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My LEGO City: a personal story – Part 5

(Written by Mark H. Avery)

In this series, I have been sharing my own personal story in the LEGO hobby, including slowly building up a collection of sets from the 1970s to the 1990s, and constructing a LEGO city. If you like, you can read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 by clicking on the links. For today’s chapter, I will show you some of the official LEGO sets I purchased for my LEGO city…

I do spend a lot of money on toys for myself, but I always operated on a budget. I’m not sure how I would compare to other hobbyists, but know that a good model train can easily cost $500 – $800 for just one locomotive! I try to remind my spouse of this fact, but it’s an ongoing debate. Then again, as she says, I don’t smoke, drink, or gamble. As a vice, LEGO is not so bad.

The bottom line is that I’m always cognizant of prices, and I’m always looking for discounted sets. (If you know of any bargains that might be useful for my city, please let me know!) I sometimes see older discontinued sets at what I consider exorbitant prices. I’m not interested in these, no matter how much I want them, even if it is one of the sets that was lost in the fire I wrote about in a previous chapter.

I’m a confirmed LEGO Town/LEGO City builder. This means that most of the sets I have bought over the years and incorporated into my city are from these themes. I also purchase basic bricks to modify sets or to build my own custom structures and vehicles. Moreover, sometimes sets in other themes lend themselves to adaptation into a LEGO City layout.


The LEGO City starter sets from the past couple of years have been great; four minifigures for $10, plus a little truck, boat, or other prop. The list of such sets is fairly long, but here are some examples that I like and purchased multiples of. The #60163 LEGO City Coast Guard Starter Set only has three minifigures, but it also includes a shark (I do have an aquarium and river in my city, but how many sharks can they accommodate?). The included beach buggy is cute, and I can add the surfboards to the city’s beach scene. The #60127 LEGO City Prison Island Starter Set has a similar buggy, a tiny boat, and four minifigures. The #60157 LEGO City Jungle Starter Set comes with three minifigures, a nice little boat, a bit of vegetation (always useful!), and an alligator (like the shark, I can only use a limited number of them). The #60184 LEGO City Mining Team is another nice set with a mining truck, and the three miners could just as well be construction workers around the city (there are lots of opportunities for road repair and construction scenes). Speaking of construction, the #60072 LEGO City Demolition Starter set has a great little bulldozer, and the minifigs can join the team of construction workers.

I’m bored with all the cops and especially the robbers in the LEGO City Police sets, but I can legitimately use the ATM machine from the#60136 LEGO City Police Starter Set in at least ten different locations throughout town (without the explosion feature). And, the crooks can easily become regular folks in the city. The #60106 LEGO City Fire Starter Set includes a regular minifig and three firefighters (those are hard to repurpose as they have very specific gear and helmets). The fireboat is nothing special, but the brown pieces for the dock are always useful, and the engine makes a great piece of equipment to put on a flatbed truck or two. The #60100 LEGO City Airport Starter Set has a good selection of workers, a useful hand-truck, and some other accessories. LEGO already has too many helicopters, but the small helicopter included in this set is nice, and I find the parts quite useful too.


A few years before the LEGO City starter sets, LEGO released a series of easy-to-build LEGO Creator Basic sets for $10, with an interesting mix of standard bricks. At the end of each sale cycle, they were offered at a reduced price. The sets include the #5898 LEGO Creator Cars Building Set with a very simple gas station, the #5899 LEGO Creator House Building Set, the #4636 LEGO Creator Police Building Set, the #4637 LEGO Creator Safari Building Set, the #6193 LEGO Creator Castle Building Set, the #5930 LEGO Creator Road Construction Building Set, and the #6191 LEGO Creator Fire Fighter Building Set. Some of these were given away as presents, but others provided lots of good bricks for my own LEGO builds. So far, I have opened at least fifteen LEGO Creator Fire Fighter Building Sets and ten LEGO Creator Castle Building Sets just for the parts.

Between 2008 and 2010 there was another series of mini LEGO City sets that caught my attention. It included the #7566 LEGO City Farmer, the #7567 LEGO City Traveler, the #8398 LEGO City BBQ Stand, and a doctor with a stretcher (sorry, I don’t remember the set number). All of these little sets provided lots of props for my city. Some polybags, like the recent #30356 LEGO City Hot Dog Stand, also serve the same purpose, but unfortunately, they are typically not cheap.


Maybe I’m just not very sophisticated, but I also like some of the LEGO Juniors sets. The #10667 LEGO Juniors Construction set and the #10750 LEGO Juniors Road Repair Truck are easy to build, and more importantly, it’s easy to place such sets into any construction or building scene.

