Tom Mix, Buster Keaton in Pomona?


At least two old-time movies are rumored to have been filmed behind the Phillips Mansion (pictured), an 1875 home built by Louis Phillips (1830-1900), a rancher and businessman at one time said to be the wealthiest man in Los Angeles County.

One movie is said to have featured Buster Keaton. And now Cal Poly Pomona student DeeAnn Perez comes asking about a Tom Mix movie said to have been filmed there.

The original source for both pieces of information is Mickey Gallivan of the Historical Society of the Pomona Valley, who doesn’t know the titles either but has heard both stories from a past resident of the mansion. Perez asked me because she thought I’d know, but I don’t.

Perez writes that although she inquired because she was doing research for a class assignment, a friend is married to Tom Mix’s grandson, and “they are always looking for historical evidence on his grandfather.”

I’m hoping that by putting this online, hardcore fans of Mix and Keaton might be able to identify any movie that included the property. But this could be difficult because the mansion itself probably isn’t in either movie. Instead, the movies involved a barn behind the property, and the barn, Gallivan says, “fell down” some time ago. She couldn’t locate a photo.

The Keaton movie, or possibly short, was filmed sometime between 1931 and 1942, when the Boyle family, which had Hollywood connections, owned the property. A Boyle relation remembers the movie shoot. There can’t be too many Keaton movies that include a barn.

A Tom Mix western that involves a barn doesn’t sound like a novelty, although the dramatic hill behind the property might be a tipoff. It was filmed sometime before the Boyles’ arrival in 1931.

Here’s some history about the Phillips Mansion. It’s one of the oldest structures in Pomona and among the first in the county to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house is owned by the Historical Society but due to earthquake damage isn’t open to the public other than for special events (see below).

The original construction cost was $20,000. The house is at 2640 Pomona Blvd. Read more about both homes on the website of the Historical Society. Wikipedia has a good entry.

The mansion will be open Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. for the Historical Society’s annual ice cream social. Entrance is free, although food and activities aren’t.

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  • Earl J. Wiesen

    Tom Mix lived in a beautiful estate in Cucamonga. My daughter was married at the site.

  • billyjackattack

    David, cool story. If you really want to do something funky then check out the old cemetery behind the industrial buildings and just a stones throw from the mansion. Street access is blocked by a wrought iron gate that says Spadra on the top. You will have to walk the open field just west of the 57 freeway and then back east along the train tracks to access the cemetery. It’s a fun little adventure and sometimes you will even find evidence of secret ceremonies that may have occurred there. The cemetery is an interesting place for contemplation, not just because you are around unique individuals that have passed, but because they passed so long ago, before a freeway ran through their property, before the building of sub divisions and industry. Some headstones are unreadable and others tell interesting stories. It’s an interesting outing to say the least.

    [You can find my piece on the Spadra cemetery elsewhere on this blog under the “Pomona A to Z” category. — DA]

  • Stephanie Milner

    Hi David, You may want to refer to John Bengtson’s work Silent Echoes about this if you haven’t already, it is his work about the sites that Buster Keaton’s films were shot (usually around LA and Hollywood, but there may be something about Pomona since it’s so close).

    [That was a good idea, Stephanie, but there’s no Pomona reference. My guess is that this filming (if the story is true) came during Keaton’s later, sound period, perhaps the Columbia years, which aren’t covered in the book. — DA]

  • Dan Fenske

    I used to play on the Phillips Ranch land from 1948 to 1958 when the Phillips Ranch was sold. We boarded three horses on the ranch and so got to know Dudley and Helen Phillips. Dudley and Helen Phillips home was on Kellogg Hill and just north of what is now the I-10 Freeway. It was Dudley’s grandfather who built the Phillips Mansion. The ranch forman then was Jim Sharp and he and his wife Helen and son Steve, lived on the main ranch in a small house. With them was a ranch hand named Fred Hayes. Steve and I grew up playing together on the ranch and wandered all over the ranch property. The hill directly south of the Phillips Mansion is named Elephant Hill and Steve and I would walk to the Phillips mansion and wander along the railroad tracks behind the mansion. The graveyard mentioned is where members of the Phillips family are buried. Along with other families of those times. It is called the Spadra Graveyard. We used to visit thee graveyard to check out a hollow hole in a pepper tree where Barn Owls nested.
    The Phillips Ranch was an operating cattle ranch in those years with yearly round ups and calf brandings. My family participated in those events each year. Many Years ago I met with Mickey Gallivan and shared photos of the ranch, our horses and family on the ranch. Those photos were copied and left with Mrs. Gallivan. We drove to Westmont where I pointed out where the ranch buildings, small house and corrals once existed. Now covered with
    homes. The firmans son Steve now lives in Oregon where we also live and he and I remain in touch. Fun years to live in Pomona and the ranch a great place for adventures for our family.

    Dan Fenske
    Harrisburg, Oregon