Back in 1923, an eccentric chap named George Phar Legler decided to build a fantasyland on scrub desert near the Rillito River. Ten years and thousands of stones later, his Valley of the Moon—inspired by the then-popular Spiritualism movement—opened as a quirky crescendo of serpentine paths, towering grottos, and a “wizard tower” high atop the rocky ramparts.
Calling himself the Old Mountain Gnome, Legler wandered his beguiling garden up through the mid-1960s, entertaining local families with lithe tales of magical hijinks. But today, folks hoping to preserve this clever outpost have run smack into the fact that City Hall is no enchanted forest, and even nimble fairies can get tangled in red tape.
Although Valley of the Moon is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preservationists hoped to gain added protection with the Valley’s designation as a local Historic Landmark.
Sounds simple, right? Think again.
Now the shoestring-budgeted George Phar Legler Memorial Society may be forced to lawyer-up. Even with help from the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, the landmark application is bogged down at City Hall. Here’s why: Tucson's new landmark designation ordinance sends candidates—Valley of the Moon is the first—through a standard rezoning process, as if they were just another Walmart hoping to subsume just another neighborhood. And that means any neighbor with half a gripe can come out to holler.
So, Valley of the Moon is now bottled up with the city's zoning examiner, who pledges to sit on it until the antique fantasy park agrees to onerous demands from a few nearby residents. The next examiner’s hearing is tonight
Ultimately, the Mayor and City Council may just tweak the ordinance that caused this kerfuffle. At least that’s what Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich has in mind. She actually helped draft the law which, she concedes, proffers a few unforeseen consequences. She has the topic up for a Mayor and Council study-session chat next week.
“It’s obvious to me that the intention of the Mayor and Council was to offer a path for historic designation
these kinds of assets,” Uhlich says. “But having the ordinance crafted as it is, these things just get tossed into the normal rezoning process. It should be more of an incentive model than a rezoning model.”
Or maybe it's just time for the wizard to descend from his tower and raise a little hell.