I find the LEGO Friends sets too gaudy, so if I do buy one I try to tone down the colors. The #41130 LEGO Friends Amusement Park Roller Coaster is almost a whole amusement park by itself. To fit with my city, I modified the park’s train to be a tram that takes kids around the zoo.

The bridge from the old #4852 LEGO Spider-Man Final Showdown set is an interesting structure with a nice cable car. I bought four of them to make a two-lane bridge across the river. In addition, I also have several superhero cars, which I plan to modify into regular city cars (or sometimes give them away as presents). Balloons from the Batman Joker sets fit in the zoo, in the park, and even at street corners. I don’t like to overdo it, but a Spider-Man, Batman, or Superman on a roof somewhere is kind of fun to have and adds some whimsical element to the city.

The #7785 LEGO Batman Arkham Asylum from 2006 is a wonderful set in my opinion. I have added the guard tower to my city to watch over the train yard, but the buildings are still looking for a spot around town. The boathouse from the #4850 LEGO Spicer-Man’s First Chase is also waiting to be incorporated somewhere along the waterfront.

I also purchased several copies of the #1371 LEGO Jurassic Park Spinosaurus Attack set. The airplanes fit the airport so nicely. The set also comes with a big tree, and I can never have enough trees around town. The #3825 LEGO SpongeBob SquarePants Krusty Krab crab shop serves as a restaurant along the waterfront.

LEGO Harry Potter is another theme that I borrowed from. The house from the #4728 LEGO Harry Potter Escape from Privet Drive seemed nice, so I purchased two, and combined them into one residence (I think I might have two more of this set in storage). The light-blue car is a bit oversized though compared to regular LEGO City vehicles. The #4756 LEGO Harry Potter Shrieking Shack serves as a boarded up house in town. I also got the old LEGO Harry Potter Castle, as it is a nice build, but I took it apart because my grandchild wanted to rebuild it, but he never did.

As I noted in a previous chapter of this series, I also integrated various LEGO sports sets into my city. For example, the #6740 LEGO Xtreme Tower is set up along the waterfront. And, I like the old raised baseplates, as they add some variety to the landscape. Two baseplates from the #7047 LEGO World City Coast Watch HQ serve as the bases of several waterfront luxury homes. An old LEGO Paradisa baseplate is used in a similar way.


For some reason, the #60117 LEGO City Van and Caravan from 2016 was sold at great discounts from its original $20 price. I don’t remember how many I bought, but some made nice presents for grandchildren, and others I have built for my city. Some I modified with different trailers and I even made one of the trucks into an open back pick-up. Several of them are parked on an overlook by the waterfront. I don’t have a forest in my town, so the #4440 LEGO City Forest Police became a park police, with the brown bear relegated to the zoo.

From the LEGO Creator line, I added the #31036 LEGO Creator Toy and Grocery Shop, the #31050 LEGO Creator Corner Deli (with an added drive-by window), the #5766 LEGO Creator Log Cabin, the #31048 LEGO Creator Lakeside Lodge, the #31038 LEGO Creator Changing Seasons house, the #31035 LEGO Creator Beach Hut, and several #7346 LEGO Creator Seaside House sets (which were converted into a seven-story apartment house).

Everything is built or rebuilt on conventional LEGO baseplates. While I typically don’t modify LEGO, I am willing to cut baseplates in half or even quarters if I need to. I have at least four types of road-plates; the old light-grey, the old green, the old dark-grey, and the newest grey (which provide little space for pedestrians or street furniture). I try to keep the different baseplates in different areas of town, but it’s not always possible.

LEGO used to sell various parts packs, which were sometimes discounted. For example, they had gray train windows on sale for a while. I have used these as windows on several city houses. They also had windows/panels (1x4x3) on sale at some point. I must have bought a dozen of those and incorporated them into various buildings. Discounted red plates made graduated roofs for some buildings, so did sand-red angle pieces purchased before the color disappeared from the LEGO color-palette. The LEGO Pick-A-Brick wall carried 1×2 light-blue bricks and 1×2 translucent bricks. Those two became the main parts for my Chana Plaza.

What I’d like to see is more classic sets with regular bricks in good, sedate building colors like white, tan, dark-tan, dark-red, dark-green, brown and gray, without any specialized pieces and without all the purples and pinks. My goal has always been the overall look of my town, rather than a specific spectacular building or two. But as I said at the outset, cost is certainly an issue.

I hope you enjoyed this story. Next time, I will discuss my LEGO train collection and the town’s transportation network and their role in my town. Your comments, questions, and feedback are welcome. Thanks for reading!

Mark H. Avery is a LEGO Town/City builder and collector for over 30 years. This is the first of a series that will trace his personal LEGO experiences and offer his personal insights on LEGO related issues. All opinions are his own.

