Tucson Oddity: Magic Carpet's quirky beings take up new lives across city

2012-06-11T00:01:00Z 2012-06-17T17:55:46Z Tucson Oddity: Magic Carpet's quirky beings take up new lives across cityPhil Villarreal, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 11, 2012 12:01 am  • 

As the Star's three-year weekly Tucson Oddities series can attest, this town has no shortage of strangeness. Oddity may be our greatest renewable resource.

And Magic Carpet Golf, which stood for 40 years on East Speedway, was probably the fountain that spouted the most oddities of all.

In honor of Tucson Oddities' third birthday this month, we tell readers where the former miniature golf course's sculptures have gone.

The rebar-and-concrete characters, the "brainchildren" of artist and builder Lee Koplin, were scattered throughout the city when Magic Carpet closed in 2008, swallowed up by a neighboring car dealership.

That closure might have spelled the end for Magic Carpet's extended family of sculptures, as well, if not for the herculean efforts of local activists, as well as collectors and businesses willing to pay huge sums to have the sculptures detached and moved.

The quirky spirit of the mini-golf emporium lives on.

State Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, kick-started the effort by publicly calling attention to the sculptures' plight. Then artist Charles Spillar joined in, personally supervising the acquisition, removal and shipment of nearly all of the sculptures, in a process that lasted until this year.

"They're just such great examples of folk art at its finest," Farley said. "Folk art that was able to bring such great joy to people."

Spillar credits Farley for allowing him to get the job done.

"Without Steve alerting us of the possible demise of the Magic Carpet sculptures and property and trying to find a way to save them, it probably would not have happened," Spillar said by email.

Spillar initially tried to get the project completed by committee, but he said it was difficult to coordinate the efforts of seven volunteers.

"After several months of trying to get seven people to a meeting, ... I decided to just take it on myself and get the job done," Spillar said.

Spillar found a willing partner in Valley of the Moon, which took in several sculptures, incorporating them into a new themed area of the park informally named Magic Carpet Land.

Randy Van Nostrand, Valley of the Moon president, said the organization paid a total of $5,000 to move the structures to the park.

"The kids just gravitate toward them," Van Nostrand said. "They're a really nice addition to the park. The Lee Koplin statues do have just a magical quality to them."

To Van Nostrand, it was an easy decision to accommodate the Castle, Old Stump, Spider Tree and Pygmy Hut statues.

"Art doesn't get enough attention these days," he said. "When you have something as mystical as these statues, it really allows for an increase in imagination. We wanted to be involved in this. We saw it as a kindred spirit - something that speaks to the imagination."

Van Nostrand said there's another, less innocent connotation to one of the statues.

"A lot more children were conceived at the top of the Tiki Head than I ever would have imagined," Van Nostrand said of the statue, which is now located at The Hut, 305 N. Fourth Ave.

Some statue owners are people who remember the golf course fondly.

Chris Muklebust, the owner of Ridgepoint Electric who bought Kachina, keeps it at his home, and The Sun is placed outside his property at 8101 E. 22nd St.

"I thought it would be cool to preserve part of Tucson," Muklebust said.

Although Spillar and other volunteers were able to save nearly all of the sculptures, there was one that nobody wanted. The Sphinx was destroyed last year when Chapman Automotive Group leveled the former Magic Carpet, turning it into a parking lot.

Spillar is happy with what he and others accomplished. All around the city, the Magic Carpet heritage lives on.

But that doesn't mean he'd do it all over again.

Looking back, he says, "I realize now I must have been nuts."

Got an oddity?

Is there something you've noticed while driving through Tucson that has piqued your curiosity to the point that you wish you could find out more about it? Drop us a line, and we'll look into it.

Call the Star newsroom at 573-4232 or email oddity@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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