They were city slickers all right, entranced with the West.

In 1946, New Yorkers William and Florence Schneider came to Tucson for a little vacation.

"We stayed six weeks at the Double U, now Canyon Ranch," says their son, Burt Schneider.

Two years later they came back for six months. "Dad was trying to figure out what he could do to make a living here. He had been in the wholesale shoe business back East."

But his mother held a doctorate in social work. Finally, the light bulb flashed on. They would open a school.

In 1949 they bought a home and six acres at North Craycroft Road and East Fourth Street, complete with swimming pool, corrals and horses.

And so began Treehaven, starting with preschoolers and kindergartners and expanding in later years all the way to ninth grade.

But Tucson's burgeoning east-side growth soon had the Schneiders looking for more bucolic digs. They found it, 65 acres in all, at 10500 E. Tanque Verde Road, site of the old Westinghouse home and former Diamond W dude ranch.

"They bought it for $65,000 in 1956 from a man named Howard Flanders," says Schneider. "There was a small pool there. Later on they added an Olympic-sized pool, paid for as a gift from one of the parents."

"I remember one day it was full of scorpions. They fished them out," says Schneider's sister, Patty Henry-Schneider, 64, who lives in Oregon.

Other additions included tennis and basketball courts, an auditorium, classroom buildings and a dormitory.

In addition to horseback riding, the kids also did barnyard activities. "We had goats, chickens, we might have had a sheep," says Schneider.

At its peak, the school had perhaps 175 students, with about 50 or 60 of them boarders, says Schneider. Boarders included Dennis Ketcham, son of "Dennis the Menace" cartoonist Hank Ketcham, and actress Talia Balsam, daughter of actor Martin Balsam.

"We had kids as young as 5 there," says Schneider. "Some of their parents had passed away or they were in the foreign service."

Though he took classes at Catalina High School, not at Treehaven, Schneider says he had mixed feelings about the school. "We always had kids who couldn't go home for some reason on the holidays or during summer camp. I had to share my parents with them."

The family made its quarters on the second floor of the old Westinghouse home. "After my brother left for college, his room became available for kids having asthma attacks," says Henry-Schneider.

The family also ate meals in the school dining room. "We had dinner with the kids and ate off of green plastic plates," says Henry-Schneider. "Sunday was the cook's day off and my dad did the cooking. I was his assistant."

The staff included about a dozen teachers, plus house parents and wranglers. Florence Schneider served as principal; William did the business end. "He also was a wrangler and drove the school bus and went shopping for food," says Schneider.

In 1957, he and Catalina High classmate Ray Lindstrom started up the "Voice of Treehaven," broadcasting from the third-floor "studio" of the main house.

Treehaven also offered summer camp. "We'd go on longer horseback rides to Sabino Canyon," says Henry-Schneider. "My mother would fill up the station wagon with breakfast stuff and meet us with food."

Following a stint in the Navy and in graduate school, Burt Schneider returned to Treehaven in 1970. "I was the business manager and also taught a couple of classes."

In the early '70s, he again set up a radio station at the school, this time as an extracurricular activity. "We had a regular console and transmitter, and kids would come in and do disc-jockey shows," says Schneider, 67, who now works as an afternoon announcer at KUAZ radio.

He also created a "bike drive-in" at the school. "I set up a projector on the second floor and we would show movies on a big sheet hung on a rope between a couple of trees."

In the mid-1960s, his parents set up the school as a nonprofit. In 1974 they retired, turning over the school to its board, says Schneider, who also went on to other things.

But in 1980, Treehaven was shut down after its director and two staffers were arrested on child-abuse charges. Investigators found a swimming pool coated in algae, dirty rooms and peeling floor materials.

Though his parents had moved out of town and were no longer involved, it broke their hearts, says Schneider. His father died in 1996, his mother in 1999.

For years, the property sat vacant, enduring a small fire in 1984. By late 1986, new owners were in charge, offering rehabilitation in more ways than one.