Local historian Bret McKeand shared a story of a Circle K convenience store that was built at 103rd and Grand avenues decades ago to serve the needs of Sun City.
The original building has since been repurposed over and over with the latest use being for an automotive repair shop. Just west of the repair shop stands a large building that for decades housed Furr’s Cafeteria. It is now under major renovation. When finished later this year, Sun City will welcome its eighth recreation center.
The two examples cited demonstrate how Sun City remains a work in process. Residents continue to witness some tweaking of a major repurposing project whose planning began in 1959 and ended 19 years later. The final product — “Sun City: the Community That Changed the Nation.”
Sun City began with a proposal from one man, James G. Boswell, who owned vast amounts of agricultural land. Some was no longer very profitable, and Boswell determined it could be sold. Among those many parcels was 20,000 acres of agricultural property west of Phoenix. He viewed the land as expendable because of changing weather patterns, economic conditions, lagging demand for long-stemmed cotton and the general lowering of the water table.
Mr. Boswell, whose major land holdings were in California, was in Arizona on business. After concluding his business, Mr. Boswell decided to follow up on a rumor he had heard. He stopped at the headquarters of a major construction company headquartered in Phoenix. He heard the company was looking to acquire a major parcel of land for developing a new project. That company was Del E. Webb, Inc.
Stories of what happened next were chronicled in the book titled “Jubilee,” which summarized the history of Sun City’s first 25 years. It is a story told over and over at the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum, 10801 W. Oakmont Drive. Visitors to the museum learn that Mr. Boswell’s hope of selling his property to Mr. Webb did not happen — at least not immediately. Instead, Mr. Webb and Mr. Boswell became partners and formed an entirely new company called Del Webb Development Company.
The new company signed an agreement to buy small chunks of the 20,000 acres from Mr. Boswell as needed at a price negotiated when the bargain was struck. In the interim, Mr. Boswell would continue to farm the land and pay the property taxes. During the process, the concept of “active retirement” was given birth in Sun City. The newly developing community offered an exciting alternative for the retired by providing them with thousands of potential friends of similar age and similar interests. Those first buyers in Sun City had grown up in a world of advancing from “playmates” to “school mates” to “work mates” to retirement. Active retirement in Sun City offered the potential of endless new “playmates” of a bit older vintage.
When the partnership between Mr. Webb and Mr. Boswell completed their work developing Sun City in 1978, they left behind ample proof of the “repurposing” of those 20,000 acres of farmland. In 1959 Sun City’s land primarily hosted cotton. However, several truck farms near Olive Avenue produced tomatoes, melons and lettuce, and the entire area from Bell to Beardsley roads was being leased by Mr. Boswell to area farmers for pasturing their sheep.
By 1978 the former Boswell property had been repurposed to contain 25,723 homes for well more than 40,000 residents, six neighborhood shopping centers, seven recreations centers, 11 golf courses, one park, five mini golf courses, 40 bowling lanes, 15 tennis courts, 28 banks and savings and loans, a 7,500-seat outdoor amphitheater, a 4,000-seat baseball stadium, 29 churches and synagogues, a private dining club seating 700, 29 restaurants, two lakes, a 50-acre cemetery, offices for 75 dentists and 400 doctors and a hospital with 355 beds.
That was some repurposing and a highly profitable one at that.
That Sun City story continues even today as referenced earlier in this article. More stories from early Sun City will continue by this contributor in early October. There are endless stories to share about the “Community That Changed the Nation.” When the Sun Cities Area History Society was formed right after the publication of “Jubilee” in 1985, the initial governing board adopted the motto: “Today is tomorrow’s history.” They nailed it!