S. Hart Regional Park sits on 265 acres, hosting a wealth of history for film, Santa Clarita and much more.

“There is a really rich history,” said Eric Reifman, regional park superintendent for William S. Hart Park, “a real history of Santa Clarita and film.”

The park gets its name from the previous tenant and silent western film star from the 1900s, William Surrey Hart.

William S. Hart

Docent John Smith, right, who leads tours through the Hart mansion stands in the sitting room the William S. Hart Museum at William S. Hart Regional Park in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

“He was ‘Mr. Film,’” Reifman said. “He was in silent films, and he made it big.”

Hart was born in Newburgh, N.Y., on Dec. 6, 1864, and began his acting career in his 20s. His career on stage lasted nearly 30 years before he came to Hollywood at age 49 to begin his career in movies.

He made more than 65 silent films, his last and one of his most popular being “Tumbleweeds,” in 1925, said Roger Basham, a member of nonprofit organization, Friends of Hart Park.

Hart wrote 11 books throughout his life — many available for purchase at the park’s gift shop.

Hart purchased the SCV ranch house and surrounding properties in 1921, which was the beginning of several land purchases that became his Horseshoe Ranch, used for settings of his movies.

The Hart residence, now known as the Hart Mansion and Museum, was owned by Hart and his sister Mary Ellen Hart.

The design was by architect Arthur Kelley, who also built the Playboy Mansion, Basham said.

The circular stairway leading the main floor of the William S. Hart Museum at William S. Hart Regional Park in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

The construction began in 1925 and it cost more than $100,000 to build, nearly $1.5 million in today’s dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hart lived in the house for 20 years until he died in 1946 at.81.

In his will, his ranch was given to Los Angeles County, to be used for public enjoyment at no charge.

“William S. Hart wanted the public to have access to his home,” said Laurene Weste, councilwoman and president of Friends of Hart Park. “People can come there free and bring their kids and grandkids.”

The park has grown overtime, and today consists of 265 acres of land. The ranch house and mansion are open to the public on a daily basis, along with other attractions.

Park attractions

William S. Hart Regional Park Superintendent II, Eric Reifman with Alpaca named Cruella that can be visited art at William S. Hart Regional Park in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

Since the county took over the ranch in 1946, it has become William S. Hart Regional Park for the public to enjoy for free, just as Hart wished in his will.

On regular days of operation, the park has its animal barnyard, picnic areas, mansion and museum, ranch museum, american bison, group campgrounds and more, Reifman said.

The park is located on Newhall Avenue.

“I love the park; it is the epitome of the american family place to go,” Weste said. “Just an amazing resource of Santa Clarita left to the public by William S. Hart.”

The SCV Senior Citizen Center is based at Hart Park, said Albert Ewing, the parks event coordinator.  

The SCV Heritage Society operates Heritage Junction, part of the park with many structures from history in the valley, such as the old Saugus Train Station, Edison House and Kingsbury House.

Basham and his wife recently redid the Edison house, he said. “It’s like your walking into 1930.”

Quester groups open the houses in Heritage Junction for tours the first Sunday of every month from 1-4 p.m.

Along with the buildings in Heritage Junction, up the hill is the Hart Museum and Mansion, open Wednesday through Sunday for tours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“You can take a museum tour of Mr. Hart’s house and see all the artifacts,” Reifman said.

Members of the bison herd graze near the fence and can be viewed by the public at William S. Hart Regional Park . Dan Watson/The Signal

On the way up the hill, you may pass a herd of American Bison, donated by Walt Disney in 1962.

“They were shooting over by Placerita Nature Center and when the filming was done, they herded all the bison through the streets here and they have been here ever since,” Reifman said.

Those animals are for show and not interaction, but the park also has a barnyard of animals, some you can feed.

It is not a petting zoo, but the barnyard includes animals such as alpacas, donkeys, horses, deer, boar, pot belly pigs, geese, chicken and more.

The park also offers equestrian, pedestrian and bike trails that offer a grand 360-degree view of the entire valley, Ewing said.

There are seven group campgrounds at William S. Hart Regional Park in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

Hart wanted to give back to his community by opening his land to the public to enjoy.

“It’s always been the place you can relax and feel the heart of the old community,” Weste said.

The land also offers picnic areas, available to the community for rent and seven campgrounds for group camping sites for scouts, nonprofits, churches and more.

“He wanted to give back,” Reifman said.  “He also loved the scouts.”

The park is open sunrise to sunset everyday and the banyard is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Today, more than 73 years after his death, the park is still; up and running continuing to grow and attract visitors wanting to learn about the history of the land.

“It’s nice to see the kids coming out and the families coming out,” Reifman said, “a family atmosphere. We love and want people to remember it.”

Friends of Hart Park

The Chapman ” Little Red School House”, left, and The Ramona Chapel can be viewed at Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society’s Heritage Junction adjacent to William S. hart Regional Park in Newhall. Dan Watson/The Signal

The park also has a gift shop and bookstore run by a nonprofit group Friends of Hart Park.

“The friends of hart park is a non profit,” Basham said. “The gift store is a non-profit, meaning all the money that is raised goes back into the park. We don’t take salaries, were all volunteers.”

The park has multiple volunteer opportunities and is always looking for volunteers, Ewing said.

The Friends of Hart Park Trading Post Gift Store is open on weekends from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., selling items for all ages, including authentic native american jewelry, collectable books and movies of Hart and more.

The organization also has a bookstore, open for events and sometimes on weekends, Basham said. “It’s all donated books.”

Boxes and boxes of books line the books store all genres from western to lifestyle and mysteries to children’s books.

“The books are all clean,” Basham said. “Some are collectible type books and some are relatively new editions.”

For more information on group camping or to make a reservation call the park office at (661) 259-1750. If you are wanting to volunteer at the park, contact the park office at (661) 259-1750 for more information.

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