Off the 101 lies Pierce College in Woodland Hills, and on its campus is a unique and downright bizarre sight, a collection of concrete sculptures depicting old west figures, along with a faux cemetery featuring rather colorful epitaphs. What is this exactly? Well, it’s the remains of Old Trapper’s Lodge.
Built in 1941 by a real life former trapper, John Ehn, Old Trapper’s Lodge was a motel with an old west theme. At some point in time he commissioned someone (legend has it Claude Bell of Knott’s Berry Farm and Cabazon Dinosaur fame) to build a statue of a trapper to catch the eye of motorists passing by. After watching the artist work he decided it didn’t look that hard, and began to create his very own statues. Ehn did this from 1951 until his death in 1981. Four years later in 1985, Ehn’s statues, a prime example of larger than life folk art, became a California Historical Landmark, however the motel itself was in the way of the Burbank airport, and while the motel was bulldozed, the statues were rescued and relocated to Pierce College. And over the weekend Patrick and I visited this crazy destination.
I have a feeling that the above statue of Old Trapper is the original one Ehn had commissioned, as it appears to be best executed statue, and makes the most sense as a piece of roadside advertising. It’s also obvious after Ehn decided to continue making these sculptures on his own he was influenced by Knott’s Berry Farm, and its use of statues on benches with room for guests to sit. The gals sitting on a bench in the images below are a blatant knock off of the ladies at Knott’s Berry Farm. Ehn created a statue in honor of his grandmother and mother, two women Ehn felt must have been represented the pioneer spirit. He also paid homage to Peg Leg Smith, a real life mountain man, with the extremely expressive statue of him fighting a rather demonic looking Native American named Big Bear.
It is unclear how and the statues got to Pierce College, and who exactly does maintains them, none of the websites that mentioned Old Trapper’s Lodge offer an sort of real conclusion. All say it was an anonymous person who either donated the statues to the college, or convinced the college to accept them. According to Roadside America, a Pierce College official said they receive a letter every couple years saying that someone is coming out to repaint the statues, but they don’t know who that person is. I’d say it’s time for them to pay a visit, although of course I do love a certain level of decay on these guys, as it only adds to their insane creep factor.
I first heard about Old Trapper’s Lodge from one of my favorite YouTube channels Tom Explores Los Angeles, and you can view his video on the place here. Tom Explores LA is a channel after my own heart as it highlights unique places in the LA area. Old Trapper’s Lodge is also mentioned in the book Weird California, which I recommend for any California resident, or someone visiting who is looking for crazy places to visit.