And you might also like to check out the following related posts:

{ 37 comments… add one }
  • ToyGalaxy December 20, 2018, 10:43 AM

    Very impressive! You are definitely very creative person as I can tell just by reading your post. I admire what you have done with Legos over many years. I am also in love with Lego and I even spent over $2000 just in the last few months. But, all sets are in stock for long haul as an investment. I’m eager to find out how much they will be worth later maybe 5-10 years down the road. However, I also want to build a Lego city like you. But, I need to find a space first. hehe…. Now off to read your previous posts, part 1-4.

    • ToyGalaxy December 20, 2018, 11:04 AM

      I am very sorry to hear about the fire but I’m glad everyone was safe and that you have recovered from it. It must have been a very long 2 years. I’m glad that LEGO.com decided to send you something afterall. I feel like they can only support nonprofit is just an excuse… but at least they did something for you.

      By the way, how do you deal with all the dusts?

    • Mark Avery December 20, 2018, 9:31 PM

      Curious what you purchased as an investment and where.
      What kind of storage space do you have?

      Thanks for the mind words.

      • ToyGalaxy December 21, 2018, 9:21 AM

        Hi Mark, I try to share in my blog that I recently started. There are many sets out there to buy as investment. What I try to do is to buy them below retail price set by Lego. I look for sets that are at least 30% off from retail if all possible. I also focus on sets that are about to retire so that return on investment is more sooner. One set that is retiring soon and you can still buy is 70917 The Ultimate Batmobile or 60161 Jungle Exploration Site. If you are looking for something that cost less then try 60160
        Jungle Mobile Lab. Good luck!

        • ToyGalaxy December 21, 2018, 9:26 AM

          Regarding the storage space… It is little challenging. Fortunately, I have enough space right now to store them in my basement and I have to stack them safely so that they don’t get damaged. I try to keep all the shipping boxes and keep them in there.

        • Mark Avery December 24, 2018, 8:42 PM

          Where’s your blog?

  • Håkan December 20, 2018, 10:54 AM

    For general town buildings and regular houses, I think large second hand bulks would often be good, if you can find them at thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales* etc. It might also be a good source for general, cheap minifigs.

    *Myself, I live in urban Stockholm, so I rarely come across garage sales, myself.

    • ToyGalaxy December 20, 2018, 11:09 AM

      You can also try craigslist and buy bulks of individual legos or even new sets. There’s also OfferUp, letgo, 5miles, etc from smartphone apps.

      I personally search these places but also monitor target, walkmart, and amazon for price drops. For example, Target in US right now is having Lego sales with at least 20% off on many of the Lego City sets. The City Great Vehicle Pizza Van 60150 has 35% off right now.

    • ToyGalaxy December 20, 2018, 2:44 PM

      Check this Star Wars Lego set from Amazon. It’s 51% off and only 8 left as of right now. I just bought one so 7 remaining… Good luck!

      • Mark Avery December 20, 2018, 9:34 PM

        Have you ever tried Barnes and Noble?

        • ToyGalaxy December 21, 2018, 9:23 AM

          I personally have not bought any sets from B&N yet but I have seen good discounts from them. Most of the time, they were all sold out. So, need to act quicker when it’s available.

  • DavidH December 20, 2018, 2:31 PM

    This post brings back so many memories. It is exactly how older lego fans used to build up a collection pre-internet days. You couldn’t just go to bricklink to buy individual parts. If you wanted specific pieces, you had to buy multiples of sets.

    Also, nowadays it is much easier to find instructions for custom buildings. In the old days, we could modify the sets, and there were some inspirational books published by lego. But other than that, you were on your own.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m looking forward to hearing about the trains.

    • Oldtimer December 20, 2018, 2:58 PM

      No kidding! This is exactly what my city used to look like as a kid, but of course much smaller.

      Question for Mark. Where did you buy the sets? Directly from Lego? Retailers? Toy shops? Before the economic downturn, there were many little toy shops around that used to sell old Lego sets, loose minifigs, even parts by the bag. It was fun to walk in and find some treasures.

    • Mark Avery December 20, 2018, 9:37 PM

      Are you calling me old?😀

    • Mark Avery December 20, 2018, 10:12 PM

      Thank you.
      Keep reading!

  • LEGOJeff December 20, 2018, 3:14 PM

    It’s interesting that you are focusing on the smaller sets instead of buying big ones. Would you mind sharing the reason for this?

    • Mark Avery December 20, 2018, 10:01 PM

      Only this article focused on small sets.
      I have 4-5 police stations, 4-5 fire stations, two hospitals, Main Street, several creator houses, and other large sets.

