Sun City

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Description

For real estate developers of the nineteen sixties no gimmick was too bizarre as they carved new towns out of the desert. A 100-foot fountain that gushed on the hour lured potential buyers to Fountain Hills. Developers of Lake Havasu City bought, imported, and reassembled London Bridge in their Colorado River town. Del Webb's army of salespeople pitched Sun City, a new adults-only community, to retirees across the country. Retirees that wanted an active lifestyle in their sunset years were promised golf, like minded neighbors, and, most importantly, no kids. No one knew if the new retirement community would be a commercial success. It was, so much so it has been copied throughout the nation.

Transcript

Narrator:
Local developer Del Webb was among Arizona's foremost builders, with a resume that included office towers, the Pink Flamingo Motel in Las Vegas, and Minuteman Missile Silos, but his real fame in the '60s came from turning a 10,000-acre cotton field into Sun City. No other developer had exploited the housing market for retirees with a development as large as this, and no one was sure it would work.

Owen Childress:
One of the problems that we knew we were going to run into was to try to get an elderly person to leave a city where they had lived for all their lives. But we thought if we could develop it on such a scale that when they came out, saw what they were going to get, the weather, everything else, why, they would -- they would make that move.

Narrator:
So the company conceived of an affordable community segregated by age. It was orderly and spotless, near a city yet insulated from urban problems with ample opportunities for recreation and socializing. People didn't just buy a house. They bought a way of life. Then the company took the modern tactic of sending a marketing researcher to Florida to survey retirees.

Owen Childress:
And when he came back, he said one of the biggest problems that he ran into was that the people were unhappy because the developer either didn't do what he said he was going to do or he did it on a much smaller basis. So we decided that if we were going to get into a Sun City or a retirement community, the best thing for us to do was to put all of the amenities in ahead of time.

Narrator:
The company poured money into building a golf Course, shopping center, rec center, and restaurant and spent even more on national publicity. A film produced in the early '60s reveals the marketing strategy, which portrayed retirement as a dull, lonely existence with senior citizens plagued by rowdy neighborhood kids.

Movie:
It broke! So this is retirement. time on your hands... with no place to go. There must be something else. Bill? Let's go West. I know, let's go to Arizona. I wondered if she felt all right. Arizona of all places. Why not Timbuktu?

Narrator:
But he has a change of heart and heads out to Phoenix. Not surprisingly, the characters discover that Sun City is a haven from winter, boredom, and urban problems.

Movie:
This was one of the fullest, most rewarding days I've had in months, and for the first time in months, I was looking forward to tomorrow.

Narrator:
But back on opening day January 1, 1960, no one really knew how fast those lots would sell.

Owen Childress:
We wondered whether anybody was going to come, and we got cut there early, and then we heard that there was a traffic jam from 107th avenue almost all the way back to Peoria. So I called secretaries as best as I could in the web company and also executives, and I got receipt books from Safeway, and I passed them out to the executives and secretaries, and I said, "just get a lot number and $500 and the people's name and address, and we'll call them later." So that's how we did.

Narrator:
Sun City became an immediate success, and most residents loved living there.

Jack August Jr.:
Del Webb put a new twist on it, made it almost sexy to be elderly, white, and segregated, but I think in terms of the growth of the northwest valley and the growth of an idea as Arizona as a retirement center rivaling California and Florida, it was the work of pure genius.