Selling The Scenery6 min read

By May Hunter

Cedar City has long been known as the “Gateway to the Parks” thanks to brothers Gronway and Chauncey Parry, who not only ran a hotel but also a transportation company that shuttled passengers. Once the railroad came to Cedar City, these enterprising young brothers saw a clear future in driving tours from the railroad depot to any one of the five majestic national parks surrounding Cedar City.

The history of moviemaking in Utah begins in Cedar City with brothers Gronway and Chauncey Parry who established themselves first as promoters of tourism to Zion Park, Bryce Canyon,  and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and second as salesmen of the scenic mountains and canyon vistas to Hollywood’s movie makers.

The story begins at the turn of the century with two Parry brothers growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah. The elder Gronway was born 1889 and named after his father, Gronway Parry Sr, the son of Welsh pioneers immigrants. The younger brother, Chauncey, was called “Chance” by family and friends. He was born in 1896. The Parry boys had a foot in Utah’s pioneer heritage,  but lives that faced the age of automobiles and airplanes.

During the next thirty years, as the boys became men, they would change the economy and ultimately the history of rural Southern Utah. They started the “Golden Circle” auto and bus tours of Utah’s almost unknown national parks in 1917. Together they began the Utah-Grand Canyon Transportation Company. Using a second hand 7 passenger Hudson and a Model T, the brothers took tourists to the scenic sights of Southern Utah. The initial route crossed the Virgin  River 22 times. The company was bought out by Union Pacific in 1925 and became the Utah  Parks Company (UPC)-which existed until 1973. Gronway became the first Transportation Agent for the UPC, a position he held for 17 years.

The horse-drawn vehicles and much of the farm equipment on exhibit at the Frontier Homestead in Cedar City came from the collection of Gronway Parry. Gronway developed an early love of horses and horse-drawn vehicles. He worked his way through college by buying, reconditioning and selling racehorses. After graduation, Gronway became the first County Agent in Iron County,  managed the Cedar Hotel and opened the first Buick dealership in Cedar City. During his years in Cedar City, Gronway served one term as Mayor, became instrumental in  bringing Hollywood to Southern Utah, pioneered the road over Cedar Mountain, and worked as  a sheep rancher, carrot and potato farmer, land developer, and college professor at BAC, now SUU.

During the 1930’s Gronway began to actively restore and display his wagons and coaches. He later stated, “An era was dying and its relics should be preserved.” He bought or made his own tools and his wife, Afton, sewed the upholstery. His collection quickly became nationally known and many of his pieces were used in motion pictures. Gronway felt strongly that his collection remained whole and in Cedar City. In 1968 he sold everything in the Iron Mission State Park for half of its value. He considered the rest as a gift to the people of Cedar City.

These adventuresome young men explored Southern Utah on horseback and then by small airplane, photographing the scenery wherever they went. Moving pictures, once filmed in front of cardboard mountains on Hollywood’s back lots, were beginning to be filmed outdoors, and the Parry brothers imagined the grandeur of Southern Utah exposed to America’s audiences. In 1924-25 several movies were filmed here, but they were silent, black and white movies which did not achieve the Parry brothers’ goals.

Chauncey, having trained as a pilot in WW1 combined his love of flying and photography, and spent many hours creating amazing aerial footage that he would soon market to the film studios in Hollywood. Finally, Cedar City was in the viewfinder of Hollywood movie studios. Gronway and Chauncey devoted themselves to photographing every likely motion picture location in Southern Utah and in the winter of 1928, Chauncey and his wife, Helen, set off for Hollywood with a portfolio of color photographs to sell Southern Utah’s scenery to the Hollywood establishment. It  was later said that “With his good humor and vibrant leadership, Chauncey charmed MGM, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount studios into serious consideration of Southern Utah as a movie location.” These photographs and Chauncey’s sales pitch to Hollywood turned Southern Utah into “little Hollywood” between 1920 and 1940. The pay for locals to be extras in multiple movies was a great boon to the economy during the Depression years.

The Gem Photoplay became the first theatre in Cedar City. In 1919 Thomas A.Thorley built the Thorley Theatre, replacing the Gem. Throughout the following decades, the Thorley would undergo a series of name changes including the Avalon and the Utah. By 1950’s it became known as the Cedar Theatre.

Chauncey soon recognized that companies also needed transportation, housing and meals for stars, extras, and crew. The El Escalante Hotel and their bus fleet provided some of these services. Gronway’s role was to provide horses and props for the films. He noticed old horse-drawn vehicles sitting idly in fields or on ranches and rebuilt them so they could be used in the movies. Into his 70’s Gronway continued to restore western stagecoaches and wagons, now centerpieces for Cedar City’s Frontier Homestead State Park.

In January 1917, Gronway made the following statement. “We will state at the start that we have ample capital and financial backing to make the concession good. As to the ability and experience in serving the public, will say the handling the public is our business. We are in the hotel and transportation business at Cedar City, Utah. We own and operate a stage line of Buick and National cars from Lund to Cedar City and St. George. In conjunction with this passenger line we operate a truck-freight line between Lund and Cedar City. We have just completed a first class modern steam laundry at Cedar City, which will enable us to be further service to the public.”

The Parry brothers’ investment in rural Utah during difficult economic years attracted tourism and the movie industry, achievements that tell us that Gronway and Chauncey were Southern Utah’s greatest salesmen. Movie companies brought millions of dollars into the Southern Utah Community over the next five decades. As with most success stories, the Parry brothers’ contribution to Utah history is by some luck, some dreaming, some genius, and plenty of hard work.

Frontier Homestead State Park Museum in Cedar City Utah. The museum was opened to the public in 1980, originally named Iron Mission State Park. The name was changed in 2009, as the park grew and expanded around Gronway Parry’s collection of horse-drawn vehicles and agricultural implements. Located at 635 N Main Street, Cedar City Utah, open everyday 9:00 AM-6 PM.


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