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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Weird, wacky … retired?”

    This ominous skull is one of many oversized inhabitants of the now-defunct Magic Carpet Golf.
    This ominous skull is one of many oversized inhabitants of the now-defunct Magic Carpet Golf.

    Near the corner of East Speedway Boulevard and North Wilmot Road stands a place so profoundly kitschy, weird and wonderful that Rep. Steve Farley just couldn’t let it die.

    When Farley, D-Tucson, heard the news that Magic Carpet Golf was closing down, he set out to save the familiar giant statues from the garbage bin.

    “”It’s a personal passion of mine,”” Farley said. “”My kids have a lot of memories of going there. And it’s right in the heart of my district. A lot of people just love the place.””

    The miniature golf course featuring giant octopuses, monkeys, dinosaurs and even a Sphinx, opened in the early ’70s. It closed last month after the death of its long-time owner.

    When that happened, Farley made a few phone calls. First he convinced Chapman Automotive, the Phoenix-based car dealership that bought the property, not to demolish the lot until he had ensured that the statues would be moved to a safe home.

    Then he called up Valley of the Moon.

    Valley of the Moon, the children’s fantasyland park built by George Phar Legler in the ’20s, closed down recently for repairs. Once the park opens again, the familiar statues, will be moved there, sharing space with hidden caves and fairy houses.

    Randy Van Nostrand, president of the George Phar Legler Society, said Valley of the Moon is “”very excited”” about the idea. He said that the park and Magic Carpet Golf share many of the aspects of “”outsider art,”” a term coined by art critic Roger Cardinal to describe art that doesn’t fit into traditional categories.

    “”There’s definitely a cultural thing that happened between 1900 and 1950, when building materials were plentiful and building codes were lax,”” Van Nostrand said. “”It was a phenomenon that died out with the coming of building regulation.””

    “”Visionary environments”” like Valley of the Moon couldn’t exactly be put on display in museums; their artfulness relies on their grubby, handmade feel and they express a personal vision through creating an unusual atmosphere. (Disneyland may well be the most familiar example.)

    But before the statues are moved to their new home, they’ll preside over one last round of golf. Farley said Magic Carpet Golf will reopen for one night in late March or early April to raise funds for Valley of the Moon. The event will feature live bands and competitive golfing, he said.

    “”It was never a terribly good golfing experience, but as an art experience, there’s nothing like it,”” he said.

    Magic Carpet Golf and Valley of the Moon are just two of the many unique local landmarks that have made Tucson special. As the town continues to expand and “”revitalize”” to bring in visitors, it risks losing the flavor that make it worth visiting in the first place.

    With this in mind, we went in search of some of Tucson’s other oddball landmarks.

    Just doing his (hatchet) job

    An 18-foot-tall, sneering, ax-wielding lumberjack protects the intersection of East Glenn Road and North Stone Avenue. But Tucsonans need not be afraid – he seems nice enough, and around Christmas time his ax is replaced with a candy cane.

    Tucson’s lumberjack is one in a series of “”roadside men,”” friendly kitsch masterpieces that liven up highway systems across America. Consequently, Northern Arizona University has two similar lumberjacks on their campus. Our own Paul Bunyan is surrounded by a little fence at his feet, and stands in the parking lot of Don’s Hot Rod Shop, 2911 N. Stone Ave., across the street from Circle K.

    Local legends say that as a prank on new policemen, officers are dispatched to the location on reports that a large man carrying an ax has been seen in the area.

    On the right foot

    Atop a miniature hill of rocks and cactus stands a boot huge enough to fit Paul Bunyan himself.

    This boot was built to advertise the Tack Room, Tucson’s first five-star restaurant, 7300 E. Vactor Ranch Trail, in 1965.

    But if out-of-towners are tempted by the boot’s promise of “”elegant dining”” and “”cocktails,”” they’ll find themselves at the entrance to a gated community. The Tack Room closed in 2003, and the boot is all that remains of Tucson’s first stab at high-class dining.

    We climbed up the hill to take a closer look at the boot, only to find that the hill looked right into someone’s backyard. Oops. On closer inspection, the boot looks to be in pretty good shape, apart from some mild erosion.

    On the boot’s left side, someone has spray-painted an “”R”” in black paint, as if in mourning for a forgotten Tucson institution.

    It’s a gas

    If you’ve ever had the slight impression you were driving past the head of the Michelin Man while taking the trip on North Stone Avenue downtown, don’t worry – it’s just an antique gas station.

    The former art deco Exxon, and later a Union 76, 648 N. Stone Ave., used to be a huge draw in the town, said the building’s current owner, Lupita Shestko-Montiel. Opened in 1924, the large white structure with a swirly shaving cream tower was an auto shop off of what was once a highway.

    In 1981, business was waning and the building was converted by Shestko-Montiel to a bail bonds and income tax business office.

    The art deco service station has been featured in a series of independent and lower-budget movies, such as the 1995 apocalyptic tale “”A World Gone Wild.”” It also has a claim to fame in 1980’s “”Stir Crazy,”” where Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder rob a bank in woodpecker costumes.

    Shestko-Montiel wasn’t sure who the architect was, but said that it was part of a series of gas stations made at the time. When she converted it, she took out the pumps but kept the original lights inside. Traditional Catholic art, purchased and donated by friends, lines the walls, and comfortable carpet is installed to modernize the look.

    If you just want to get gas, you might be disappointed, but if you want to take a look at a truly one-of-a-kind building, check out the famous “”art deco”” gas station.

    O holy sight

    You no longer have to travel to Florence, Italy, to see a spiritual Christian statue. If you take a short jog over to the Santa Cruz River Park off West Congress Street and Interstate 10, you’ll be face-to-face with a life-sized plaster replica of the Last Supper.

    The Garden of Gethsemane, which also includes statues of Jesus and Mary, a diorama of Jesus meeting Pontius Pilate and Jesus in a tomb, was created in the ’40s by untrained artist Felix Lucero period of.

    Lucero, who for a time lived in a shack made of cardboard and plywood underneath a bridge, sculpted the figures out of sand and trash from the Santa Cruz, plastering them to fight off the elements. After being destroyed once by the riverbed, the figures have also been vandalized throughout the years, but are now kept safe inside a fenced-off area at the Santa Cruz River Park.

    If that’s not interesting enough, Tucson’s largest tree is just across the street. But that’s another story…

    Other crazy or interesting Tucson landmarks:

    • The elaborate and colorful Virgen de Guadalupe mural on the side of Menlo Park Video on South Grande Avenue and West Congress Street.
  • The dinosaur at the McDonald’s on East Tanque Verde Road and North Kolb Road.
  • The underground tunnels lined with graffiti in washes all over town. (There’s a cool one next to the McDonald’s on East Broadway Boulevard and South Wilmot Road.)
  • The International Wildlife Museum, 4800 W. Gates Pass Road, with hundreds of dead stuffed animals arranged in different habitats.
  • – reporting by Andi Berlin, Justyn Dillingham and Alexandria Kassman

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