  • BigShawn December 20, 2018, 3:50 PM

    How do you keep your city clean? Won’t it being on the floor collect a lot of dust from foot traffic? And where do you keep your loose pieces and unopened sets?

    • BigShawn December 20, 2018, 3:51 PM

      BTW, thanks for sharing your story. I have been reading all the episodes, just haven’t commented. It’s a very impressive project with an old school feel. It’s rare to see collections like this these days.

    • Mark Avery December 22, 2018, 5:55 PM

      Keeping things clean is a big problem.
      I’m open to ideas.

      Ad to storage, maybe I’ll post a separate article about that.

  • brickmaster December 20, 2018, 4:40 PM

    I’m not so familiar with such old-style Lego, but it looks beautiful together. And I like how you are still adding modern sets to your city, but still able to keep the old style.

    Are you consciously avoiding any of the recent colors like olive green, dark brown, and some modern greens and blues? I know you mentioned avoiding Friends colors, but I wonder about the other recently added colors.

    • Mark Avery December 20, 2018, 10:10 PM

      I like the darker colors and tan.
      Don’t like the light colors.
      Walk down the street and see what colors buildings actually are.
      Lots of new colors are expensive.
      Thanks for commenting.

      • Håkan December 21, 2018, 5:44 AM

        If you’d like to have realistically colored buildings, I find most of Lego’s color palette too bright, anyway. If you’d like realism, suitable colors are rare outside the Modulex theme.

  • sammy December 20, 2018, 8:42 PM

    Those raised baseplates look awesome. Why doesn’t Lego make them anymore? They were perfect, and also made the sets look larger, so they needed fewer pieces and had a lower price.

    • Håkan December 20, 2018, 9:03 PM

      I heard something about them being more fragile, and that they occasionally broke when kids tried to carry around their builds…

      I tend to like them, though.
      At least as long as they’ve got plenty of studs for building. I’ve never had any problems, myself…

      • admin December 21, 2018, 10:13 AM

        I had a couple of those that I bought second-hand on eBay. Plastic used for baseplates is much thinner, so when kids lean on the moulded baseplates, they can warp, chip, or crack. Interestingly, LEGO still makes moulded baseplates for DUPLO, and those are slightly thicker and really good.

        • Håkan December 21, 2018, 11:18 AM

          I have one since my childhood from the early 90’s, and a few more that I’ve managed to find cheaply on thrift stores and flea markets. I like them. The Belville baseplates have too few studs to be particularly useful, though, although their weird colors could be pretty impressive.

    • Mark Avery December 22, 2018, 6:03 PM

      It’s not so easy to link them to other baseplates or to road plates. it’s especially a problem from the back.

  • Lego Child December 20, 2018, 11:50 PM

    As one of Mr. Avery’s children, it is very interesting to read these articles having lived this Lego story. It is all true, although I can’t say I knew exactly how many of some of these smaller sets he actually has. (I did help take an inventory years ago. :-))
    And there is so much he hasn’t covered yet…

    • Lenmor App December 21, 2018, 12:29 AM

      What is it like having a dad who enjoys a trip to the toy store as much as his children enjoy it?

      • LEGOJeff December 21, 2018, 1:22 PM

        I have this question as well. I know that some kids today whose parents are really into LEGO with big collections and entire LEGO rooms, don’t appreciate it as much.

      • Lego Child December 24, 2018, 8:27 PM

        As much as his children? Try more than his children! 🙂

        • Lego Child December 24, 2018, 8:31 PM

          From the time I was little, Lego was just part of our family. (It was my original set that he co-opted.) Even when I wasn’t actively spending time with it, it was cool to bring friends upstairs to see Legoland. It seems like everyone has some Lego, but when you say your father has lots of Lego, no one really understands until they see the city.

          • Mark Avery December 24, 2018, 8:54 PM

            So a kid says he has Lego.
            I say, me to.
            A kid says he has lots of Lego.
            I say, me to.
            The kid says he has more Lego then me.
            I say I don’t think so.
            He insists.
            I take him (with a parent) to show him.
            The kid just stands there in stunned silence.
            Then he concedes — and asks the parents for more Lego.

            • admin December 25, 2018, 7:29 PM

              LOL! That’s a great way to describe it! I’m sure those kids were in awe! 😀

  • Mark Avery December 24, 2018, 8:45 PM

    Enjoy the holidays — and the Lego that goes with it.

  • Rivka December 26, 2018, 1:54 PM

    It has been so interesting to follow this story – and the details of this installment was helpful. I like both your style of writing and the content, and the fact that you legitimately have more Lego than any kid 🙂 finally, i think the thing I was struck by most on this post was the complexity of the planning needed for each component. Thank you for posting – looking forward to the next installment!

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