From Palos Verdes playing stand-in for 18th-century Port Royal, Jamaica, in Pirates of the Caribbean to the city of Whittier playing the past, present, and would-be future Hill Valley in the Back to the Future series — not to mention Simi Valley pretending to be the Midwest pioneertown of Walnut Grove, Minnesota, on Little House on the Prairie — SoCal can be dressed up to portray most any land in any time period. That includes Korea in the 1950s, the setting for one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, M*A*S*H, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
A moderate 2.5-mile trek into Malibu Creek State Park takes you to the former set of the famous 4077 unit, which still bears evidence of its days as a television star. Faithful fans have volunteered to produce and put up signs that provide a small portion of the show’s eleven-season history. (The real-life Korean War lasted only three years.) From the signs, trekkers can hike away knowing that the Swamp (home to characters Hawkeye Pierce and Frank Burns) was actually much closer to its neighbors than it appeared on television (camera angles made it look as if there was more space) and that most of the interior scenes were actually shot at the studio, including those inside the tents (only the exteriors were shot in the park).
In order to maintain an environmentally sensitive environment within the state park today, the area where the set stood — which was owned by 20th Century Fox studios between 1946 and 1974 — is pretty sparse, so don’t expect to see the nurses’ tent, O.R., or any of the other iconic landmarks. When I visited years ago, before the Woolsey Fire, all that was there was the mileage sign, a shed with some laminated literature about the area, and a rusted-out jeep and ambulance, both of which had been picked clean by previous fans. Stakes marked the former outlines of the tents, and the helicopter pad was a short trot up an incline.
Although I haven’t been there in roughly eight years, the park’s website has up-to-date info for diehard fans looking to make the pilgrimage.
Although the 2018 Woolsey fire destroyed some of the set, much of it still remains.
Malibu Creek State Park also served as a location in the film How Green Was My Valley and for some episodes of Planet of the Apes, although neither production has monuments pinpointing exact whereabouts.
For more info: Malibu Creek State Park | 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Los Angeles, CA 90265 | 818-880-0367 | www.parks.ca.gov