Friday, February 5, 2016

Theme Park Stagecoaches: Part 2 - Universal Studios

We will continue now with the next entry in my "Theme Park Stagecoaches" series. To see Part 1 in the series, click here: Disneyland's Stagecoach Attraction.

Today we are visiting Universal Studios. Universal used to have it's own stagecoach "attraction".....but it didn't go anywhere!

Universal's coach sat in front of a canvas backdrop with painted scenery on it. The canvas was stretched around rollers and it would move past the "riders", giving the appearance that they were going somewhere as the stagecoach bounced up and down. My dad took this next photo of my brother and my aunt riding inside the stagecoach (they're hiding!) in 1967.

The stagecoach was located in what was then called, Prop Plaza. This was an area where the trams would stop halfway through the Studio Tour (the Studio Tour lasted several hours back then). Prop Plaza also included props that were used in both Universal movies and TV shows.

Note the control box and the sign on the wall just to the right of the stagecoach, in the picture below. The sign is washed out, but it reads, "CAUTION - Maximum Capacity 6 Persons - Use Quarters Only - Have Cameras Ready."

Here's a pic of the stagecoach with the canvas backdrop missing behind it. The jail cell on the right was a very popular photo-op at Universal for many years.

This picture is from a Universal Studios pictorial souvenir book. The top of the stagecoach definitely looks over capacity!

In this aerial shot from 1968, Prop Plaza (and the stagecoach) can be seen in the bottom left corner of the photo.

If we zoom in, we can see other props including some cannons and an airplane. Also visible out on the studio backlot is the steamboat used in the 1936 film Showboat (near the upper left corner of the pic), and the stone bridge used in the film, Sweet Charity (upper right corner). Just in front of that stone bridge, is the spot where the Parting of the Red Sea attraction would be added to the tram tour in 1973.

Here's another aerial shot (from 1967). The dining patio that was above Prop Plaza can be seen in the bottom of the photo. This stop in the tour was actually intended for guests to grab a bite to eat. They could then venture downstairs to the props and also to a tram loading area, where they could board another tram for the second half of the studio tour.

Another close-up:

Prop Plaza also included an antique auto photo-op that was very similar to the stagecoach. This photo is used with permission from Major Pepperidge of Gorillas Don't Blog (thank you, Major!). In addition to bouncing up and down, it looks like the wheels on this vehicle actually spun around. I don't think the wheels on the stagecoach did that (but I'm not one-hundred percent sure).

Prop Plaza stopped being a pit stop along the tram route many years ago, when the tram tour was reduced to just one hour. In 2003, I took my nephew to Universal Studios and was surprised to see the old stagecoach parked in the "upper lot", behind the arena of the former Western Stunt Show (across from Mel's Diner). There were steps behind it, still allowing for guests to climb inside and have their picture taken. The mural behind it was painted on a stationary wall, but it was reminiscent of the old moving backdrop.

I went to Universal Studios again in 2012, and found the coach parked across from where the entrance to the Western Stunt Show used to be. By then, the stunt show arena had been completely removed. Why? I don't know. It hadn't been replaced with anything. Also, the coach was no longer open for guests to pose inside of it. Unfortunately, on my most recent visit to Universal, the coach was nowhere to be found. I hope they didn't toss it in the trash like they did with the old Glacier tunnel, and the Burning House, and the charred remains of Bob Gurr's King Kong animatronic.

Universal has another prop stagecoach that kind of resembles Disneyland's old Mud Wagons (seen in Part 1 of this series). This coach is mounted above the seating area of the Saddle Ranch Chop House restaurant, located outside the entrance to Universal Studios.

This restaurant has a long history of name changes. It originally opened in 1981 as Whomphopper's, then it became Tony Roma's, followed by Country Star Restaurant, and now it's the Saddle Ranch Chop House.

I will leave you today with this final vintage image of the old Prop Plaza Stagecoach, courtesy of "Matterhorn" (thank you!) from Stuff From The Park.

There will be one more part to this "Theme Park Stagecoaches" series. Stay tuned!

****Post Update (September 27, 2017)****

Meet The World reader/commenter "chebert813" spotted the Universal stagecoach just a few weeks ago, during a backlot tour of the studio and she has graciously shared her photo of it with us (thank you, again!) The stagecoach can currently be found parked alongside the Robertson Saloon in the Six Points/Western Streets section of the backlot. I'm so glad to see that this little piece of Universal history still exists!


