If you drive north on Scottsdale Road, you will notice the Summit Shopping Center located on the east side of the road just before you reach Carefree Highway. It’s a high-volume center that contains a Safeway and a Target surrounded by many other businesses, including three Starbucks. There is nothing unique about that, but the land where the center was built has a story that may not be familiar except to those who have lived in the area for the last 40 years or more.
The Summit was built in 2000 on 47 acres that used to be part of Carefree Studios, a movie and television production company. It was originally called the Fred Graham Studios when built in 1968, as it was established by Graham, a movie stuntman and actor who appeared in almost all of John Wayne’s films. By 1970, Graham had recruited Dick Van Dyke to do a new sitcom series at his property. It was a good fit as Van Dyke was living in nearby Cave Creek and didn’t want to make the weekly trip to Hollywood for taping.
It was around that time that the property’s name was changed to Carefree Studios. The 160-acre complex featured three state-of-the-art sound stages, edit bays, a 35-mm screening room, a make-up department, production facilities, a “Western” street and a back lot. One of Orson Welles’ last films, “The Other Side of the Wind” (1972) was done there, as was Bob Hope’s last feature film, “Cancel My Reservation” (1972). Scenes were shot there for Paul Newman’s “Pocket Money” (1972) and Bill Cosby’s feature debut, “Man and Boy” (1971), which was filmed mainly on the Western street.
Fred Graham died in 1979 at age 71. After the Van Dyke show completed its run in the early 1970s and the aforementioned films and others were completed, the studio didn’t have much activity. In the 1980s, a local broadcaster led a group trying to establish more business at the site, and its name was briefly changed to Southwestern Studios, but it didn’t last long. State Farm Insurance took over the property, and stories have it that the company would allow use of the studios only for family-rated and general-audience type of pictures. By 1999, State Farm decided to sell it, and that is when the Summit developers stepped in. In August of 1999, the Phoenix Business Journal reported that the buildings of Carefree Studios had been demolished the month before to make room for the Summit Center. There were many complaints initially, especially from homeowners associations, about the building of a Target. Many thought it was inappropriate for an exclusive area that included Terravita, Whisper Rock and Winfield. However, the Summit was built and has been quite successful. Unfortunately, today there is no trace of the excitement that Fred Graham’s Carefree Studios once produced. It’s as though it never existed.
As far as “Zabriskie Point,” there are some scenes from it that were filmed at Carefree in 1970. It was a counter culture film of the type that was popular at that time. Unfortunately for Director Michelangelo Antonioni, the story meant little to Americans and never became very popular. However, it did have an exciting finish with a dramatic scene that includes the blowing up of a facsimile of a fancy house that was modeled after a home on Black Mountain in Carefree. (Click orange print to see)
Today, the location of that scene is still very noticeable if one looks north from the ungated intersection of Ashler Hills Drive and 74th Way which is located behind the Summit Center. The distant area is now a gated community but the boulders shown in the film and in the below photos as part of the property still look as in tact as they did in 1970.