Before Gloria Swanson was ready for her close-up with Cecil B. DeMille in Sunset Boulevard, Chatsworth got its turn.
It happened in DeMille's 1914 silent film The Squaw Man, and fittingly—as one learns at the Museum of Chatsworth Transportation and Movie History—the city shared the screen with a train.
The small museum, housed in the Chatsworth Depot, is sprinkled with tidbits about the films and TV productions that put this area on the map, as well as the modes of transportation that helped develop this part of the San Fernando Valley.
Sometimes those two topics coincide, as they did in DeMille's movie. It happened again in the first episode of the original Adventures of Superman television series, when Clark Kent dashed into a phone booth at the previous Chatsworth Depot, according to Francine Oschin.
Oschin, assistant chief deputy for LA City Councilman Hal Bernson at the time of the current depot's opening in 1992, was one of the people who helped make the free museum a reality at the councilman's request about a year or so later.
Inconspicuous, it consists of a smattering of historical photographs and artifact-filled cases lining the walls of the depot's waiting area. The transportation aspect was a natural fit for the location, Oschin said.
Actually, so was the celebration of film. Not only have innumerable movies and TV shows been made in and around Chatsworth, but legendary stars such as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans have also called it home.
"It was these hills and these rocks," Oschin explained. "It was just one huge movie set."
Local resident Jerry England--author of two books about Chatsworth's role in the movies, Rendezvous at Boulder Pass and Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas0--said show business transformed the area.
"The movies were a big deal here," he said. "Before the movie industry got here, it was a really small farming enclave."
As one learns at the museum, there were several locations for filming, but the most prominent was the Iverson Movie Ranch. The story is that the Iversons were a struggling farming family approached by a movie location scout about using some dramatic rock formations on their property.
More than 2,000 films followed in countless genres, including B-Westerns like Rustlers of the Badlands in 1945. It didn't matter if the movie was set in Africa or the Wild West; moviemakers found a way to make it work.
"The real truth was the rocks were so interesting that once a director or camera man ... saw these rocks, they really wanted them for a backdrop to their movies," England said. "They portrayed, over 75 years of movies, every continent except Antarctica."
Among the museum's displays are cowboy and saloon girl costumes worn numerous times in the TV show Bonanza from when it was filmed on the Iverson ranch. Other highlighted productions include The Lone Ranger, The Roy Rogers Show and classic movies like The Grapes of Wrath and Stagecoach, starring John Wayne.
Not to be overlooked in all the glitz and glamour of Chatsworth's Hollywood past are the trains and roads that brought the moviemakers here—and so much more. One wall is covered with black and white photos going back as far as 1876, when Los Angeles was first connected to national rail lines.
Of more interest to local visitors may be the picture from the 1920s of Reseda Boulevard lined with cars. Or an aerial view of Chatsworth from 1958 that's filled with field after field and looks so different from today.
In addition to information about earlier Chatsworth depots, there's a hodgepodge of other offerings: A model of a Conestoga wagon used by settlers; a case of warplane and tank models and World War II memorabilia, and a reminder about the region's connection to the engines that powered astronauts to the moon, thanks to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.
There's even information about the Chumash and Gabrielino native tribes that inhabited the area long ago. Scenes of daily life are illustrated, and there are examples of highly prized Chumash baskets.
It's a lot of history for such a small space, even if it's just a taste of many topics. Some visitors who take a look while waiting for their train to arrive might say it's worth a return ticket.