In the past few months I have shown you all some pretty cool places, a fairy land in the desert, Seattle’s bridge troll, a city of the future and Paul Bunyan’s hang out. All these places, however, are still open and available to visit and explore. This time I’m giving you one that’s odd because it is no longer in existence except as beloved memories of an older generation . A wild and western paradise for kids and adults alike, the Disneyland of the Desert, Arizona’s legend of Legend City.
Arizona’s first and only theme park of this particular size started in 1961 by a 32 year old artist, dreamer and advertising agent named Louis E. Crandall. After a number of visits to the Magic Kingdom, Six Flags over Texas and California’s Frontier Village, Louis dreamed of bringing all of that to his home in the Valley of the Sun. That year he created Legend City Inc. and sold up to one million dollars in two dollar stocks and a down payment was made for an 87 acre landscape on East Washington and 56th Street near the Phoenix and Tempe border in Papago Park and began work on his wild western dream. Construction began on December 30 of that year and opened about eighteen months later on June 29 1963 with half a million visitors on its first day.
Like Disneyland, Legend City was divided into different “lands” each with a different (although still going for an old west feel) with the Indian Village or sometimes Island, the Boom Town, Gay 90s Village (don’t laugh at the name!) Legends of Tomorrow, Mexican Village and the Ghost Town. There were many different attractions including a sky ride, Cochise’s Stronghold; a Jungle cruise like river boat ride, and the ever popular and only ones to last the whole twenty years of the park, the Lost Dutchman’s Mine and the crazy Dutchman’s Shack. Live entertainment was provided as well. The 1965 Miss America, Vonda Kay Van Dyke performed as a singer and ventriloquist at the Coca-Cola Golden Palace Saloon at the park. Arizona’s unforgettable television heroes, Wallace and Ladmo, performed shows live at Legend City throughout the park’s run and advertised it on their long running local TV program. Legend City also had probably the largest crime problem in the state as every day seemed to have a bank robbery or train holdup by desperate desperadoes, but was stopped by the lawmen every single time! Strangely these crimes always happens when large crowds were around.
Most sadly, despite the wealth of joy and fun it provided and gave, Legend City was constantly struggling with money. On the end of the first season the park was up to $1.2 million in debt! Having no fire insurance and not being able to afford a bank to print out a financial statement. Louis Crandall, clever as he was, was to apparently too trusting of everyone to be much of a businessman. He only served as president of Legend City Inc. for one year. The park was placed into receivership and Louis moved to Provo, Utah with his family where he opened the Crandall Historical Printing Museum and is still running it for as far as I know. Legend City tried a new business plan but was soon liquidated in September 1966. Luckily it was saved by U-Haul and was almost renamed Frontier Family Fun Park in 1969. At this time the park started to evolve into more of a traditional thrill ride park instead of the intended Western theme.
Even though Legend City survived but trouble continued to plague it. A number of accidents happened, even a couple of deaths, did not help the park in any pleasant way. The biggest problem was the park’s seasons were open during the hotter summers and Phoenix did not have a large enough population at the time to support such a large theme park. U-Haul eventually lost interest in Legend City and sold it to the Japanese amusement park ride manufacturer, Continental Recreation Inc. They closed the park again little more than a year of running. The park made its longest, and probably most successful run in June 1976 when it was bought by the Capells, a family of traveling carnival operators. Even though they were making at least one million dollars a year, Legend City’s western theme was now little more than a memory and the park was starting to look its age. Eventually the land the amusement park was on became more valuable than the park itself. With much sorrow, Legend City held its last hurrah on September 4, 1983. A few months later it held a two day auction and the rest was bulldozed. What stands there now is the corporate office of the Salt River Project, without so much as a plaque in memory of the once loved Legend City.
While gone, however, Legend City is far from forgotten. In 2001 the official Legend City website (simply just www.legend-city.com) went online containing a great collection of memorabilia, photos, recollections and even some songs and videos of the park and its history. The creator of the website, John Bueker, also wrote a book about Legend City in 2014 for Arcadia Publishing for their large “Images of America, series. In June 22, 2013, former employees, visitors and celebrities of Legend City with friends and families, including Wallace, from Wallace and Ladmo, Vonda Van Dyke, now Vonda Kay, the Capell family and even Louis E. Crandall himself celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Legend City at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe, Arizona. In November 6 of last year the same museum held a special exhibit of our long lost western paradise and the its still running until October 2 of this year so hurry up and visit before its too late! Since Legend City closed its gates for the last time there has been at least 17 failed attempts to build a major amusement park in the Grand Canyon State. Sure we have Castles n’ Coasters, several water parks and some pretty cool zoos, and yes they’re fun and all but do any of them live up to their lost forbearer? I say it is high time we start to build a new theme park, a spiritual successor to Legend City. So will any of you folks out there please kindly lend me a few billion dollars to get the project started? Oh come on, I’ll give you all a free Icee and corndog on opening day and let you all ride first on the New Lost Dutchman’s Haunted Mine.