Go back in time at the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum, a hidden midcentury gem

Del Webb Sun Cities Museum

If you’ve ever had a hankering to learn just about everything there is to know about how Sun City, the self-proclaimed “active-adult retirement community” in the Northwest Valley, came to be, well then we’ve got a museum for you.

Located in the first model home built by the Del E. Webb Corporation in 1960, The Del Webb Sun Cities Museum is a living, breathing tribute to what Sun City once was and continues to strive to be. It’s the perfect place to spend an hour or so if you’re looking for something fun, entertaining and somewhat kitschy while visiting your retired relatives, heading to Surprise or on your way to Las Vegas.

The museum costs $5 for those 18 and over and is open during the middle of the day from Sunday through Thursday. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but don’t let its humble exterior fool you. Once you’re inside the former model home, the walls are chock full of information and your docent tour guide will show you around and share a wonderful glimpse of the area’s interesting past.

Even the outside of the museum has some interesting exhibits and placards of information. There are two vintage golf carts that duffers of all ages will enjoy taking a look at, as well as some great old photographs and advertisements touting the benefits of being part of what was an unknown commodity when Webb and his team first considered building the community on what was well beyond the edge of Phoenix in 1960.

We were fortunate to have docent Connie Castillo show us around during our visit on a recent Sunday afternoon. A resident of Sun City herself, Castillo’s pride in her volunteer work was evident as she patiently and thoroughly explained the many exhibits featured in the museum. Castillo greeted us at the door, took care of our entry fee and began what really felt like just a warm, friendly conversation with some history about how and why Sun City came to be.
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Just a few of the over 100,000 visitors to Sun City on opening weekend in 1960.
Del Webb Sun Cities Museum

“100,000 people showed up over the first three-day weekend (which began on January 1, 1960). The Dell Webb people thought they might sell 300 homes the first year and they sold 237 that first weekend. They had five model homes and you’re standing in the first one, which is also the smallest one at 850 square feet. It sold for $8,500,” says Castillo.

During the tour, visitors will get an extensive history of what made Sun City the most successful retirement community of its time. One of the things that Castillo pointed out was what Webb and his team brought to the equation to make Sun City different. The amenities were ready to go for the first visitors on that New Year's weekend in 1960, unlike other communities around the country.

“The rec center next door was built and you can still see it today. The pool had water in it and Webb had paid actors, young women and men, frolicking in it, and the first nine holes of the golf course [which is directly behind the museum] were open, as well as the pro shop. There was lawn bowling going on and the rec center was open and the first visitors could see people using the rec center and actively doing crafts,” says Castillo.

As the tour continues, visitors will see three rooms that have been kept as close to what they would have looked like in 1960 as possible, as well as one of the two bedrooms in the house that has been converted to a makeshift Del E. Webb mini-museum. The second bedroom has been done up to look like what a guest bedroom may have looked like and the bathroom has all the original accoutrements.

Walking into the living room and kitchen, though, are the most impressive parts of the tour. If you're over 40, it's like walking into your grandparents’ home once again, and if you are under forty, it is still very much like going through a time machine. Seeing all the furnishings and appliances are well worth the price of admission.
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A 1960s living room at the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum.
Tom Reardon

While the original model home has been expanded to include a few extra rooms, including a small tribute to the old Sun Dome, a 7,000-seat auditorium that opened in 1980, there really is something for just about everyone in this museum. Much of the second half of the tour covers what life is like in Sun City and goes in-depth into many of the amenities and features of the large retirement community that is home to almost 40,000 people according to the 2020 census.

For those interested in learning about Del E. Webb, who played a large role in how Phoenix grew in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, as well as being a former owner of the New York Yankees, a visit to the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum will scratch that itch very well, too.

“He owned the Yankees for 14 years and those were the glory days of the team. During that time, in 10 of those years they won the World Series. He loved baseball and he couldn’t play (due to typhoid fever in his mid- to late 20s), so he might as well own a team. He also built the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and his client for that was Bugsy Siegel. Webb wasn’t too sure he wanted to do business with him, but Siegel told him, ‘Don’t worry, we only shoot each other,’” Castillo says with a smile.

While Castillo is just one of many docents who volunteer their time doing tours at the museum, it was apparent that each of the tour guides showing guests around during our visit was enthusiastic about the opportunity to share some great information.

Take a chance on the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum this year. You won’t regret it.

Dell Webb Sun Cities Museum is located at 10801 West Oakmont Drive, Sun City. Hours are noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Cost is $5 for adults; children 17 and under are free with a paid adult. Call 623-974-2568 or visit the museum website for more information.
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon

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