Did You Know: Del Webb Helped Develop Arizona
He’s known for creating an urban community unlike any other in Arizona. But his construction reach expanded well beyond that.
Delbert Eugene Webb, better known as Del Webb, opened Sun City north of Phoenix in 1960. Prior to creating the retirement community, he developed department and grocery stores throughout Arizona. Did You Know... Del Webb started his construction business after his 10-year semi-professional baseball career ended?
"He was a big man, 6’4’’ about 200 pounds in his prime. But in 1926 he had a major accident. He broke some ribs, tore some ligaments and that sort of killed his baseball career," said Phil VanderMeer, an ASU history professor who’s researched the story behind Del Webb.
"The next year he got typhoid fever and nearly died," VanderMeer said. "And so after he finally recuperated in 1928, like many other people looking for a place that was more healthy for someone with his problems, he came to Arizona.”
Del Webb was also a carpenter. VanderMeer said when the California native came to Arizona he saw an opportunity to make money in construction. In 1930, he got a chance to help build a grocery chain and when the contractor went broke, Webb was offered the contract to finish the job.
“The 1940s is really where he makes his mark. He recognized that the involvement of the federal government, federal financing, had transformed the opportunities for construction. One person said he camped-out in Washington D.C. looking for any contracts that came available.”
Del Webb built military bases across Arizona including Fort Huachuca and Luke Air Force base. He also built the Japanese Internment Camp at Poston. In the 1950s, Webb turned his attention to a new venture and helped pioneer the construction of retirement homes. He developed Sun City with a different concept with a heavy emphasis on social activities. At this point, VanderMeer said, Del Webb became a nationally known figure. And two local community leaders challenged Webb.
“Newton Rosenzweig and Tom Chauncey, both of them chastised Webb for not being involved in community affairs, not contributing in a substantial way," VanderMeer said. "And Webb eventually took their advice and became involved in several community organizations at the end of his life.”
VanderMeer points to several well-known local and national structures developed by Del Webb. St. Joseph’s Hospital, as well as the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and Madison Square Garden in New York.
By the way, Webb’s baseball career didn’t end after his injuries, he was part owner of the New York Yankees for two decades.