Sunnyslope Rock Garden

Photos by E. Groves
Most of the Sunnyslope Rock Garden is visible from the street.

Sunnyslope hasn't changed much over the years. Aside from the expansion of John C. Lincoln Hospital (which caused the destruction of a few strip malls and the old Brookshires Restaurant), everything's pretty much as it was in the '70s -- packed with mom-and-pop auto body shops, shoebox-style stucco apartments, and quirky attractions like the Sunnyslope Rock Garden.

This place is one of the spots that makes Sunnsylope almost ghetto fabulous. It sits on a residential street, around the corner from an auto body shop and across the street from a trailer park. If Tim Burton ever decides to make his own bizarre, folk-art version of Disneyland, Sunnyslope Rock Garden would be a great prototype.

The garden occupies the fence and sprawling front yard of a private residence, but it's impossible to miss when driving down the street. All along the fence, large circle sculptures made of concrete and colored glass glisten in the sun. Several mosaic windmills tower toward the tree line, while little humanoid figures with brown clay faces stand around dozens of inoperable rock fountains. There are more than 50 structures in all.

This village of funky folk art was founded in 1952, when a retired heavy machinery operator named Grover Cleveland Thompson moved to a house in Sunnyslope. He wanted to build a landscape similar to the Peterson Rock Garden in his native Oregon.

These figures are just a few of the dozens of statues hanging around in the garden.
Thompson started constructing sculptures from various materials, mostly pieces of Fiestaware, broken pottery, rocks, bottles and glass shards, clay, and concrete. Over the next 22 years, he made seven fountains, seven windmills, a replica of the Seattle Space Needle, and miniature Incan villages. For the faces of his figures, Thompson poured concrete into Halloween masks from the 1950s.

Expansion of the Sunnyslope Rock Garden halted in 1974, when Thompson's health began to fail. He died in 1978, and his property was purchased the following year by Marion Blake. Blake maintained the sculptures, which continue to be a source of wonder to passersby.

Sunnyslope Rock Garden is located at 10023 N. 13th Place. The property is not open to the public, but sculptures are visible from the street. Click here for a Google map.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea