Corrigan rides off into the sunset

Locals say ‘happy trails’ to eccentric restaurateur and urban cowboy

ON TO GREENER PASTURES—Tom Corrigan, 73, owner of the westernthemed Corrigan’s Steakhouse in Thousand Oaks, died March 14 at his home in Lynn Ranch. File photo

ON TO GREENER PASTURES—Tom Corrigan, 73, owner of the western-themed Corrigan’s Steakhouse in Thousand Oaks, died March 14 at his home in Lynn Ranch. File photo

Corrigan’s Steakhouse is mourning the loss of its signature cowboy.

Tom Corrigan, the 73-year-old owner of the western-themed Thousand Oaks Boulevard mainstay, died March 14 at his home in Lynn Ranch with his wife and niece by his side. Illness had kept him from the restaurant he loved for longer and longer stretches over the past year, so friends were saddened, but not shocked, to hear the news.

Corrigan was the son of actor, stuntman and Corriganville Movie Ranch founder Ray “Crash” Corrigan, and the kitschy Old West establishment just north of the 101 Freeway doubled as a shrine to his father.

Movie posters from films like “Texas Trouble Shooters,” “Wrangler’s Roost” and “Range Busters” adorn the walls, as do pictures of a young Tom spending time on his father’s movie ranch with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

Ventura County Sheriff ’s Commander Tim Hagel said his family has had a tradition for the past 30 years of meeting at Corrigan’s every Sunday morning for a steak-and-egg breakfast. He said the restaurant was Corrigan’s way of honoring his father’s legacy, and that he’ll miss hearing the owner’s boisterous laugh and seeing his 10-gallon cowboy hat. “He’s the last of a generation,” Hagel said of Corrigan, who did not have any children. “There are a handful of other colorful cowboys left, but not many. You miss that aura he had.”

Longtime friend and fellow Thousand Oaks Elks Lodge member Dan Martyn said Tom Corrigan loved to regale diners with stories from his star-studded childhood growing up on a working movie ranch. He was also a consummate showman who knew his way around a whip.

“Tom was a cowboy, proud Marine and restaurateur who loved to entertain. A former longtime bartender told me that Tom could actually strike a cigarette from her mouth with his whip,” Martyn said. “As the story goes, his late wife, Marilyn, thereafter disposed of his whip.”

Pete Turpel, a longtime local businessman and former Thousand Oaks planning commissioner, said Corrigan was a throwback to when the area was ranching country; he was more Sundance Kid than Wyatt Earp.

“People forget this was the Wild West,” Turpel said. “He was a fixture in the community, but he was a character. He never really followed the rules.”

Growing up on a 1,500-acre Simi Valley ranch at the base of the Santa Susana Mountains, Corrigan was born on a movie set—literally. Silvertown, later renamed Corriganville, served as the backdrop for 3,500 film and TV productions from 1937 to 1965, including installments of “Bonanza,” “The Lone Ranger” and “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.”

Corrigan regularly encountered stars like John Wayne and Joel McCrea (of Thousand Oaks fame), and he embraced his Western movie roots long after his father sold Corriganville.

Even after he moved to Lynn Ranch and opened his steakhouse at its first location in the Park Oaks Shopping Center in 1982, the restaurateur never left the house without his trademark Stetson, ascot and cowboy boots.

Jim Nierenberg has tended bar at Corrigan’s for the past decade. He said his boss always ordered Manhattans from his signature corner stool and was always ready with a joke.

“But none that I can repeat,” Nierenberg said. “He could be ornery.”

Waitress Holly Healy said Corrigan was notorious for being a tough boss. He wanted final say on every decision, was prone to mood swings and abhorred change (much of the décor has remained constant since the 1980s).

Still, she described his death as the loss of a close family member.

“Tom was crazy,” she said, “but it’s like if your dad died.”

Healy said employees often didn’t stay on the payroll for long, but she managed to survive for six years by giving Corrigan what he wanted: usually an exact count of how many $1, $5 and $20 bills were in each register at a given moment.

“Don’t question the question,” she said. “Only the strong survive.”

Corrigan was a U.S. Marine who took pride in hosting events for Veterans Day and the Marine Corps birthday. While his father was a movie star, his grandfather was a butcher, and in 2015 Corrigan boasted to The Acorn about his kitchen skills.

“I can out-bartend my bartenders and out-cook my cooks,” he said.

Healy described Corrigan as a sort of father figure whose own father was the most important person in his life.

“His dad meant everything to him,” she said.

To this day, Corrigan’s Steakhouse sells its own brand of barbecue sauce made from Ray’s recipe.

Corrigan is survived by his wife of three years, Diane. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sat., April 14 at the Thousand Oaks Elks Lodge, 158 N. Conejo School Road.