Word count 500
The Flower of Gower Gulch
By Mike Cecconi
In east Hollywood, at the corner of Sunset and Gower, there’s a strip-mall called Gower Gulch. Not everything is glamourous there, of course, most of the people are just trying to get by, not trying to “make it” in pictures, just trying to make rent. There must be strip-malls for them too, even in Dreamland.
In most ways, it’s a normal strip mall, Starbucks, a Baskins, Rite-Aid, a Denny’s left to float alone in the parking lot, protected by wide eaves from the cruel California sun. Fitting the local mythology, however, are walls festooned with faces of old Western film stars and across from the Denny’s, a vintage medicine wagon with the phrase “Gower Gulch” painted in broad yellow letters upon it. The sort that sold fake patent cures to bored frontiersmen, knowing they didn’t do anything but buying from them anyway so that the show would go on.
There’s no gulch there, never was, not even back before the oil-men ripped up the trains to put in the highways. It was just a conceit born of half-marketing and half-sentiment, blending into each other over the decades.
In its heyday, however, there were multiple studios there that focused on Westerns and while they’d film the actual pictures in LA’s rural outskirts, their offices were at the corner of Sunset and Gower. They’d do the writing, the producing there, they’d shoot interiors at adjacent lots, they would do the casting there too.
They’d advertise in the papers for extras and bit-players in their oat pictures, telling them there was bonus money for performers who’d wear their own authentic costumes or bring their own horses, saving producers money. Pretty soon the urban area was inundated with actual cowboys coming in from the hinterlands with their dusty ranch-wear and actual horses, leading locals to dub it as “Gower Gulch”. It was a confected imaginary ranch that had become, in a sense, real.
Many of the Western stars were discovered there, lured by cash to transition from real cowboys to fake ones in the movies, John Wayne, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, expatriated to the imaginary at Gower Gulch. It became an in-joke in film, naming more than a few fictional places after it. In one Porky Pig cartoon he sang “The Flower of Gower Gulch” about the prettiest girl in a small Western town who wasn’t that pretty at all, it was just that she was one of the few women in the town. Their running gag became real and even now there’s a little strip-mall to show for it.
People go to there to make their dreams real, even if they fail and end up working at a Denny’s or on a bus back to Des Moines from whence we came. Real ranch-hands went there to make a quick buck and ended up imaginary cowboys forever. It’s where the fake goes to become real and the real goes to become fake, sublimating between waking and sleep, reality and dreams.
I miss it, sometimes.