The faded white-clapboard chapel at Apacheland Movie Ranch stirs visions of movie- star cowboys, gunfights and dusty Western towns. But the only battle it faces now is the one residents are fighting to preserve this little piece of Hollywood tucked into the Superstition Mountains.
Apacheland was built east of Apache Junction, near Gold Canyon, in 1960 to attract filmmakers. A bearded Elvis Presley started in the 1969 movie "Charro!," which was filmed at Apacheland. The set was used often in the TV show "Death Valley Days," which featured Ronald Reagan and ran from 1962 to 1975.
Two fires and waning interest from Hollywood persuaded owners Ed and Sue Birmingham to sell the property to residential developers last year. Nearby residents are trying to raise $30,000 to relocate the chapel, which they call the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, and the barn to the Superstition Mountain Museum nearby. The barn and the chapel are the only two original buildings to survive both the 1969 and the 2004 fires.
"Apacheland is what made Gold Canyon what it was," said resident Phil Rauso Jr. "To let them go would be letting a piece of the history of this area go."
The museum has until May to get the buildings moved.
Museum director George Johnston said the barn has been taken apart and the pieces moved to a field next to the museum, but organizers still need to get the chapel moved.
The expense, he said, will come with putting the buildings back together on new foundations with new plumbing and wiring.
"We need a lot of funds," he said. A few thousand dollars was raised from a recent benefit and raffle tickets sold at the museum.
Gold Canyon resident Marta Saint-James said she contacted the Elvis Foundation for financial assistance, but got no response.
"For years and years we've had weddings, funerals, everything at that chapel," she said. "It's part of the community."
Rauso had archived quite a bit of the Apacheland memorabilia before the second fire and hopes to turn the chapel into a small museum. He has concrete footprints made by stars that used the set, including Jerry Van Dyke, Denver Pyle and Warren Oates. He also has movie props, scripts and photos.
"I stumbled upon the place and just fell in love with it," Rauso said.
Johnston said he hopes one day to make the chapel available for weddings and events.
"We are always getting questions from people who want to get married in there," Johnston said. "That's why we think it's important to preserve it if we can."
The barn will be used for storage for the museum.