Sun Cities Today Blog

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Archive for the month “October, 2011”


Del Webb’s construction career spanned 45 years. When he moved to Phoenix with his wife Hazel in 1928, he worked for AJ Bayless and got his first break when the contractor left town and AJ asked Del to finish the project. He did a great job and was hired to do all of his stores. He opened a small office where Hazel worked and together they built one of the most impressive construction empires the nation has ever seen. In the 30’s he established himself in Arizona; the 40’s brought lots of federal projects his way along with ownership of the Yankees. His brief foray with the Flamingo Hotel in Vegas in 1946 opened the door to the 50’s becoming his Vegas years and of course the 60’s started his run with the Sun Cities properties.

Del died July 4th, 1974 at Rochester Mayo Hospital in Minnesota. During those golden years of building, anyone following his public relations people would have been inclined to tear open his shirt to see if there was a giant red and yellow S beneath his suit and tie. They did a marvelous job of portraying him in ways that were bigger than life. It was part of the mystique. Truth be known, Del was a humble man able to converse with presidents or every day people with little differentiation. He loved to work, but there was no way he could have done a quarter of things that were attributed to him.

His greatest strength was he hired exceptionally gifted people (pictured from left to right is John Meeker, Bob Johnson and Del). What was even more impressive was he let them do their job, giving them creative freedom to succeed or fail (most often they succeeded) and was willing to help them if they ran into problems. The Del Webb Sun Cities Museum has 37 years of the company’s history via the monthly magazine called the Webb Spinner. They are proof positive Del Webb recognized and honored the remarkable people who worked for him…who made him as successful as he was. As a footnote, we will be scanning them and have them as a searchable pdf file on the museum’s website in the next month or so.

Of late, there has been more than a small amount of angst in this country. We seem to be missing the one attribute that made Webb most successful…he held his people accountable. There is no better proof than in the making of Sun City. Three men convinced him to build it: LC Jacobson, Tom Breen and Joe Ashton. They were the genius behind the original planning. Without them, it never would have seen the light of day. In 1964, all three of the Webb Sun City’s (Kern County CA, Sun City Florida and Sun City AZ) were on the verge of collapse. Webb trusted his team but asked them to  change the target market (low to middle-income retirees), but they refused. In what was wholly uncharacteristic for him, he let them go. He brought in John Meeker and the rest is history.

The point is, accountability always has been and always should be a way of life. For some reason we have drifted from it. From politics to business, from our personal endeavors to our acceptance of failure being okay has changed the landscape of our country and our society. We watch as corporations pay CEO’s millions for producing nothing and politicians promising us solutions that never materialize. Is it any wonder that average people walk away from upside mortgages with no remorse? Who is accountable these days? Why should they be?

I suspect that is why i love Sun City’s history. Webb had the foresight to take a chance. He put up his money (along with Jim Boswell) and defied logic. He went against the odds the “experts” gave it and turned it into a goldmine. While the profits he made were obviously significant, Del was far more excited by the fact he gave seniors a way of life that hadn’t existed before his gamble. While Mr. Webb gets the accolades for Sun City’s success, the reality is it was his employees, the ones he held accountable, that were the true builders of this incredible setting.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could begin to hold people, politicians and corporations, churches and organizations accountable for the outcomes we are seeing these days?


Community Center Lawn Bowls

Lawn Bowlers at Oakmont Center

This picture from 1960 was one of the earliest we have on file in the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum covering the “new sport” of lawn bowls. It was taken at the Community Center lawn bowls club, which has now become Oakmont. As you can see, there wasn’t much around in beginning.

The oddity is that Del Webb ever even considered a green. In aerial pictures from July of 1959 we can see the front 9 holes of the North golf course and the plantings of the first green in Sun City. It was clear both golf and lawn bowls was going to play important roles in the communities theme of a “new active way of life.”

I’ve written it before, bit is a great story. Del Webb’s good friend Walt Disney was an active lawn bowler at the Beverly Hills Lawn Bowling Club. When he heard Del was going to open a senior retirement community, he told him putting in a green would help sales.

Funny thing was, most people moving here (and still to this day) have no idea what the game is. Most often the question becomes; “is this bocce?” Close but no cigar. Bocce is played on court with round balls while lawn bowls is played on a grass (and now artificial) green with bowls that have a built-in bias. The both play to a jack (in bocce called a palino) and Lawn Bowlers at Oakmont Centerboth score based on an individual or team ‘s closest bowls or balls to the jack.

In retrospect, Walt Disney was spot on. His suggestion paid off in spades; by the mid 1970’s, Sun City had more than 1400 lawn bowlers. The numbers have fallen off steadily, but Sun City is recognized as a premier location for lawn bowlers to retire to. We currently have more than a dozen members in the lawn bowling hall of fame living in Sun City or Sun City West. Someday it would be awesome to house the hall of fame in Sun City.

Within weeks the artificial green at the spectacular new Fairway Rec Center will open. It will start an exciting chapter for lawn bowlers as we feature a variety of tournaments for bowlers from around the world. We have a number of great venues to bowl at and this added dimension will certainly attract attention for those looking for faster more true surfaces to bowl on.

