Sun Cities Today Blog

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Archive for the month “November, 2010”

The McMillin Terrace

In the Devco promotional video The Beginning, there is a scene where home owners on the golf course are enjoying their patio. With 11 golf courses within the walls of Sun City, suffice to say there are a goodly number of home owners living adjacent to those lush green spaces. The particular scene in the video culminates with this dialogue: “You might call a patio a symbol of the way of life out here…casual and relaxed.”

The video is from 50 years back and if anything, it has become even more so how people live. The outdoor lifestyle has become popular around the country and for warm weather climates it’s even better suited. It only makes sense communities like Sun City use their patios as an extension of their homes. Barbeques, bars, conversation pits and TV’s safely tucked under covered veranda’s add so much.

The first family to actually live in the home our museum now resides in were the McDonald’s. They bought the home from the Wager’s (their in-laws) and moved in in 1962. The patio became one of the favorite hangouts for them as well as the kids and grandkids when they visited from Colorado. In 1965 they converted it to an addition on the home, adding almost half again as much square footage on the 860 square feet in the Kentworth model.

Over the years the addition has served us all well. The space gave the McDonald’s room for their visitor’s and given us room for the new Sun City West display and our office. The problem was, it felt as if there was something missing. Being on the North golf course, it seemed like we should be able to go out back and lounge on a patio, enjoying that old Sun City way of life.

This summer we approached Connie McMillin, a longtime Sun City resident. Connie is a second generation Sun Citian (like so many of us), is a past president of the Historical Society and plays a major role in our very active speaker’s bureau.

We had hoped to encourage Connie to consider buying the naming rights to a patio out back which would allow us to build it without having to tap our reserves. She graciously agreed and we quickly set the steps in motion to get it built. The nearly 400 square foot covered addition gives us space to accommodate 30 – 40 people on the lighted expanse. Perfect for groups wanting to hold a meeting and then tour the museum.

On November 18 we opened The McMillin Terrace for an intimate gathering for the Sun City West unveiling. The evening was quite a hit, and the Terrace was the key to our success. It allowed us to do things we could never even think about, entertaining folks in an open and comfortable setting. The highlight was presenting Connie with a plaque that is hanging on the Terrace and launching the idea that naming rights for the museum are within reach for others.

The Booth Built Patio company lent a hand by donating half the cost of the materials and getting it built in record time. On Saturday December 11, we are planning an open house where we inaugurate the Terrace and show it to visitor’s wanting to see what the potential is for using it for their meetings.

Clearly, the Terrace is a blessing for us. It returns the first model home to the more traditional feel of an added outdoor living space where we can gather and be more “casual and relaxed.” Thanks Connie, job well done.

For more information on reserving the space, contact us at 623-974-2568.

Del Webb…The man; the myth; the legend.

It is said there are those who live life bigger than life itself; if that old adage is true, then most assuredly, Del Webb was one of them. While he stood 6 foot 4 inches tall, even his stature and presence was dwarfed by his accomplishments.

Born in 1899, Del dropped out of high school at the tender age of 14. His father’s California business had gone bust and he knew he was capable of making it on his own. He strapped on the tool belt, honed his carpenter skills and traveled up and down the coast working wherever he could catch on. The only prerequisite was the town had to have a baseball team so he could supplement his income.

Del loved the game and was very good at it. He had a great fastball and could earn as much as $2.50 a game; a tidy some back in the 1910’s. Unfortunately the call to the big league’s never came, at least not before he came down with typhoid fever in 1927. His weight dropped from 204 down to 90 pounds and took a year to recover.

The Arizona climate seemed healthier for him and in 1928 Del and his wife Hazel packed their meager belongings and headed to Phoenix. He found work with a contractor hanging doors at the Westward Ho Hotel. From there he met AJ Bayless at a function. He took a liking to the young Webb and started him off doing remodeling and then building new stores for the Bayless chain.

The 1930’s were very good to Del as his success across Arizona was almost unmatched. His reputation for doing the job well and his positive demeanor and keen business sense set him in a class by himself. By the 1940’s the Webb name was synonymous with quality. Rumor has it federal contracts were awarded to him without having to go through the bidding process.

