Legend City

Photos

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Description

The legend of Legend City lives on in the memories of adults who once visited the amusement park in the '60s, '70s and '80s. Located in what is now Papago Park (at the site of the current SRP building), it was Phoenix's first theme park and was a regular destination for fun and wild west adventure.

Transcript

Narrator:

A legend is told of a place where children could go... where the Old West lived within the gates of a city. Today in that place, a building now stands on the land they once called Legend City .

John Bueker:
And so I got to go to Legend City for the very first time that summer of '63. Sadly, I have no recollection of that visit because I was only 5 years old, but I'm told we saw Wallace and Ladmo and Vonda Kay Van Dyke and we had a great time.

Narrator:
Legend City was the Valley's first amusement park. It sat on 30 acres in Papago Park . From the moment it opened its doors in 1963, children and their parents adored the park's Old-West theme. It survived 20 years before it ended its run in 1983. All that remains of that time are artifacts, some of which were collected by Glendale resident John Bueker.

John Bueker:
This is a Legend City pennant from the early days of the park, circa 1963. It features the original Legend City logo. This was worn by the young ladies who would sell ice cream at the shamrock ice-cream parlor at Legend City . This sign adorned the antique car ride at Legend City for many years.

[ Dolan Ellis' "Ghost of Legend City" playing ]

Narrator:
Bueker created the Legend City website.

John Bueker:
Through the magic of the internet, we're able to visit these places that no longer exist in reality.

Narrator:
The journey to the virtual Legend City can be made quickly and easily. To discover the source of the real Legend City requires a journey of greater distance. Time might very well run constantly like the waters of a river, but there is a timelessness about the beauty of Provo , Utah . Nestled between snow-capped peaks and Lake Utah , it's the home of Brigham Young University and the Crandall Historical Printing Museum .

Louis Crandall:
The first printing press. It's a replica, but it's a real printing press. This prints just like Gutenberg would have printed 600 years ago.

Narrator:
Louis Crandall created this homage to the history of printing, but while in his twenties, the young man who owned an advertising agency in Phoenix made a trip to Disneyland that changed his life.

Louis Crandall:
All the way back, all I could think about, "We need a Disneyland for Phoenix ," and my first idea was we would make something to show the history of Arizona . And that's when we came up with the idea of maybe making a park that would show the legends of Arizona . Someone came up with the idea, and it was me, because "Louis Crandall, Legend City ," I thought that would be kind of a fun tie-in. There's a -- there's my drawing of Legend City . Now, we did at this time have that piece of property, and so we -- it had two gullies, one going on the east side and one on the west side, so that would be a perfect place to put a lake and a perfect place to put a ravine there, you see.

Narrator:
Managers of Disneyland and Six Flags Over Texas helped the young entrepreneur. Many people in Phoenix also supported Crandall with his ambitious venture. A board of directors was founded and stocks were sold. Anticipation was feverish in the Valley as the park was being built. Headlines heralded the arrival of the train, and hundreds showed up for opening day in the summer of 1963, even Governor Fannin. Nevertheless, there was a smaller crowd than expected.

Louis Crandall:
Everybody loved Legend City . The only problem was it was so blinking hot down there.

Narrator:
But the kids let their imaginations run free.

John Bueker:
It had a very magical atmosphere for a kid. Of course, it was an Old-West environment, which was very popular at that time. My strongest memories are of attractions like the Lost Dutchman Mine ride, which for many people was the most popular attraction at the park. The river ride was always very popular, probably second only to the Dutchman Mine.

Narrator:
Despite the quality of the park, the heat and the lack of attendance began to take a toll. Crandall and his board were running into financial difficulties after only the first year.

Louis Crandall:
We were struggling. That first year was tough. Worried. A fabulous park. I had meetings with the governor at the time, pleading with him to help us, "This park's going to go under if we don't do something about it."

Narrator:
A decision was made to replace Crandall with an experienced manager.

Louis Crandall:
In fact, I was -- I voted for that. I felt we needed a real park operator.

Narrator:
Crandall would return to Legend City to assist subsequent owners, but the park eventually began a slow decline.

Louis Crandall:
And about that time, I kind of lost track of Legend City . I was proud of the fact that it was still in existence. People loved Legend City .

John Bueker:
1980 was the last time I went, and I was by that time a young adult. I was 22 years old. And Legend City , of course, was nearing the end. And the thing I remember most about that visit was that the park was very run-down, none of the rides worked properly anymore. They had just let it go, and so I remember feeling very sad that Legend City had come to that.

Narrator:
Today, Louis Crandall is deeply satisfied telling the history of printing from the Gutenberg Bible to the Book of Mormon, but also today sharing a common nostalgia with many Arizonans, he looks back fondly at the time when he built a city for the children of Phoenix.

Louis Crandall:
Well, all my whole life was at Legend City . I loved the place. It was a major part of my life. The thrill of my life was able to build Disneyland – a Disneyland for Arizona , Legend City.