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10 Amazing Abandoned Sets from Film and Television

Nobody ever said growing up is easy, but anyone who came of age in the ‘90s with the occasional eye on Nickelodeon got a gulp-inducing whiff of their own mortality recently, when pictures and video surfaced of the show’s long-forgotten Arizona ranch set. It’s still there, sort of, its abandoned buildings and trashed-out interiors a freestanding reminder that, yes, a television show was here once. But Hey Dude isn’t the only bit of pop culture that left its skeleton in place once shooting wrapped.

The Hey Dude Ranch (Outside Tucson, Arizona)

The abandoned “Bar None Ranch” came to the Internet’s attention thanks to Adam the Woo, a heavily-tatooed regular Joe who turns his visits to iconic pop culture locations into mirthful YouTube videos. But even his good cheer can’t crush the melancholy of these wrecked buildings, empty for more than 20 years now, on the grounds of the Tanque Verde Guest Ranch. It’s almost like it’s a (wait for it!) ghost town or something.

John Wayne’s Alamo Village

“The Duke” not only starred as Davy Crockett, but produced and directed this 1960 epic retelling of the Battle of the Alamo. He teamed up with James T. “Happy” Shahan to build a replica of the Alamo and the surrounding area, dubbed “Alamo Village” and constructed near Shahan’s home of Bracketville, Texas. Instead of building the customary front-and-side facades, Shahan constructed his Village of real buildings with four walls, floors, and roofs, with the idea of preserving the Village after The Alamo was completed, making it a museum and location for future films. And that he did; it stood as a tourist attraction for decades, and at least a dozen additional films (including Bandolero!, Barbarosa, and Bad Girls) were shot there. But after the deaths of Shahan and his widow in the 2000s, the Village shut its doors. It is currently for sale and not open to the public, though good ol’ Adam the Woo got the caretaker to show him around for the above video.

Gunsmoke’s Dodge City

It’s no coincidence that so many of these abandoned sets are Western towns; it’s impossible to overstate the popularity of the genre in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and they all needed sets. During the 1959-60 television season, for example, the three broadcast networks aired twenty-eight different Western shows between them. One of the most popular was Gunsmoke, tracking the adventures of Marshal Matt Dillon in the frontier town of Dodge City, Kansas, and though Dodge City still stands (and makes great hay of its past), the producers of Gunsmoke constructed a fake Dodge City all the way up in Johnson Canyon, Utah, near the town of Kanab. And those sets are still standing (barely) — as are the sets for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in nearby Grafton.

Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western town

In the desert of Tabernas, near the city of Almería in Andalusia, Spain, director Sergio Leone constructed the Western town where he and Clint Eastwood shot the “Man with No Name” trilogy and defined the “Spaghetti Western.” In addition to Leone’s works, more than 200 productions would shoot in these Spanish desert locations in the 1960s and 1970s — but when the work dried up, no one bothered to take down the sets, which are still standing to this day.

Star Wars’ Tatooine (Tunisia)

When George Lucas and company shot the original Star Wars back in 1977, desert locations in Tunisia doubled for Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine. When they were finished, they left the sets in place, which became a popular destination for diehard Star Wars fans. As the years passed, decay set in (visual artist Rä di Martino took remarkable photos of the sets for her series No More Stars), and efforts are now underway to save the sets from being engulfed by sand dunes.

The Abyss Tank (Gaffney, South Carolina)

When director James Cameron made his (first) underwater epic in 1987, he constructed his sets in a massive, unfinished nuclear power plant in South Carolina. That seven-million-gallon, 40-foot-deep set remained standing for 20 years, but before it was demolished in 2007, a curious photographer got in and took some haunting photos of the rusting, abandoned location.

Popeye Village

Robert Altman’s 1980 film version of the popular comic strip was a notoriously troubled production that put the kibosh on his career for over a decade. But you’d never know that from visiting Popeye Village, which transformed the film’s Sweethaven sets, built on the northwest corner of the island of Malta over seven months in 1979, into a tourist attraction that is still doing a bustling, seven-day-a-week business more than 30 years after the film’s ostensibly disappointing release.

Anna and the King’s Summer Palace (Pantai Kok, Malaysia)

Remember Anna and the King? This music-free version of the King and I was supposed to be Oscar bait back in 1999, thanks mostly to the presence of Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat in the leading roles, but it was received with a shrug by both critics and audiences. That sort of put a damper on the Malaysian government’s plans to turn the film’s locations, which they’d asked the production to leave standing, into tourist attractions. The most spectacular of these was the King’s “Summer Palace,” constructed in the resort area of Pantai Kok, a 675-square meter faux-palace that took over 100 local workers six weeks to construct. Nonetheless, in April 2000, the palace opened as an Anna and the King-themed attraction, housing costumes and props from the film and featuring traditional Thai performances and daily showings of the film. It closed about three years later, and the rapidly decaying sets are now surrounded by barbed wire.

Big Fish’s Spectre (Alabama)

Tim Burton’s 2003 adaptation of Daniel Wallace’s novel was shot on location in Alabama, and for the fictional town of Spectre, Burton’s crew built a set on a private island between Montgomery and Millbrook. The sets were left standing when production was completed, and while many have collapsed, burned, or become dilapidated in the decade-plus since, a few photographers have contacted the island’s owners and managed to take photos of what remains.

The Hills Have Eyes’ Gas Haven (Ouarzazate, Morocco)

When French director Alexandre Aja took the reins of the Wes Craven-produced remake of his 1977 horror classic The Hills Have Eyes, he chose to shoot neither in the New Mexico setting or Craven’s original substitute of Victorville, California. No, Aja scouted around the world and settled on the city of Ouarzazate, Morocco, commonly known as “the door of the desert” due to its proximity to the Sahara. And so that is why, in the middle of this Moroccan desert area, you can still stumble upon a freestanding, out-of-service gas station.

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