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Being private property, little was known locally about the ranch and all its structures—including the Western town movie set—were destroyed in wildfires during 1973 but Dandola had accumulated a number of vintage print references describing everything during its heyday.
The 500-plus acre spread once owned by E. John Brandeis was so large that it was stocked with herds of antelope and deer for hunting and, in fact, had its own hunting cabin well away from the mansion proper. If you watch the opening titles of The Lone Ranger with Clayton Moore firing his gun while on horseback, everything you see beyond the row of trees in that shot is Brandeis Ranch.
The historic society explained that someone had stumbled onto some ruins on the property and no one knew what they were. They sent a photograph wondering if it could have been the foundation of the hunting cabin.
"Every description of the hunting cabin was that it was rustically built of logs," Dandola explains. "These ruins have intricate cut-stone foundations, pillars, and flights of entrance stairs. It seems too chic for the way the hunting cabin had been described. The only other possible structure would have been the teahouse."
The teahouse would have served as a respite for guests who were out on horseback. Weekend guests were encouraged to take full advantage of the stables. The Western town was originally built for the amusement of those guests before it was offered as a movie set rental.
"Brandeis loved entertaining," Dandola says. "He even served picnic lunches out on the trail from a genuine chuck wagon!"
Identifying ruins may not be the usual request of a novelist but this is not a usual novelist.
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West Orange Author's Work Again Assists
PRLog (Press Release) — May 7, 2021 — West Orange's John Dandola is an award-winning author, playwright, screenwriter whose works always gyrate around history and whose research is so thorough that he has been acknowledged as an historian in the truest sense.
For his first sold screenplay, Dandola worked with the British Museum. On other projects, he has worked with museums throughout the United States, Canada, and as far away as South Africa. For decades, the West Orange Public Library relied on him for town history questions. It is why the West Orange Police Chief asked John to write the department's history just as the previous Fire Chief and a previous Recreation Director asked him to write the history of their departments.
Dandola's latest mystery novel, Dead on Their Trail, tackled movie-making history in Chatsworth, California, where so many bygone Westerns were filmed. Shortly after Dead on Their Trail debuted, John was contacted by the Chatsworth Historical Society. Since his novel gives such a vivid description of the Brandeis Ranch, they wanted to know if there was anything he knew about it which wasn't covered in the novel.