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Home > Features > Texas Stories > Alamo Village / Hollywood

Alamo Village a Beacon to Hollywood Producers
By Greg Fieg

More than 200 motion pictures, television shows, commercials and other productions have been filmed in the West Texas town of Brackettville, where a living frontier set known as "Alamo Village" stands complete with marketplace, chapel, cantina, hotel, dry goods store, haciendas, blacksmith shop and other buildings. And, oh yes, a huge replica of the 18th century Alamo Mission.

The set is on display to the public, open year-around except Christmas, and is accessible even during filming. Among the many productions that have been filmed there are "Bandolero" starring Dean Martin, "Two Rode Together" starring James Stewart, "Barbarosa" starring Willie Nelson, "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" starring Pee Wee Herman, Walt Disney's "The Alamo" TV series starring Fess Parker, and the TV mini-series "Lonesome Dove," based on Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry's best-selling novel.

Work on the set was begun in 1958 for the original "Alamo" epic, produced by actor John Wayne and released as a box-office sensation in 1960. When Wayne put together the money to film the movie, much of which came out of his own pocket, he might have saved a million dollars or more by shooting the film in Chatsworth, Calif., just west of Hollywood. Chatsworth was rocky, sunny and dry and had been a filming location for westerns for more than 40 years. And after all, the relatively barren Los Angeles suburb was no more dissimilar to the verdant grounds of the original Alamo mission in San Antonio than was Brackettville, in the so-called Texas "badlands."

Investor interests argued against filming outside Southern California on the assertion that it would be unnecessary, impractical and costly. But Wayne, a major star who had built most of his reputation acting in westerns, wanted regional and historical authenticity and to be able to claim "filmed in Texas," and so he elected to pack up hundreds of actors, crew and support staff and head more than 1,200 miles east to the 18,000-acre Shehan Ranch seven miles north of Brackettville.

alamo village brackettville

After labor union quotas were met for grips, painters, drivers, carpenters, laborers, electricians, artists and other positions, nearly 1,000 Texans were hired to perform additional work required to make the movie a reality. Wayne put to work over 1,000 extras alone, most of whom were needed to represent the 5,000 Mexican soldiers who were held off by little more than 25o Alamo defenders during the historic 13-day siege in 1836. Some local Texans, such as Bill Daniel of Liberty, brother of Gov. Price Daniel, even got speaking parts.

It took two years to create a lifesize replica of the Alamo mission, plus the other outbuildings that would have made up the little settlement of San Antonio when the battle took place in 1836. The set appears almost flawless when viewed on big screens or on TV, but it is interesting to note when viewing it in person how simple and rudimentary it is, impressive but with that unmistakable "Tinsel Town" touch that surprisingly is not that dissimilar from the relatively crude scenery one might see in a college play.

Hundreds of motel and hotel rooms throughout the area were booked for weeks, sometimes months, to accommodate John Wayne's actors and crew. Living quarters were in such short supply that many resorted to living in trailers and some moved into nearby Fort Clark, site of the Army's last mounted cavalry unit, a post decommissioned after World War II. Wayne took over the 19th century commanding officer's quarters at the fort. The fort also still stands and can be toured on foot or by automobile.

Often rerun on television, the movie is also shown throughout the day at the original Alamo Mission at Alamo Plaza in San Antonio. The sets of Alamo Village have been elaborately expanded and continue to draw crews filming not only motion pictures and TV shows, but representational documentaries.

An admission charge is collected at the gate. To reach Brackettville travel west toward Del Rio from Uvalde on U.S. 90, then take Texas 674 north.

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