Special Report: From the Sets
Hidden in the Adirondack Mountains, you will find the most unlikely of Star Trek tourist attractions. Nestled in an old storefront in downtown Ticonderoga, New York, is a complete reproduction of the standing sets from the original series.
Standing sets are sets built for regular use on a TV series. In Seinfeld, the Monk’s Diner or Jerry’s apartment are examples of standing sets. While other sets are purpose built for specific episodes, in the Seinfeld example, this would include Newman’s apartment.
For the original Star Trek TV series, these standing sets would include the bridge, engineering, sickbay, transporter room crew quarters, briefing room, and the ship’s corridors to name a few.
In 1964 when the first of these standing sets were built, they represented both a significant financial investment for a television pilot. A significant design accomplishment for a TV production at the time. Most TV shows of this still early television era utilized Hollywood’s many existing sets. Sets of homes, offices and their interiors were readily available for lease particularly for use in pilots where full production money was not yet committed. Star Trek was a considerable departure for television production in the mid 60s. Almost everything in Gene Roddenberry’s universe would need to be built from scratch.
The original interior sets were designed by Matt Jefferies, the show’s set designer. Jefferies had considerable background in the military serving in WWII as a flight test engineer. In addition to his military experience, Jefferies was a member of the Aviation Space Writers’ Association and American Aviation Historical Society. One of his many hobbies was to own and restore WWII aircraft. All of his considerable skill and knowledge brought believability and credibility to his designs and to the ambitious TV series. The original bridge layout was so authentic that the US Navy master communications center at the NAS in San Diego is said to have been influenced by Jefferies’ design.
While photos of the original set layout and set structures exist, the original sets first built on the Desilu, later Paramount Pictures lot, have long been lost to time. Many fans over the years have built sets or parts of the sets, but only 2 groups have built them all. I can think of no higher testament of the enduring affection for a television show than to spend thousands of dollars of your own money recreating sets of a fictional TV show.
Cosplay on steroids!
One such super-fan James Cawley first started building his recreations over 13 years ago to serve as the backdrop to his popular fan film series Star Trek Phase 2, later renamed Star Trek: New Voyages. The fan series was intended to pick up where the original series ended. Rounding out the original 5-year mission and leading to events intended in a planned follow-up series set to be called Star Trek: Phase II in the mid-1970s. This canceled series end up as Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In total, 10 full-length fan episodes were filmed – many featuring original Star Trek actors. The plot devices used to account for the age difference were inventive and fun. Both George Takei and Walter Koenig’s appearances are quite memorable.
Over the years, these sets were improved, rebuilt, moved to where they currently reside in Ticonderoga, New York. Facing increased restrictions on fan film productions, James Cawley struck a deal with CBS as part of the 50th-anniversary celebrations to open the sets to the public as a studio-licensed tour experience.
In late April, I personally had the privilege to fulfill a lifetime dream to walk the halls of the USS Enterprise.
The tour starts in one of the corridors just left of the Transporter room, down the hall from sickbay. Taking roughly an hour to complete the tour guide was happy to let us linger in each set. The tour concludes on the bridge.
The bridge, complete and real. I’ll let that linger and sink in for all the classic Star Trek fans for a moment.
After being denied access to handle the many buttons and chairs throughout the tour, the guide did allow us a photo op in the captain’s chair.
Bucket list: Captain’s Chair – check.
The sets are impressive and highly detailed. James Cawley and his team have made considerable effort to include every detail, every label, every button. Including a few surprises that we only imagined were part of the original sets. Things like working computer monitors and displays that regularly updated with screen inspired detail. This detail was fully intended as part of the original set design but proved too expensive to maintain on a weekly series.
When you visit, be sure to ask how big the main view screen is. (For your own recreation, of course). Hint: you can now buy a flat screen television in this size now.
As impressive as the bridge was, and it was, the most immersive for me was to stand within those recreated corridors and halls. Looking left, right in front and behind you see nothing but the ship, the rooms so familiar just behind each door. Everywhere you looked, you were there… you were on the ship.
The bridge was missing the 4th wall where the cameras, lights, and crew would be located, just as they would have been on the original sets. Because of this, some of that interactive immersion was missing from the experience. This was not the case in the corridors. The illusion was complete and fully immersive, right down to the lighting effects seen on the show.
Tours are ongoing through the summer, or if there are any tickets left, book a special tour during a special mini-festival called “Trekonderoga” and let Nichelle Nichols or Walter Koenig or other Star Trek alumni be your tour guide.
Set your transporter coordinates and make the Trek.