Browsing the Webb

Sun City, the well-known retirement community on the west side of metropolitan Phoenix, put Del Webb on the map and launched his career as one of the largest land developers in the world.

By Molly J. Smith / Photo Courtesy Del Webb

Del Webb, like so many of the people who move into his communities, was not an Arizona native.
An avid baseball player, Webb — who grew up in California and would later own the New York Yankees — had a promising career until he fell ill with typhoid fever. He moved to the Phoenix metropolitan area in 1928 for the dry climate, and began working as a carpenter.

According to Judy Bearg, a librarian at the Sun City Museum, Webb got his start hanging doors at the Westward Ho Hotel in downtown Phoenix. He later went on to found his own construction company, and is known for many projects throughout the state, including an addition to the Arizona State Capitol, the barracks at Fort Huachuca and St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix.

However, Webb's best-known legacy is Sun City, a retirement community northwest of Phoenix.

"When Sun City was built in the late 1950s, the concept of people leaving where they'd lived all of their working lives was a new one," Bearg says. "A lot of people didn't think a retirement community would work." But it did. In fact, it worked so well that opening day saw more than 100,000 people visit the community, all in search of new homes.

Today, more than 37,000 people call Sun City home — whether year-round or just for the winter — and it features more than 100 chartered clubs, with interests ranging from woodworking to needlepoint to automobiles. Many of the houses are the original models from the 1950s, though the most recent homes were built in 1978.

From the air, Sun City appears to have a peculiar circular arrangement, breaking from the Valley of the Sun's typical grid system. When it was built, the idea was to have streets that surrounded a nucleus of recreation and shopping areas — Sun City is home to seven recreation centers and 11 golf courses.

Across the 14 square miles covered by the community, Sun City is — and has always been — a city of volunteers, Bearg says.

"It's always been an unincorporated area, so it's governed by the recreation centers, which are run by a board," Bearg says. "The board is made up of volunteers, the Sun City Homeowners Association is made up of volunteers, and we even have a sheriff's posse of volunteers who respond to calls in the community."