BENSON — The Mescal Movie Set, hailed as “one of the most recognizable Western cinematic towns on the big screen,” is now open to the public for weekend tours.
Home to more than 80 productions, scenes from the 1993 movie “Tombstone” were filmed there, as well as “The Quick and the Dead,” a 1995 production. Such notable actors as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Sharon Stone and Clint Eastwood have walked the set’s dusty streets. The set was built between 1968 and 1970, with “Monte Walsh,” starring Lee Marvin and Jack Palance, the first movie filmed at the location in 1970.
After sitting empty for a number of years, the Old West buildings and boardwalks started falling into serious disrepair, and there were rumblings of tearing the iconic set down.
Wanting to preserve the property for future films and special events, the Kartchner family acquired the movie set in February and started a restoration process with help from volunteers, Western movie enthusiasts and local businesses. Plans are underway to preserve as many of the 27 original buildings as possible while adding new attractions to the site.
“We’ve done a lot of basic cleanup in the old town section, we’ve excavated the main street and have added a new parking lot,” said Mark Sankey, who is the Mescal Movie Set marketing manager. “Starting this Friday, and extending through Saturday, Sunday and Monday, we’re going to be holding sneak preview tours of the set as a soft opening.”
The 45-minute tours will be guided by a historian. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online by going to www.mescalmovieset.com. Children 10 and younger are admitted free.
“These tickets are limited and must be reserved in advance,” Sankey said. “We plan to hold the tours on weekends, from Friday through Sunday, but will be open on Monday this weekend to take advantage of Labor Day.”
Tours are on the hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the exception of Sundays, when tours stop at 2 p.m.
The tours are a fundraiser for the revitalization projects that need to be done while giving the public a sneak preview of the movie set as it’s being rebuilt.
“We’re looking forward to drawing filmmakers, television crews and documentary productions to the movie set once the renovations are done,” Sankey said. “There has been a lot of interest in the Mescal Movie Set, so we believe the tours are going to be a good draw.”
Tours of the property include sites from the movie “Tombstone,” including the OK Corral gunfight location, a building that was the Oriental Saloon, a billiard hall, Wyatt Earp’s house and Fly’s Photography.
The plan is to rebuild the sites and bring them back to how they looked while filming was going on, Sankey said.
While conducting a media tour in April, Sankey pointed to a tall building at the edge of the property which served as a barracks for the 1979 Buffalo “Soldiers” movie.
“The remake, starring Danny Glover, was also filmed there, only in 1997,” he said. “We would love to salvage that building, but it has really deteriorated through the years and may have to be demolished.”
Other buildings of importance include a hotel where Frank Sinatra shot a movie, as well as a supply store where Clint Eastwood was in a shootout during filming of “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”
A tall brick structure that Sankey said was built by Sharon Stone for “The Quick and the Dead” represents another highlight.
Sankey, who grew up watching Westerns, said it’s thrilling to walk where some of the most famous scenes in Western movie history have been filmed.
“When it comes to Western movies, we have some great historic buildings here,” he said. “I’m glad the Kartchners want to restore the set. Our goal is to bring filmmaking back to Cochise County.”
Bob Nilson of the Benson Visitor Center said the economic potential in reopening the movie set would be tremendous for Benson and Cochise County.
“We have people coming into the Visitor Center every week asking about seeing the set, so we’re very excited about the tours,” he said. “Almost everyone you talk to has seen at least one or more movies filmed in Mescal. There have been a host of very famous actors that have walked the streets of that set, so there’s a definite interest in seeing where these movies have been filmed.”
Once it’s up and running again, Nilson believes the Mescal Movie Set will have a positive economic impact on Benson and surrounding areas.
The set is located on Mescal Road, 5 miles north of I-10 at exit 297.