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Visiting Greer Garson’s New Mexico Ranch Home (Yes, It Was Amazing)

December 18, 2023

As a massive Greer Garson fan, once I learned that one of her homes still stood AND was open for tours, I made it a mission to visit. That was about five years ago, and I’m happy to say that my mission was finally accomplished earlier this year!

 

Born and raised in the UK, Garson lived in Hollywood full time for about a decade from the late 1930s through the late 40s. She met and married Texas oilman Buddy Fogelson in 1949, and as her career slowed, they spent more and more time in Texas and their summer home in Pecos, New Mexico. 

 

The dwelling in Pecos, Forked Lightning Ranch, is now owned by the National Park Service—it's part of the Pecos National Historical Park—and twice a week, they offer guided tours of the ranch home. In April 2023, I had the urge to take a last-minute solo long weekend trip, and New Mexico it was! I called the park and reserved a spot on a Saturday ranch tour. I ended up being the only person on the tour, along with a ranger and a volunteer.

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All photos by Kim Luperi

The above plaque outside the E. E. Fogelson Visitor Center reads: "The National Park Service gratefully acknowledges the generous support of Colonel E. E. and Mrs. Greer Garson Fogelson, who have given the surrounding lands and continuing assistance to Pecos National Monument."

 

Forked Lightning Ranch has a storied past, which my tour guide, Bryon, went into more detail on. To give you a brief background, Polish immigrant Martin Kozlowski built a trading post on the land in the 1850s. The Union army used the building as headquarters/hospital during the Battle of Glorieta Pass in the Civil War. Decades later, in 1925, “colorful entrepreneur” Tex Austin purchased the property. He commissioned the building of Forked Lightning Ranch and ranch house, the latter designed by architect John Gaw Meem in Pueblo Revival style. Austin operated the house as a ritzy resort and dude ranch, catering to upper class clientele including the Lindbergh’s and Will Rogers. (Many of the bedrooms I toured were recreated in the manner Austin’s guests would have seen and enjoyed them.) Austin’s resort ceased operations in 1933, due, in part, to the Great Depression. Fogelson purchased the land and home in 1941 and expanded the property considerably. 

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In the 1950s, Garson and Fogelson used part of the property as a cattle ranch. (The cattle head in the above photo was added during the Tex Austin period.) Early on, Garson purchased Scottish Shorthorn cattle, but the weather proved too hot for them. They eventually started breeding Santa Gertrudis cattle, a breed that could withstand warm climates, and many of their animals went on to win prizes at the New Mexico state fair. They also entertained extensively, hosting parties, teas, and more for celebrities and luminaries ranging from David O. Selznick to Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Following Fogelson’s death in 1987, the property was allocated to Garson and Fogelson’s son Gayle. In the late 80s, Garson considered selling the land to a developer, which prompted swift backlash from the local community. Instead, she sold her share to The Conservation Fund, which later donated the land to the government, where it became part of the Pecos National Historical Park. Gayle’s share of the land was later owned at various times by Jane Fonda, Val Kilmer, and an oil executive.

 

I informed Bryon that I am a Garson fan, and he told me many lovely stories about her. She apparently was very generous, especially to the people she employed and locals in town. For instance, she provided college tuition for several locals, paid to bus kids up to Santa Fe to see plays, and narrated a video in the park’s visitor center for free. When she lived in Pecos, locals celebrated Greer Garson Day, which she gladly attended. She also often could be spotted in town eating lunch, and I was told she was always happy to chat with people who stopped by to say hi to her.

 

Below are photos and highlights from the tour. There aren’t many furnishings in the main ranch house; most of the couple’s personal belongings were sold at auction. That said, some original pieces still inhabit the house, especially in the kitchen.

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Note the abundance of salmon colored paint. Garson actually bought too much, so she donated the extra to the town of Pecos—and they sure used it!

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In the above two photos, you can see some items from the kitchen, which did belong to Garson and Fogelson. Many cabinets were full of the couple's dishware.

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I love how this map notes "Greer Garson Pasture."

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The above three images were taken in Garson's office. The books, I believe, were hers. However, most of the furniture and the typewriter are not original.

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The bathtub looks so small! The bathroom itself was very large. If I remember correctly, Garson and Fogelson had their own bathroom space.

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I love the framed image in the above picture. It was made with needlepoint or some type of stitching, as I recall.

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A few standees can be found throughout the house with photos of the Fogelson's, their parties, the property, and the surrounding land.

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The above three photos were taken in the extremely expansive living room. I love how open the space is.

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The ranch house is a large rectangular structure with an open courtyard in the middle, which you see in the photo immediately above. Most of the blue doors are for the guest rooms. Oftentimes, the couple hosted parties in this open area.

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The above two photos are included in an exhibit in the park's visitor center. There is a quote from Garson on the image of her on a horse, which reads: "Due to our having a ranch at Pecos, we have become fascinated by and involved for nearly half a century in Education and Arts in this area... I think we both FEEL MORE AT HOME HERE in New Mexico than anywhere. May I say that it is Buddy's hope and mine that after we have left the scene, you will think of us sometimes and continue to keep alive and GROWING THE GOOD THINGS that have been started." A note below adds that the couple "laid the groundwork to establish this national park unit. They donated land and funded the construction of this visitor center." 

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I couldn't leave New Mexico without seeing the Greer Garson Theatre at the University of Santa Fe. It was a weekend, and it looked like something was going on inside, so I just snapped some photos of the exterior. 

If you're a classic film fan and ever find yourself in the Santa Fe area, I highly suggest visiting the Forked Lightning Ranch and Pecos National Historical Park, which is a vastly underrated treasure. In addition to the ranch tour, I walked the quiet South Pasture Trail near the ranch property; explored the Ancestral Sites Trail, which takes you through pueblo and mission church remains; and wandered through the exhibit in the E.E. Fogelson Visitor Center, which includes a video about the area’s history narrated by Garson and a timeline that mentions a few of the things Garson and Fogelson did for the community.

 

As of December 2023, tours of the ranch house are free and take place Saturdays and Mondays at 1:30pm, weather permitting. Advance reservations are required, and the ranch is a short drive from the main park. Click HERE for more information. You can read more about the history of the ranch HERE.

thanks for stopping by!

I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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