In 1945 he bought the New York Yankees along with Dan Topping and Andy McPhail (two years later McPhail was bought out). They paid 2.8 million dollars for the team and shortly after the purchase they sold the land under the stadium (with a lease back) for 2 million dollars. In the 20 year span they owned the team, the Yankee’s won ten World Series Pennants. In 1965 they sold the team for 14 million dollars to CBS. Webb will be remembered for bringing a business sense to the game of baseball.

The legend continued when Webb got a call to come to Las Vegas to finish a casino called the Flamingo. The contractor had gone belly up and the owner, Bugsy Segal, needed someone to clean up the mess. Del did just that, but often questioned whether it was wise to be working with guys affiliated with the mob. Bugsy told him, “don’t worry, we only shoot each other.” Prophetic given he was shot down at his girl friends place in Beverly Hills a short time later.

Webb left Vegas but returned a few years later. J Edgar Hoover assured him they were cleaning the town up and guys like Webb were just what the town needed. He not only returned and built a dozen hotels, the Webb Corporation developed a gaming division and did very well with it. It was also in las Vegas where Del met and became friends with the biggest names in show business.

By 1960, the Webb corporation was well know and Del was a national figure of some prominence. Little did he know though just how much it would grow in the coming years. Convinced by LC Jacobsen, Tom Breen and Tom Ashton, he ventured into the concept of “a new way of life.” The retirement community for retirees was forged from the cottons fields outside Phoenix. It was there the partnership of Jim Boswell and Del Webb was formed and life for seniors was changed forever more.

It was also from the Sun City development where the myths of Del Webb flourished. To this day, visitors to the Museum tell us about how Del personally delivered the keys to their grandparents when they moved in (several Webb employees were built and dressed like Webb, hence the confusion). About how Del had to take back roads to get to the opening day festivities (actually Webb never got to Sun City until the opening of the next set of model homes a year later). And of course people telling us about how his kids lived in Sun City (Del had no children with either his first wife Hazel or his second wife Toni. Though Webb did buy Hazel a place in Sun City, the Patio homes on Del Webb Blvd just up from Lakeview Rec Center).

Speaking of Del’s wives, one of the most revealing pieces of memorabilia we have at the Museum are the actual pocket journals Del used to make entires in. This cut line is on display and speaks volumes to Mr Webb’s mindset: Tuesday August 1, 1961. In L.A. leave for Reno Nev 9:00 am arrive 11 am. Had meeting with Jacobsen, 2 hours. Then married at 5:00 pm. Meals, tips, car fare etc. $10.00 That defined Del, he lived to work, loved the business and loved the action.

Del died on July 4, 1974. He left a legacy that is often understated. The Del E Webb Foundation has funded millions and millions of dollars of projects devoted to hospitals and research across the country. Del made sure both his wives were taken care of, but the bulk of his estate was left to help people. That’s the kind of man he was. People that worked for him speak of him with nothing but reverence. He is one of those people i would have loved to meet.

Del Webb was a builder for 40 plus years. His company has hundreds if not thousands of projects to their credit. He built Madison Square Garden, the three sports stadiums in Kansas City, dozens of military bases, hotels, office parks and hospitals. With all of that, Del Webb had this to say on the Merv Griffin Show from the early 70’s: “The most satisfying thing i accomplished in my lifetime was the development of these Sun Cities.” powerful words from a powerful, man, one who never became over impressed with who he was or what he did.

Thanks Del, we all owe you for what you have given us.

Brilliant

Peter Corbett of the Arizona Republic paper did a spectacular piece on Sun City that appeared in the paper October 29th. Earl and Rita Warren were the focus of the story and how they had found Sun City and fell in love with it (does the theme sound familiar?).

They were full-time RVer’s who came across the community in their travels and decided it was time to put down roots. They are two of the more active folks you would ever want to meet and it isn’t all just play. They donate their free time (what little there is) to a number of organizations and belong to several of the clubs.

It is a story that has been repeated again and again for the past 50 years. It’s exactly why Sun City is so popular; like Yogi said it’s deja vu all over again. Couple comes to Sun City; couple remodel home; couple joins a half a dozen clubs; couple donates time as volunteers; couple gushes proudly of finding the best place in the world to live.

What’s so cool is, it isn’t just us old farts that find Sun City attractive. Kendrick Brinson, a photojournalist from Atlanta has been to Sun City 4 or 5 times in the past 10 months. She has taken hundreds of photo’s of Sun City festivities, some of which are posted here.. The tall leggy redhead has said on many occasions what a pleasant shock it was to see how dynamic the community was/is. It’s just never what they expect.

