If Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz from American Pickers ever return to Arizona, there are a couple places the duo might want to go digging. Namely, the pair of neighboring houses over in the West Valley owned by Don Parks.
The wizened treasure hunters would likely have a memorable day at either house, considering that both are absolutely stuffed to the rafters with a voluminous variety of gems, junk, and hundreds of other interesting and historic artifacts from both Arizona and around the nation. That includes a few remnants from the iconic Legend City, the renowned Valley theme park of local lore.
It's kind of hard not to miss Parks' pair of houses, considering that there's a 23-foot-tall statue of Paul Bunyan wielding an axe towering over the front yard of one of the residences.
While he's without the fabled blue ox that serves as his trademark companion in both story and song, the statue probably never gets lonesome, as there are dozens of other quirky statues to keep him company. It includes a few cowboys on horseback, a Captain Crook from an old McDonald's play area, a plaster statue of a grizzly bear wearing spectacles, and a dinosaur from an old Sinclair gas station. Perched on the roof of either house are oversized pairs of spectacles that Parks made himself.
The collection fills not only Parks' front yard, driveway, and garages of both front yards, but also but also the interior of each house. When the 65-year-old Vietnam War veteran leads people on tours through either residence, he's careful where he steps as the halls and rooms are teeming with objects, toys, and statues that are stacked floor-to-ceiling.
Parks began accumulating his haul in the late '60s when he started collecting "interesting bits of junk" after buying his first house. His first ever purchase was the Paul Bunyan statue, which he acquired from a gas station in the San Francisco area.
He later sold the titanic item to a local shoe emporium in the 1980s that later went out of business. It then fell into the hands of lumber company in South Phoenix which also went defunct (but not before Bunyan's face was vandalized with a shotgun blast) and Parks ultimately bought the statue back.
Since his first purchase, he's hit up countless auctions, swap meets, yard sales, second hand stores, or other places where he could find anything and everything that's "interesting looking" and caught his eye.
His collection is practically a museum of Americana that includes That includes plenty of metal signs, roadside attractions, statues, antiques, and artifacts. Parks' apparently got a yen for iconic characters associated with restaurants, as he has several Ronald McDonald statues, as well as plaster renditions of Chuck E. Cheese and Hobo Joe (which had several locations throughout Arizona). He's also got more than a few antique peddle cars about, which he acquired because he "never had one" as a child.
Speaking of wheeled contraptions, the garage of Parks' original home also houses an original Ford Model-T automobile that Parks was given during his high school years. Its currently covered in a thick coat of dust, as well as a number of various and sundry items stacked on top, but he claims the vintage vehicle is still in working order.
One of his biggest coups was buying up numerous items leftover from Legend City, the now-defunct local landmark and theme park which was located near 56th and Washington streets on the border of Phoenix and Tempe from 1963 to 1983. After the Valley's own Western-themed version of Disneyland closed down, Parks managed to buy several bits and pieces from the park, including chandeliers and ceiling fans from one of the saloons, as well as several mannequins, statues, bumper cars, and passenger buckets from the sky ride.
The latter items, which are circular-shaped and made from aluminum, are the only remnants of Legend City that Parks still has in his possession, as he's sold off everything else. Formerly adorned with such colors as yellow and red, the paint has faded while the compartments have sat in the Arizona sun. Currently, he's selling these objects as well, asking $500 for each one on Craigslist.
While one might think that he's making a mint selling off all the historic and vintage treasures accumulated over the years, the soft-spoken Parks has actually been selective about what he's sold. (He's also tight-lipped about how he affords to purchase his treasures, declining to comment on his job or amount of income.)
"Naw, I don't like to sell my stuff, but I've been selling a few things because I'm running out of room," he says.
Which is why he purchased the two-bedroom home across the street last year during a foreclosure sale. He's transformed it into a vault of sorts, which houses a collection of antique bikes, hundreds of children's toys, and even an eight-foot-high golf ball that he obtained from an old miniature golf course.
Parks says save for a couple neighbors (who took umbrage at the fact that the collector bought a second home for his treasures) those in his 'hood don't seem to mind all the items in either yard.
According to officials from the City of Phoenix's Neighborhood Services Division we spoke with, everything's considered to be lawn art and is within the boundaries of city code.
Parks says that a wealth of security cameras watch both properties at all times, should any would-be thieves (read: tweakers) attempt to abscond with his goodies. He also recently stated giving free tours of either house to select visitors, but asks that any curious parties call in advance to arrange a specific time.
Those eager to see his collection better make sure they've got light feet and a lack of clumsiness, however, as its easy to trip on any of the countless items scattered about.
Oh, and watch out for the neighbor's dog, which barks up a storm and attempts to jump over the tall fence.
Don Parks' houses are located in West Phoenix. Visitors can call 480-381-6332 to set up an appointment or visit this site for more information.
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