LEGENDARY LAND speculator Donald R. Diamond appears to be building a wonderfully appropriate monument to himself near the entrance to Pima Canyon at the north end of First Avenue.
Diamond, until now not generally known for a wryly amusing sense of humor, apparently has begun erecting eight multi-million-dollar luxury homes on 28 acres abutting Coronado National Forest.
The homes are to be located high on a hill overlooking a bronze commemoration of the late county supervisor Iris Dewhirst, who worked hard to preserve access for future generations to the scenic Pima Canyon, which is located in the national forest.
Diamond has cleverly arranged it so that his homes will interrupt the view of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains from the dead woman's memorial.
Also, Diamond's impressive stucco-and-block structures, not to mention the attendant autos, RVs and pool slides, will be visible to hikers on the nearby trail, thus serving as a spirit-lifting reminder to all that the "executive lifestyle," as it's called in the real-estate literature, is alive and well in this unique bioregion.
Some -- chiefly political and professional proctologists of the nasal school -- hail the Pima Canyon project as a fitting capstone to Diamond's glorious 40-plus years as a Tucson land speculator. During that time, several observers have estimated lately, The Don has managed to amass a nearly $500,000,000 fortune.
But there are others -- mostly dreary, public-minded types toting the worthless baggage of good taste and a pointless sense of decorum -- who maintain Diamond has merely got to be playing an elaborate April Fool's joke -- on citizens and nature lovers in general, and on one man in particular.
That one man is Samuel Winchester Morey.
A former real-estate broker himself, Morey has been trying for years to acquire the apparently soon-to-be bladed 'n' graded property in order to preserve it for public adoration.
"I've hiked up here for many, many years," Morey said during a visit to the awe-inspiring site one day last week. "As a matter of fact, I had a close brush with death several years ago, and I was supposed to have been cremated and my ashes scattered just inside the [national forest] boundary. But, as you can see, I'm not dead yet."
No, but his dreams for Pima Canyon appear all but deceased.
Thanks largely to Dewhirst and Morey's efforts, the citizens of Pima County have a deeded trail to Pima Canyon -- nothing can take that away from them. Morey also suggested that the trailhead be named for Dewhirst, who died in 1995.
While Morey notes that Diamond is certainly legally entitled to build on the land, he adds:
"What I object to is that in 1995 Kenneth Abrahams, Mr. Diamond's representative, called me, knowing that I wanted to acquire this property. He asked me to make an offer. I told him I'd have to set up a nonprofit to do it, and that I would have to raise the money. He said that's all right, write it up. So I did, and my wife, my daughter and I set up and incorporated the Pima Canyon Vista Conservation Park, with the intention of buying this property by public subscription so that this vista would never be touched."
But even back then the joke was on Morey.
"We offered him $2.4 million -- $400,000 per lot based on comparable lots in the area -- and we asked for two years to raise the funds."
Morey says he never got an answer from Abrahams or Diamond, even though he personally went to their offices on at least three occasions. The fun-loving, frolicsome land speculator was no doubt giggling mischievously behind his office door when the earnest and dedicated Morey came to call.
"In the meantime, my wife and I had bought a computer," Morey says. "We were going to set up a website, and I was going to spend the next two years of my life trying to save this property."
That's because the land in question offers a view that "just should be saved," Morey says. "There are many properties that need to be developed, and I have no problem with that. But I have a great deal of problems with taking away a view that will never, never be replaced."
He adds that a lot of handicapped people come to the trailhead parking lot. "And they sit here and they look up. And there's a certain amount of serenity to looking up as far as you can see into the canyon. It's a lovely view."
Morey then turns and sweeps his hand to the south, across the broad, shallow depression that is the Tucson Valley. "I can't argue about any development that's going on down there. That was an inevitability. But this," he says, turning back to the mountain view Diamond's houses will soon obliterate, "this is a shame. An absolute shame."
Yes, it appears as though the merry half-billionaire has gotten Samuel Winchester Morey good this time.
Some observers believe that now that Diamond has had his little fun, he'll soon drop his joking ways. They predict he'll announce that he's merely been improving parking facilities so that elderly and handicapped citizens can better gaze up at the majestic Catalinas and marvel at the awesome beauty of our natural world.
After all, Diamond is a really sensitive guy, his admirers point out -- natural beauty is a topic often discussed in the colorful, expensively printed brochures and advertising Diamond's people use to sell his many projects. And only a greedy, uncaring bastard would destroy something so fragile, gorgeous and rare just to make a few more lousy bucks, they add.
If that's the case, there certainly hasn't been a peep on the matter out of the fabled land speculator, not heretofore known for his comic timing. Among Diamond's chief delights, former business partners say, is the warm sense of personal accomplishment he receives from driving a hard bargain.
Many Tucsonans have remarked that if he donned a powdered white wig, Diamond would bear an uncanny resemblance to George Washington's likeness on the dollar bill. Although, of course, Diamond certainly has never been known to suffer from any of the bothersome, socially redeeming qualities of conscience that plagued a great public figure like Washington.
"The only thing that can be done here now," a worried Morey says, "is people must try to persuade Mr. Diamond to do the right thing. He's got the legal right, but I don't think that it's morally right. This is a piece of property that should be kept for generations to come."
Yes, as Samuel Winchester Morey demonstrates, though perhaps unintentionally, even a big, bazillionaire joker like Donald R. Diamond can still profit from the presence of a good straight man.