LegendCity was the Valley’s early attempt to capitalize on the phenomenal success of theme parks born of Disneyland.
Louis Eugene Crandall, a young advertising agency owner was the Valley’s visionary version of Walt Disney.
Returning home after an early visit to Disneyland Crandall recalls “All the way back, all I could think about: we need a Disneyland for Phoenix. 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 part that would show the legends of Arizona.”
Crandall’s local Disneyland opened as LegendCity to a less than overwhelming crowd June 29, 1963 ─ a harbinger of things to come.
First some comparisons ─ Walt spent $17 million building Disneyland. Crandall and his shareholders invested about $4.5 million to develop LegendCity.
Both parks were about sixty acres in size.
Disneyland opened to the media and invited guests on an extraordinarily sweltering 110º day in Anaheim. By contrast LegendCity debuted when the temperature in Phoenix reached an almost balmy 104º.
On Disneyland’s first day about 28,000 people (many whom were gate-crashers) poured through the turnstiles to try out the nearly 30 rides and attractions.
LegendCity offered more than a dozen attractions to about 5000 patrons.
Disneyland charged a buck admission on opening day. LegendCity $3.00!
While Disneyland was a success story without parallel, LegendCity struggled from the beginning. Weather proving to be the greatest challenge.
For virtually every park summertime is high season for visitorship. But Arizona heat became a major problem. For obvious reasons guests didn’t want to broil on sizzling asphalt or sit in burning hot rides.
But that didn’t stop LegendCity from trying. They offered cooling for buildings and people standing in lines.
But it just wasn’t enough. Within a year the park was in deep trouble and bankrupt.
Even by 1969 only about 3000 people a week were coming to the park ─ a fraction of Disneyland’s 60,000 daily visitors.
Never able to attain financial profitability, Crandall’s group declared bankruptcy in 1966 leading to a succession of owners including Sam Schoen the founder of U-Haul in 1968, Japanese ride maker Continental Recreation (1973), and finally William Capell (1974) whose family is still in the carnival-ride business.
In an effort to diversify, Capell leased part of the property in 1979 to Jess Nicks and his brother Gene ─ father and uncle of performer Stevie Nicks. Together they created Compton Terrace, the Valley’s first amphitheater for rock concerts.
Capell asserts the park was grossing over a $1 million dollars a year at the end. He says what ultimately did LegendCity in was the increasing value of the land.
Salt River Project purchased 522 acres including the park property leading to its closure in 1983 ─ twenty years and five million visitors after LegendCity’s optimistic opening.
Since 1963 the population of MaricopaCounty has increased by more than five-fold leading some to conclude that LegendCity was an idea before its time. With more people, improved technologies and a stronger entertainment market a theme park would have a much better chance for success today.
As Louis Crandall said to ArizonaRepublic writer Richard Ruelas in 2005: “I just built it 40 years too soon…in a little bitty burg that couldn’t handle it.”
Looking at the Valley today Crandall added: “To heck with the heat. I think it would go.”
“But then again, I missed the first time.”