Old Tucson Taken Over by Covid Banditos

For 81 years, Old Tucson has survived as a movie and TV set and a popular tourist attraction. Built by Columbia Pictures in 1939, it has been used in the filming of hundreds of movies and TV shows. John Wayne, Gene Autry, Ronald Reagan, Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Glenn Ford, Kurt Russell, Dean Martin, Tom Selleck, Gene Hackman, Michael  Landon, Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Robert Mitchum, Elvis Presley, Angie Dickinson, Steve McQueen, and Steve Martin walked the streets with the cameras rolling. Who didn’t? Practically every “A List” Western and period actor worked here at some point. Five-Star Trails: Tucs... Rachowiecki, Rob Best Price: $15.53 Buy New $13.06 (as of 03:45 EDT - Details)

Movies like Rio Bravo, Rio Lobo, El Dorado, McLintock, Red River, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Winchester ’73, The Three Amigos, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, 3:10 to Yuma, The Bells of St. Mary’s, The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Quick and the Dead, and Tombstone were filmed at least partially in Old Tucson along with TV shows like Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Sacketts, Wagon Train, Wanted Dead or Alive, Have Gun Will Travel, Death Valley Days, Highway to Heaven, High Chaparral, and The Young Riders.

Old Tucson survived a big fire, various rebuilds, and changes in operators, but what finally killed it this week were the seemingly never-ending heavy-handed COVID restrictions imposed by Pima County that were implemented as an apparent obsequious endorsement of Tucson Mayor Regina Romero’s equally draconian rules implemented first.

Old Tucson Studios (Im... Lawton, Paul J. Best Price: $5.00 Buy New $10.71 (as of 03:45 EDT - Details) The hundreds of other businesses around the state that are shuttering permanently in response to lockdowns and restrictions are also significant, but they are so numerous, they would be nearly impossible to list. Old Tucson General Manager Terry Verhage said, on September 8 when announcing the shutdown of the historic site, “We did everything possible to keep our loyal fans safe when we were open, but the ongoing COVID-19 public health protocols and restrictions limited park attendance to the point where Old Tucson could no longer stay in business.” Verhage said that, “the decision was made with a heavy heart. We know how important Old Tucson is to our community, guests, and employees.”

It seems like the nail in the coffin was the cancellation of a popular month-long October event at Old Tucson called Nightfall that had run for 29 years. Last October, Nightfall drew 34,000 visitors to Old Tucson. The cancellation of this event may have caused the operator to realize that the financial bleeding had to stop at some point.  Hopes that the restrictions would lessen were fading.

The town didn’t die like it might in a dramatic canned movie plot involving an evil cattle baron buying the sheriff and kicking the good folks out of town. It died in a more mundane predictable manner: Pima County made a news release on Tuesday morning saying that “the county would assume responsibility for Old Tucson on Sept. 14.” Apparently, the good guys don’t always win.