K. Martinez said...

Wonderful aerial shots of the back lot. I wonder if any of these stagecoaches/vehicles had a history of actually being used as props in films. Thanks, TM!

TokyoMagic! said...

Thanks, Ken. That's a very good question! As old as the studio was at the time, I bet they did!

K. Martinez said...

One of the things I get a kick out of when watching old movies from specific studios is seeing the same props used over and over for different movies. I used to have a book on what was what with the props and where you could spot them in the movies but don't remember what it was called.

TokyoMagic! said...

Oh, I have a book called "Screen Deco" that shows that, but it only includes "Art Deco" props and sets.

Chuck said...

These are real gems, and bring back some great memories, too.

In your first overview shot of the Backlot, you can also see Spartacus Square in the back right, with Mediterranean Square with its red tile roof in front of that and the castle set originally built for 1939's "Tower of London," starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price (and which I finally saw just this past weekend). To the left of that and just downhill from Prop Plaza is "Five Points, Texas" and Park Lake. The inlet behind the Sweet Charity Bridge was used for above-water close-ups of the Creature in "Creature From the Black Lagoon."

In your second overview, you get a glimpse what I think is the House of the Seven Gables at one end of the old location of Colonial Street, directly above the P-51 in Prop Plaza. Behind it and to the left is the Colonial Mansion which gave the street its name, originally built for the 1927 version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," moved to the new Colonial Street location in 1981, and, sadly, removed in 2005 for an expansion of the "Desperate Housewives" set. To the left of that is the New York Street & Brownstone Street area. The trees just above the "progressland" in the watermark denote Courthouse Square, featured in "To Kill a Mockingbird" amd the first episode of "The Twilight Zone" (I know it was prominently used in other films, but I can't remember any off the top of my head).

Note a significant difference in Prop Plaza in the two different views. In the first, just to the right of the stagecoach you can see a T-33, a jet trainer derived from the P-80/F-80 Shooting Star, the first effective and mass-produced US jet fighter. An entire generation of USAF pilots (including my dad) would do their advanced pilot training in this type of airplane. The second photo shows a P-51, a propeller-driven fighter used extensively in the second half of WWII (both the P-51 - redesignated "F-51" - and the F-80 were used extensively together in the ground attack role during the Korean War). I was unaware that that part of the display had changed over the years. Do you know what year the second photo is from?

Prop Plaza is still there, although it's not covered with pops or part of the tour anymore.

TokyoMagic! said...

Wow, much more information! Thank you for all of it! I forgot to mention that the second photo is from Summer of 1967. I have gone back and added the date to the text. I didn't even notice that the airplanes were different until you pointed that out. I have a close up of the one from the 1967 photo. I'll have to get it scanned and posted. I have many more Universal pics that my dad took during that same trip, so I'll have to do a "1967 Universal Studios" post in the future. I have included a few of them in a couple different posts in the past.

I have seen Prop Plaza from current aerial photos, but only bits of it are visible through all the tree growth. I also have tried to look for it during the tram tour, but have never been able to spot any part of it. Do you know if the waterfall is still there next to Prop Plaza? Or the celebrity hand prints that were mounted on the wall next to the tram loading area?

TokyoMagic! said...

Just in case anyone is interested. Other slides that my dad took during that same 1967 Universal Studios trip can be seen here:

Father's Day Posts

and here:

Universal Psycho House

Chuck said...

I don't know if those falls or the handprints are still there. The site is used as a kind of "forward operating base" for film crews working in that part of the backlot; from what I understand, the cast & crew of "Desperate Housewives" used it extensively.

Thanks for the links to the earlier posts!

In answer to your question from your 2011 post about the 1967 slides, Denver Street was dressed as Medicine Bow, Wyoming, for the TV series "The Virginian." There were actually three different Western sets at that time - Six Points (which I erroneously referred to as "Five Points" above), originally designed so six separate productions could be shooting simultaneously; the adjacent, longer Denver Street, which was sandwiched between the Castle & European Street sets and included a train station and short railroad spur; and Laramie Street, which was up the hill and roughly parallel to Denver Street (which it connected to on the east end), and just below the original location of the Psycho House.

