Tucked in a quiet Tucson neighborhood, you'll find a tiny wonderland that has been a source of entertainment for local children for generations. Built by George Phar Legler, Valley of the Moon continues to enchant young and old with tales of magical creatures, fantasy, and kindness.
Legler believed in fairies, magical creatures, and the notion that kindness was the key to making the world a better place. Born in 1884, he belonged to the Spiritualism movement that gained popularity in the latter half of the 19th century. He and his family moved to Tucson in 1917.
Inspired by window box fairylands he built to entertain sick children, Legler and a motley crew of men began building Valley of the Moon in 1923. They used river sand, mountain rocks, found objects, and mail order cement to create houses, caves, gardens, ponds, crooked paths, hills, and valleys. The work was slow, but the gates finally opened in 1932.
Legler made the property his home. Calling himself the Mountain Gnome, he'd take children on a tour of the Wizard's Tower and the Blue Fairy's pond. They'd meet the Fairy Princess (played by Legler's granddaughter) and other magical creatures played by neighborhood children who were sworn to secrecy about their activities. Everyone was given a magic rock to ward off any bad creatures they might meet. Along the way, George told enchanted stories centered on kindness, cooperation, and brotherly love.
Unfortunately, by the early 1970s Legler had grown too frail to keep up the property. Vandals had destroyed some of the structures. The future of Valley of the Moon looked dim. Then something magical happened. A group of teens from a nearby high school found it odd—eerie, even—that they all shared similar dreams of an enchanted land with castles, fairies, and gnomes. Then they discovered that their "dreams" were of a real place—the Valley of the Moon.
One night they hopped the fence to explore the property only to be caught by Legler. Once he realized they meant no harm, he gave them a tour. "Spontaneously the kids decided to start helping George," says Zack Jarret, former president of the Valley of the Moon board. They, along with their parents, cleaned the place up, helped restore the 23 historic structures, and formed a nonprofit group, the Valley of the Moon Restoration Association.
The magic was reborn.
Today, thanks to many volunteers, Legler's legacy continues. While Valley of the Moon doesn't have daily hours, guests can visit the first Saturday of every month for free. At this monthly event, people of all ages spread out on blankets on the grassy area near the stage as costumed volunteers guide sing-a-longs or tell stories. Original theatrical productions occur for the Halloween season, and in the spring and summer. As in the past, the cast is mostly made up of local children.
In 1975, Valley of the Moon was named on the list of National Register of Historic Places, followed by the Arizona Register of Historic Places in 2011, and finally in 2015, Valley of the Moon became a Tucson Historic Landmark.