The one bit of tragic news was the RCSC announced they are shutting down the Oakmont when the Fairway green opens. It was a poorly thought out plan as bowlers return for the bowling season and the tournament schedule is written using every green in Sun City for the entirety of the season. At last blush the RCSC was getting an earful and hopefully has rethought this silliness. Oakmont has 250 members and is the largest club at that center. If not, both Del and Walt might be spinning in their graves simultaneously.

“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

By now, most of you are aware the RCSC has formed a “marketing committee.” I think it is a great move in that it allows us (Sun City) to think about promoting the community in ways that have not been done since DEVCO left in the late 1970’s. I know some think it is waste of resources but there are enough of us who understand if we leave our future to chance alone, we may well be sorely disappointed in the outcome. Managing the changes that are happening societally (at least that impact within these white walls) is essential.

At our last meeting we sat with a web design team (name withheld for the moment) who i found most impressive. I have worked with web designers over the years and they are sometimes an odd lot. Don’t get me wrong, nice people but often in a hurry to tell me what i/we want. They tend to think in terms of what they know and the limitations within the design, program or formatting they work with. I suspect they usually work with people who don’t know what they want exactly and their goal is to help move them to an end product rather than agonizing over each and every page, picture and word. I understand that, i just don’t like it.

This group was different; their presentation was about selling themselves as being willing to listen, learn and then work with the client to help shape their site through a process. Interestingly enough it wasn’t about getting it done quickly, but getting it done right. At the center of the creative process was a lengthy interview where they digested what the client was hoping to accomplish. I was fascinated that anyone building websites was willing to commit 8 to 12 hours to the discussion/planning stage before they ever made a key stroke.

It also got me thinking; what would we want a marketing website in Sun City to do/be about? There is no easy answer, but i have often found that reducing the “noise” around something like this to a single phrase or word gave me the impetus to sort through my biggest weakness…i talk/write too much. In an effort to not miss anything, i say everything. That leaves some confused and challenged to boil the problem down to the basics. In this case, it is even more challenging because those living in Sun City see the community one way, while those who have never been here see it another.

As often happens, while riding my single speed bike to the museum, a song started playing in my head. The theme was the nexus of the problem that has existed since Sun City first opened and  still is our biggest challenge today. If you remember the Animals (most of you boomers will), they recorded a song in the late 70’s. It was written in 1964 and performed by any number of artists before the Animals sang it; here is their version. It could have been and still could be Sun City’s theme song.

The beauty of this website isn’t in selling a home or even being appealing to Sun City residents. It’s something far deeper. We need to translate what all of us living here know, a concept, a way of life that transcends age. From our earliest beginnings, non visitors see Sun City as old. They have that common misconception we are all just sitting around waiting to die. We are truly misunderstood. What’s so amazing is almost anyone that has come to the community in the past 50 years has seen past that. They quickly realize age is immaterial. It’s the quality of life we have found in this “new active way of life.”

Still lots to do with the marketing committee; starting with more web designers to interview. Once we find the “right company” then we need to make sure we/they understand the challenges of marketing Sun City. I for one believe we are on the right path. Our ability to sell Sun City to people who want to live in a self-governance community where they can become a part of something very special is an absolute necessity. If we are to maintain both the value and the values Webb built into Sun City, it won’t happen by accident, but by design…and that starts with great web design.

A social experiment in

A Look Back

Sun City was called the great social experiment and i liked the concept so much, i thought i would conduct one of my own. There is a theory that people using the internet have very short attention spans and will not read much beyond their nose. The contention continues along the lines that if one has to scroll even a little bit they will simply click on to something more interesting or exciting. I do think there is some truth in it, but i also think if a topic is substantial, those wanting to learn will in fact stay on the page and read till the end.

To help you, here is the teaser to see if you will take the bait: yesterday i took the liberty of sharing the most significant document in our museum with the general manager of the Rec Centers of Sun City. It dawned on me this document is probably on our website but unless you were looking for it, you’d never find it. In that it is that darn good, it begged the question…why wouldn’t i share it with the rest of the free world. And so, all you have to do is click on the link above and scroll (oh no) past the picture and into the body of the 30 page summary.

That’s right, 30 pages of the most blunt, straight forward analysis of Sun City’s history ever written. The author was none other than John Meeker and the two thick volumes his daughter dropped off after his death are spectacular. I’ll spare you the other hundreds of pages because this summary is so remarkable you will come to understand how and why Sun City came to be without those additional pages. Sit back, relax and enjoy.

Great news…

I’ve often written of the remarkable collection we have under roof at the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum. My three years on the board have flown by and while i have spent way more hours in the house than i had anticipated, every time i dig in another nook or cranny, i find a whole new slew of incredible good stuff (not too technical i hope). The treasure’s come in so many different formats it’s staggering. We had a request the other day from a woman in Germany who once saw 8 millimeter reels on Sun City and was curious if we could send her that footage. We scrounged around and found what she was looking for and are in the process of converting it so we can send it to her. Eventually we’ll get it on our museum website.