Laramie Street was demolished and the area re-landscaped in 1981 into what was then Industrial Street (now Elm Street), a residential street using buildings brought from other areas on the backlot. Elm Street sits between Denver Street and the new Colonial Street, which is just downhill from where the Psycho House and Bates Motel were relocated in 1981. It's not included on the regular tram tour.

TokyoMagic! said...

Thank you, Chuck...for even more information! The last time I checked, that short railroad spur had a train engine sitting on it and I'm pretty sure it is the old "Runaway Train" from the tram tour. I took a picture of it and compared the two and it looks to be the same engine. I've seen Elm Street in aerial/satellite pics, but I think I've read that it's a dead end and that the street is too narrow for the trams to turn around and get out.

K. Martinez said...

Chuck, I'm just blown away my your extensive knowledge and details as well as your research. And yes, 1939's "Tower of London" is a fun movie. I'm a huge fan of the old black and white movies featuring, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and Peter Lorre. I also remember seeing Courthouse Square in the first episode of "The Twilight Zone" and "Back to the Future" series as well as several others. I spotted it right away on the studio tour before the tour host pointed it out as being featured in those productions.

TM!, Thanks for the links to the previous articles. Lots of great stuff there. I think it's time for another trip to the Studios.

Chuck said...

Ken, my favorite scene in "Tower of London" was probably the drinking contest in the wine cellar between Basil Rathbone and Vincent Price, two superb actors sparring alone in front of the camera. They apparently used Coca-Cola to simulate wine during shooting.

I love older B&W films as well, and am going through a bit of a Boris Karloff kick right now. We watched "Night key" the same evening as "Tower," followed by "The Mummy" the next evening. "The Climax," "The Strange Door," and "The Black Castle" are all up next in the Netflix queue, and "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" are just a few movies behind that, along with the 1931 Bela Lugosi "Dracula" (which I am embarrassed - no, ashamed - to admit I have never seen) and the 1925 version of "Phantom of the Opera" (which I've only seen about 5 minutes of).

Enjoy your trip to the Studios!

Chuck said...

TM! - a little additional info on the old Prop Plaza that I just stumbled on - it's currently known as "Hollywood Terrace" and available as a shooting location. The old prop terrace is still standing, but the area closer to the hill that had the old vending stands was cleared for the exterior sets of the Zeek Braverman (Craig T. Nelson) home in the TV series "Parenthood." It's visible by zooming in on Google Maps, just south of the Metropolitan Area sets (old New York Street).

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, thanks for providing us with even more info. That really explains a lot to me. I had looked at the aerial view on Google Maps years ago and could see what looked like a house sitting there and I couldn't figure out why the old food stand looked like that!

chebert813 said...

Dear Chuck - I hope you are still receiving the comments on this blog over a year later. Thank you for the great info! I found your blog while searching for info on the stagecoach, which I saw on the Universal Backlot tour just last week! So I thought you'd like to know it hasn't disappeared or been trashed after all! It is parked in the Six Points area, where the Western streets are located, right alongside the Roberson Saloon building. I would posted pictures, but I don't know if that's possible in these comments. It looks the same as in your 2012 photo. Thank you for the background on its history in the park.

TokyoMagic! said...

chebert813, thanks for commenting and letting us know that the stagecoach still exists! If you would like me to, I could post the current pics that you took, here on my blog. You would need to send them to me (my email address is: and from there, I could take them and add them to my post. I would also give you the credit for taking the photos. If you prefer not to, that's okay, but thanks again for updating us on it's location!

- TokyoMagic!

chebert813 said...

Hi TM! Yesterday I tried twice to email you pictures from my gmail account, and both times they bounced back to me with the message "address not found." I'm not sure if it's a problem with my email account or yours. I'm going to try again from my work email address; my name is Courtney, and it's part of the email address. Let me know if you receive the pictures!

chebert813 said...

I just tried sending from my work email and it bounced back also :(

TokyoMagic! said...

chebert813, I am so sorry....that is my fault! I hadn't checked that email account for a while and apparently, AOL blocks all email going to your account if you don't check in within a certain amount of time. It is unblocked now and if you would like to try again, it should go through. I will be checking the account and watching for your email. Sorry again, for the inconvenience!

- TokyoMagic!

chebert813 said...

Hi TM! I sent the photos again yesterday; let me know if you got them!

Chuck said...

Almost two years later...but thanks for the update, TM! & cherbert813!