With more than four million residents, Phoenix is one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas (as of the 2013 census, it still held the #6 spot). Yet despite our gorgeous winters, the Valley is missing a few hallmarks of other go-to vacation destinations – most notably, a major theme park.
In recent years, efforts have been made to fill the attraction gap. Merlin Entertainment opened Sea Life Aquarium at Arizona Mills Mall in 2010; this past February, the company announced plans to add a LEGOLAND center to the plaza’s “entertainment district.” Scottsdale’s Butterfly Wonderland joined existing attractions such as Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden in May 2013, with a dual-level, two-million-gallon aquarium slated to open in the adjacent lot in July 2016.
But none of these tourist hotspots have risen to the level of a local theme park opened by ad exec Louis E. Crandall in 1963. Dubbed Legend City, the planned 83-acre theme park was inspired by Crandall’s regular visits to Disneyland in California. The original park had a strong Western theme, with rides including The Lost Dutchman Mine, Legend City Railroad, a log flume and Indian canoes. Wallace and Ladmo performed there nearly every week, and a saloon hosted ventriloquists, singers and other acts.
Experience the park’s magic firsthand at Tempe History Museum’s Legend City exhibition, which kicks off with a mini-carnival featuring music, games and circus performers at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, November 6. Crandall and guest star Pat McMahon of "The Wallace & Ladmo Show" will be on hand for a ribbon cutting ceremony at 6 p.m.
The exhibit includes hundreds of pieces of Legend City history, from ticket stubs and character costumes to the dummy used by ventriloquist and Miss America 1965 Vonda Kay Van Dyke in her on-site act. Peep portions of original rides and try to maintain balance in a recreation of the park’s “tilt house.”
After Crandall’s Legend City went bankrupt, the property passed to several other owners – including a carnival family that brought in Ferris wheels and roller coasters – before closing in 1983 to make way for an SRP office. Photographer Pat Gorraiz was able to gain entrance to the defunct park in 1984 before it was razed. His eerie black-and-white images of the desolate landmark will be displayed in Tempe History Museum’s community room.
"Legend City: The Exhibition" runs through October 2, 2016 at Tempe History Museum, 809 E. Southern Ave. Admission is free. Visit tempe.gov for info.
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