This blog really is way better than even that news. We have a collection of Web Spinners, all bound and in perfect condition. They run from 1946 through 1983 and are the most fantastic accumulation of the how’s. why’s and who’s within the Webb organization. I would be surprised if this collection exits anywhere else on the face of this earth. The initial issue we have was called Del Webb’s Trade Talk and in March of 1947 became the Webb Spinners. It is laden with pictures, stories and quips on Del’s construction projects, the industry as a whole and the remarkable people he had working for him.

The challenge has been with the copies being hardbound, we could not in-house scan them. This past summer board member Ed Allen came across two companies in Wisconsin (where he summers) who could convert the bound versions. We were hesitant to ship off such rare pieces and thankfully Ed had the good sense to look around the Phoenix area. One company stood out and he said he was close and would be happy to stop and pick the books up and drop them off as he converted them.

Here’s the real beauty and it is two-fold: The company can create a searchable data based file we can place on our website. This will allow visitors to the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum web site to have access no matter where they are in the world. The cost of this service is fairly pricey (certainly beyond what we can afford) and we have secured grants to cover almost all of it. We hope to get this done in a matter of weeks and once we do, we will bring several of the pictures and stories alive to the blog. For company newsletters they are wonderfully done and with a real sense of belonging towards the employees…a trait Del carried with him his entire career.

Funny because for so many, i suspect they looked at the large file of books and thought, cool, and then walked away. We looked at them and thought wouldn’t it be wonderful to share these with anyone who loves construction and the myriad of things Del Webb got involved in…including the New York Yankees, Las Vegas, Sun City and about a thousand other major projects around the United States.

Stay tuned.

Living on the grassy knoll…

Virtually anyone old enough to live in Sun City is old enough to have some memory of the JFK assasination in Dallas. It was an awful moment in time and without question changed the course of history in ways none of us can ever fully imagine.

Along with the tragedy came a lifetime of conjecture and speculation regarding who really killed John Kennedy. People have made a career writing, ranting and recanting their versions of the “truth.” Personally, i struggle with anyone that caught up in the “who done it,” but to each his/her own.

The speculation that has lived the fullest life since that tragic moment in time was the grassy knoll theory. There are still oodles of people believing there were countless numbers involved beyond just Lee Harvey Oswald. Perhaps they are right, but this post really isn’t about whether it was or wasn’t good old Lee.

Nope, i just wanted to get people in a mindset that matches all of conspiracy theorists out there. Mind you, i’m not playing down their beliefs, the murder of the seated President of the United States rates every bit of scrutiny it can get. My concern is that way too many of those believing in said grassy knoll  have moved to Sun City and Sun City West.

Say what? Pictured above is a group of board members; it doesn’t matter which board is in the photograph, it’s just one of many. From the day Sun City and Sun City West began we have operated with volunteers and boards that have given of their time, energy and expertise with nothing asked in return but a thank you (and often that was slow in coming).

That’s where the conspiracy nuts (sorry, couldn’t resist) come into the equation. I have had it up to my eyeballs with those who still are looking on grassy knolls for the hidden secrets of board members getting kickbacks, graft and corruption. Seriously, with  revolving board’s virtually every year do you actually think folks are going to jeopardize their future over a couple of dollars from a construction project?

That’s not to say there aren’t and haven’t been mistakes made. Boards all too often are dealing with issues that are bigger than their knowledge base, have folks that put them in office who have an agenda they want pursued or in some cases the position is more than they wanted to take on. That doesn’t make them crooked or criminal.

I don’t want to belabor this point, but i will say any of you clinging to the grassy knoll theory being alive in Sun City or Sun City West, do us all a favor and run for the board and get a taste of just what a thankless job it is. And for the countless thousands that have given back to their communities let me just conclude with a big hearty thank you.

A quick reminder…

Just wanted to remind people of the Sundial dedication tomorrow (Friday Oct 7, 2011) starting at 8:30 am. As many of you recall there was discussion by the RCSC of the possible removal of the tallest sundial in Arizona (and perhaps even the United States). That created quite the stir of emotions and rather than face the wrath of many, the RCSC voted to restore the monument by securing the underground support system.

I will be opening the ceremony as the president of the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum and giving a brief (oh my goodness, what pressure) commentary on the history of this venerable old piece of architecture. Is calling it a timeless time piece too corny? I suspect by now most folks know that Del Webb’s last public appearance in Sun City was at the opening of the Sundial Rec Center on April 14, 1973.

But the real thrust of my presentation will be on a man who never receives enough of the credit for Sun City’s success. John Meeker was a guy who lived life larger than most. He saw the potential in building not just a place for old people to live, but to create a community where there was a love affair for what it stood for. A setting that was more than just a place to hang your hat, Sun City under his guidance was where one could open their hearts, minds and soul to live life fuller than anyone imagined.

The sundial is the perfect example of what he stood for. He gave it more hours than there were in a day; it stood one foot taller than its twin in Carefree Arizona and it was all about living life large. Virtually everything he did was bigger and better than what folks expected and he was the reason Sun City wasn’t just an insignificant footnote in history. Without him, Sun City may well have ended at Grand Ave.

Hope we see you tomorrow at the dedication and if not, stop by the museum Monday through Friday, 1 to 3 pm.

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