Tucson Oddity: 'Tucson's Tolkien' turned vision into a wondrous, magical realm

2012-04-16T00:00:00Z 2012-04-16T11:57:16Z Tucson Oddity: 'Tucson's Tolkien' turned vision into a wondrous, magical realmPhil Villarreal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 16, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Tucson's Valley of the Moon, which predates Disneyland by 23 years, is a storybook come to life.

Twisting pathways, gnarled trees, mysterious caves and castles, as well as homes of wizards and fairies pepper the landscape.

It's also home to several iconic statues that started at Magic Carpet Golf, including Spider Tree, Castle, Old Stump and Pygmy Hut.

The park, at 2544 E. Allen Road, is no longer open on a regular basis, but only on special occasions. An all-volunteer staff, dubbed the George Phar Legler Society - named after the man who built the park - maintains the grounds and plans the programming.

Legler, a retired postal clerk, bought the 2 1/2-acre plot near North Tucson Boulevard and East Allen Road in the early 1920s and had rock delivered by mule to create a park filled with caves, twisting paths and fantasy scenery using chicken wire, concrete and paint.

Legler himself moved into a cave, which he called home for most of the rest of his years until he died in 1982 at age 97. He opened the park to the public in 1932 and invited all comers to tour his domain for free, dressing up as a Mountain Gnome. He staged magic shows, told stories and trained rabbits to act in little plays. Some referred to him as "Tucson's Tolkien."

Life magazine took notice, dedicating a four-page spread to the park in 1953.

By the late 1960s, as Legler's health faded, the park fell into disrepair and became a target of vandals. But a group of Catalina High School students came to its rescue in the early 1970s, forming a restoration society that got the park running again and rejuvenated Legler.

The resurrection got Valley of the Moon designated as an Arizona Historic District in 1975.

Legler's obituary cited a favorite quote of his:

"Up to about age 7, children are another race of people," he would say. "There's a real brotherhood then. They live in a wonderful world. After 8 or 9, they begin to move into the slots of their parents."

IF YOU GO

Valley of the Moon "Peter Pan" days

• What: The park will be set up with a "Peter Pan" theme, with volunteers playing characters and performing for the audience.

• Where: 2544 E. Allen Road

• When: Tours start every 30 minutes between 6:30 and 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday and April 27, 28 and 29.

• Admission: $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 8-13. Kids 7 and under free.

Got an oddity?

Is there something you've noticed while driving through Tucson that has piqued your curiosity? Or is there some piece of Old Pueblo history you've wondered about? Drop us a line, and we'll look into it. Call the Star newsroom at 573-4232 or send an e-mail to oddity@azstarnet.com

Now on sale

"Tucson Oddities, Too" is now available. The sequel to "Tucson Oddities Vol. 1" features another 50 hometown oddities suggested by Star readers. Price: $14.99 plus tax. A limited number of Volume 1 and 2 are available in a box set for $29, plus tax. The books can be bought at the Star, 4850 S. Park Ave., 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; or online at azstarnet.com/store (shipping and handling charges will be applied). Questions can be referred to oddity@azstarnet.com or 573-4232.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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