The Family: A Place in the Sun

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The man he picked for the job was Thomas E. Breen, a vice president of the Webb Corp. and, coincidentally, the son of famed Joseph Breen, longtime head of Hollywood's Hays Office. A former actor himself and onetime marine, Breen began by reading up on geriatrics and visiting places like St. Petersburg, which depressed him with its drab rooming houses and its thousands of elderly people "just sitting around on benches." He decided that activities should be important in any program that Webb might undertake. He was also frequently assured by gerontologists that old folks hated to be cut off from the cross section of ages that make up regular communities. But a little-publicized community that flew directly in the face of this orthodox doctrine began to interest him.

Adults Only. It was called Youngtown, and was some 16 miles northwest of Webb's home office in Phoenix, Ariz. Since 1954 it had been growing slowly on the unusual principle that no one less than 60 was allowed to move in. Despite this geriatric heresy, and despite the lack of facilities for shopping or recreation, the houses at Youngtown were steadily selling. Breen decided that there might be something in the age-segregation idea, no matter what the experts said.

By 1959 Webb had a clear-cut proposal to decide on: Should he commit $2,000,000 to building a community that would be limited to residents 50 years old or more with no school-age children, a community that would be strong on recreation and part-time employment? Basic to the proposal was the notion that all its facilities—golf course, swimming pool, shopping center, etc.—should be installed before the first house was sold ("There's no point in trying to sell futures to a guy who's 65 years old," argued Breen). Webb decided the risk was worth it, and the first of Webb's Sun Cities—30,000 acres northeast of Phoenix—began to sell houses five months later.

To Webb's astonishment, 272 were sold the first weekend. Built of concrete blocks in pleasant pastel colors, the houses were priced from $8,750 to $11,600 for three bedrooms, two baths. (A house on the golf course, which snakes through the community, cost $1,450 more.) Both FHA and bank financing were offered, with monthly payments varying from $73 to $114. Sun City customers were not rich, but Webb found that more than half wanted to pay cash. The purchasers were usually men of solid substance—former engineers, successful salesmen, foremen, dentists, small businessmen, schoolteachers—with money in the bank, often as the result of selling the house back home.

Del Webb and his staff found that they had miscalculated on only one point: instead of wanting to work at least part-time, most Sun citizens have been happy to spend all day at play.

Healthy & Busy. There is plenty to play with. Like a laird of the manor, Webb has supplied his tenants with almost anything and everything they want to keep them on the go. If a sufficient number want to play boccie, Webb supplies an alley. There are potter's wheels for the potters, easels for the painters. In a proliferation of more than 90 clubs and organizations, Sun City oldsters bicycle and grow vegetables, take pictures, dance, do exercises, sing, sew. act, bowl, swim, and play almost every kind of game from canasta to chess.

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