I've lived in Arizona for 70 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books and travel.
Del E Webb The Early Years
Most Americans, in the Southwest and Florida have seen the name Del E Webb in association with the Sun City Communities or other housing developments, or maybe they remember the Del Webb Highway House motels or Del Webb as a lover of the sport of baseball, who once owned the New York Yankees, or they remember his role in developing some of the early casinos such as the Flamingo Hotel and casino which changed Las Vegas gaming history. Del Webb's ideas and construction company had a dynamic impact on America that has continued long after his death.
Webb was born in Fresno California on May 17, 1899. He learned about the mechanics of running a business from his father, Ernest, who owned a sand and gravel company. He also, learned about baseball from his father, and Webb's early ambition was to become a baseball player. When his once wealthy family lost their fortune in 1914, Webb dropped out of high school to help support his family as a carpenter, and he became skilled at estimating the time and money it would take to complete a job. In his off-hours, he landed a spot on a semi-pro baseball team and was paid $2.50 for an occasional "pick-up" game, but typhoid fever left him in a weakened condition, so on a doctor's advice to move to a warm dry climate, he and his wife Hazel moved to Phoenix Arizona in 1928. He arrived in Arizona with his carpentry tools and a borrowed $100.
Some sources say that Webb got his start in the contracting business by hanging the doors at the Westward Ho Hotel downtown Phoenix, but other sources say not so. At any rate, records do show that Webb met A. J. Bayless of the grocery store chain and Webb was given the job of finishing one of the Bayless stores. Following the completion of the store, Del opened his Del E. Webb Construction Company at 218 N 9th St in Phoenix. One of his biggest jobs during this period was contracting an addition to the Arizona State Capitol in 1938.
Webb's contracts for construction are open to debate about how much he knew about underworld figures in Las Vegas Nevada, when he accepted the contract to build the Flamingo Hotel and Casino for noted Mob figure Bugsy Siegel. (Bugsey reportedly was killed by the Mob in 1946, the year after opening the Flamingo for "skimming" money from the Mob who reportedly financed the construction project.) It has been suggested that whenever obstacles were met on labor or materials, someone was able to "influence" the Teamsters to speed things along. I was surprised to learn that Valley National Bank of Arizona, who financed many of Webb's construction projects, had lent somewhere between $600,000 and $900,000 for the completion of the Flamingo. According to Webb, he had consulted with his friend J Edgar Hoover of the FBI, about the gaming industry in Las Vegas, and. Webb went forward in the 1950s to build the Sahara, and the Mint hotels. Webb's association with the mysterious underworld figures and Howard Hughes continued.
Arizona's growth during World War Two meant a big contract for ten buildings at Ft Huachuca in Southern Arizona, and at Luke Air Force Base located just west of Phoenix. Contracts with Howard Hughes for his aircraft company in California and AZ, a housing development Pueblo Gardens in Tucson, structures for the US Government and commercial building contracts soon followed. During the 1940s Del Webb bought a part ownership of the New York Yankees,and the ownership of several "farm" teams and several baseball stadiums.
The tiny Kentworth House in Sun City Arizona that Changed Retirement
Changing the Concept of Retirement
Webb didn't event the concept of the retirement town, but he did hire a number of people to investigate why the concept hadn't become popular. Florida and Arizona were the logical states to build retirement cities as both states already had a number of people who were retired. Developers who had sold homes in previous retirement communities and then didn't have the money to complete the golf courses and other amenities had left a sour taste in public opinion. Tom Breen, an employee of the Webb Corporation, coined the phrase that to succeed a retirement community must have, Activity, Economy and Individuality. In Arizona, previous ranch land was purchased, the golf courses, recreation centers and a shopping center were completed before the public was encouraged to buy. Webb donated land for churches. A contest was held to name the new community and the name Sun City was selected. Opening day was set for New Years Day, 1960, and Webb hoped for 1,000 visitors. So many potential buyers clogged Grand Ave from Peoria to Sun City, that Webb had difficulty getting to his own grand opening. Over 100,000 viewed Sun City during the first weekend. Five basic home models were offered ranging from the tiny Kentworth for $8,500 to the Pickford model offered at $11,300. Today, the original Sun City remains a vital, attractive community and Sun City West and Sun City Grand have joined the original community. The Sun City business model for retirement living paved the way for expansion into other states for the Del Webb Corporation and for many other developers to follow suit.
The original Kentworth model, became the Sun Cities Historical Museum and Del Webb's original sales office, early company newsletters and many photos for Sun City are housed there. Two years ago, the Museum changed its name to become the Del E Webb Historical Museum.
Because Webb never lost his love of Baseball, in 1971 DEVCO built the Sun City Stadium to major league specifications and the stadium was used for Spring Training by the San Francisco Giants and the Milwaukee Brewers.
In 1974, Webb died during an exploratory surgery, but his corporation continues as does the Del Webb Foundation. Outside of Webb's business success, his love of Baseball and the fact that he married twice, most of his life was kept very private.
The First Sun City Community
Arizona Artist Ted De Grazia 1909-1982
- Ted De Grazia Arizona Artist 1909-1982
Original Watercolor by De Grazia There's one thing I know first hand about Arizona artist De Grazia's profific volume of Southwestern art and that is, people either love his distinctive style or they hate it....
© 2011 mactavers
Al W Moe from Scottsdale on January 22, 2020:
Thanks for the article. Interesting to hear Webb was building for nearly 20 years before he started on the Flamingo in Las Vegas.
Graig Dickinson on April 08, 2014:
Great story, gives you confidence in the American Dream.
mrubiquitous from Orlando, Florida. USA on May 27, 2011:
Interesting story! I am impresse the author took the time to get a personal photo for the hub. Kudos!