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Tempe museum to host Legend City 50th anniversary

PHOENIX — Longtime Valley residents can take a walk down memory lane this weekend.

They’ll be reliving a fond memory of their childhood: Legend City.

It was June 29, 1963 when thousands of people took their first look at the new Legend City amusement park on the Phoenix-Tempe border. It was right next to Phoenix Municipal Stadium, near Papago Park and the Phoenix Zoo.

Louis Crandall Jr.’s dad built the place.

Saturday, a Legend City 50th anniversary celebration will be held at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe.

“My father’s idea was to build a Western-themed Disneyland for Phoenix,” Crandall said.

Workers who helped create Disneyland also worked on the animatronics used at Legend City for rides such as the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine ride and Cochise’s Stronghold.

KTAR’s Pat McMahon remembers the rides well.

“When I tell new residents about Legend City, they think it was temporary rides like you put up at the State Fair,” McMahon said. “No, these were big, solid, sophisticated rides.”

Crandall’s favorite attraction was the tilted room.

“As you would walk in, you would turn around corners, and it would get more tilted as you walk,” said Crandall. “By the time you walked into the saloon there, it would be tilted, but it would look like it was straight. Everything on the walls was straight, but the floor was tilted. A person who was walking you through the room would pour you a drink, but it wouldn’t even hit the cup. There were optical illusions everywhere.”

Like Disneyland, there was the train, roller coasters, the skyride, teacups and more.

Then there was the entertainment.

In 1965, Miss Arizona, Vonda Kay Van Dyke, won the Miss America beauty pageant. At the same time she was Miss America, she was performing her ventriloquist show inside the Golden Palace saloon.

Over on the Lagoon stage, McMahon was playing Gerald on the “Wallace and Ladmo” stage show every weekend.

“And of course, Gerald was often threatened with being in the lagoon that surrounded the lagoon stage,” joked McMahon. “Fortunately, no one ever got me that close to the water.”

In later years, Legend City became home to Compton Terrace, a major outdoor concert venue.

The park was a fixture in Phoenix for 20 years, but in the end, it fell victim to the weather.

“During the summer it was so hot,” Crandall said. People just did not want to come out in the heat.

Legend City closed for good in 1983. The headquarters for Salt River Project now sits where Legend City once stood.

For the celebration, “We’ve made some special commemorative pins, and we’ve got about a 90-minute show,” said Crandall. “We’re going to have a lot of fun. There will be memorabilia just to walk through and see, just kind of down memory lane as you remember Legend City.”

There are only a few standing room only tickets left. Crandall said that’s because a lot of people have fond memories of Legend City.

“We’ve heard so many fun stories from people who proposed at Legend City,” said Crandall. “They got their first ride on the Riverboat ride or the canoe ride, or the goofy golf. The first time they ever saw things like that was at Legend City.”

The park’s closure left Phoenix as one of the few large cities in America without a major amusement park. McMahon thinks that will change.

“I think somebody’s going to come along with the right kind of money, and the right kind of technology,” said McMahon. “Everybody will still remember the new park as ‘A nice park.'”

But in the end, McMahon says, “They’ll still say…it ain’t Legend City.”