She’s not alone. This piece from Marketplace Public Radio showed Sun City and the literally the world just how unique the community is. I also worked with two young film makers from Germany who were stunned by just how tranquil a setting Sun City was. And then there were the pair of younger guys that came and took 12 hours of video for the promotional film that will be on 55places.com in the coming month. They had both lived in Phoenix their entire lives and had no idea Sun City was anything near what they taped that day. Stunned!

But back to Peter: His story has inspired at least one reader to begin looking at property. A friend who sells real estate told me the prospect called just based on the story he read. When i heard this, i sent an email to Peter and thanked him for the great story. He sent me back a brief note, but these words struck me as noteworthy and worth repeating: “It really opened my eyes to go out and see Sun City and meet its people instead of leaning on the stereotypes. “

Stereotypes have helped shape Sun City’s image from opening day January 1, 1960. Overcoming them has been as simple as getting folks to come to Sun City and see it. Sun City’s future will be as bright as our past if we can just get people to try us; because to try us is to buy us. Sun City is that darn good.

The Kings Inn

Fabulous! One of the true Sun City landmarks was the Kings Inn. Originally built as the Hiway House, it was on the corner of 107th and Grand Ave. Early in 1963 the chain of motor inn motels owned by Webb changed their decor and became the Kings Inn Motel both in Sun City and some of the other 50 locations across the country.

The charm of this remarkable setting can be see in the video The Beginning. It is in Part 2 and at about the 4 and a half-minute mark where the couples stop at the Kings Inn restaurant for lunch. One of the husbands turns to stare at his wife and says to the camera: “Sue looked like a different person and from the looks of that hat, must have felt like one.” A classic line for sure and just one of the dozens from this genius marketing piece by DEVCO.

The Kings Inn played an important role in the development of Sun City. Virtually every one who came to Sun City ate in the restaurant but the hotel filled even a bigger role. This old press release from DEVCO had this to say: “The Kings Inn has 100 air-conditioned rooms, having two double beds, 24 hour telephone service and free television and radio.” Modern conveniences we take for advantage today, but in the 60’s were the cat’s meow (ouch, did i really write that?). Nice to know, even back then, cab fare from the airport was only $11.50.

By the late 1960’s, John Meeker had turned Sun City home sales around. One of the tools was the Stay and Play package, and the Kings Inn played a significant role. Visitor’s would fly out on their own dime and they would stay at the motel for $75 for the week. In the first years Meeker used only about half the rooms, but the success of the program was so astounding, he demanded the manager of the Kings Inn make all of the rooms available; which he begrudgingly did. In Meeker’s oral history he claims they “gave them a couple of rounds of golf and a little container of Arizona cactus jellies. I think there were four different kinds-prickly pear, saguaro, i don’t know what all they had, but it went over very well.” Amazing when you consider marketing by these mega-corporations today to sell properties.

Once Meeker saw the potential in these types of programs, he started building his own vacation models. With each new phase and models release DEVCO quickly built apartment units they would let folks stay in and when they were done with them, sold to buyers. It was the best of all arrangements as many people were looking for that 4 to 6 month winter getaway home and these models were perfect for them. The concept was so solid that Meeker carried it over to Sun City West where countless numbers of potential buyers stayed in the two-story apts overlooking Hillcrest golf course. Truly, a gorgeous setting.

Sadly, when DEVCO sold out Sun City in 1978, the Kings Inn lost some of its lustre.The company had no need for it and sold it off to a private enterprise. They did fairly well, but with Sun City land locked and land at a premium, by the 90’s, large corporations were looking to build. For those of you who buy your groceries in the Fry’s store on Grand and 107th, you are treading on a piece of Sun City’s history. The restaurant, The Kings Inn Two was supposed to be on a small parcel of that land, but fast food places saw a better opportunity than the previous owners.

Like losing many of their friends, old timers still lament the death of the Kings Inn. It was simply a beautiful setting and one that most who came here early on, treasure. It represented everything special about Sun City…close, convenient, neighborly and full of life. They say it had an energy that made visitors want to stay. Sad to say it’s gone, but at least i can stop and pick up a couple of cans of soup when i leave today and not get on anything other than my golf car to do so.

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