Sun City Summerlin turns 25

Imagine living in these surroundings: No Summerlin Parkway, no Anasazi Drive, no Suncoast, no JW Marriott, no Summerlin Library, no Summerlin post office and no Summerlin Hospital. No Smith’s. In fact, no shopping centers at the corner of Lake Mead and Rampart boulevards.

In addition, Rampart Boulevard was a narrow side street that went almost nowhere. But it did provide the only entrance to Sun City Summerlin, by way of Lake Mead Boulevard. That’s where the first homes were being built in the senior retirement community.

And you had to take U.S. Highway 95 to the Lake Mead Boulevard exit to get to Sun City. There were no traffic lights on Lake Mead Boulevard between U.S. 95 and Rampart Boulevard. That’s because there was no traffic. Lake Mead Boulevard consisted of only two narrow lanes. Some of it was still only dirt and cinders.

You wanted to play the slots or a little blackjack? It was either driving east along Lake Mead Boulevard to one of the new casinos at Texas Station and Fiesta Rancho or driving U.S. 95 back to downtown or the Strip.

And that’s the way it was 25 years ago. Whether or not they were the good old days depends on your thinking or whether you were one of the first resident families of Sun City among the more than 25 originals who still dwell in the age-restricted community. If you were one of those pioneers, then you also remember having to trudge in mud due to the ongoing construction of streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

Golf courses? Swimming pools? Community centers? Restaurants? They were still only blueprints. A phone call to the Sun City Security Patrol if you needed help? There was no security patrol at that time.

Indeed, it will all be recalled by some — perhaps with a degree of nostalgia — and rededicated by others, including the high command at Las Vegas City Hall, starting Oct. 1, when Sun City begins the celebration of its 25th anniversary.

Today Sun City Summerlin measures among one of the 10 largest population centers in Nevada, some 2,400 acres that is home to more than 14,000 residents living in close to 7,800 individual housing units.

It’s a playland for seniors that grew out of a vision first laid down by Del E. Webb, a land developer with an extraordinary penchant for how to make a buck. He was an old pal and sometimes casino competitor of Howard Hughes, that grand old recluse who possessed an equally extraordinary penchant for how to make a buck. Together, the two entrepreneurs made Sun City Summerlin possible.

Hughes had purchased 25,000 acres from the federal government in the early 1950s for less than $3 an acre. The tract eventually became known as Summerlin, which was the maiden name of Hughes’ grandmother. In later years Hughes’ company generated cash flow for development by selling off parcels of Summerlin, which is how Del Webb entered the picture.

Webb was the majority owner of the New York Yankees baseball team from 1945-64. It was during the Yankees’ dominance of the baseball world in the 1950s that I first met Webb during one of the team’s World Series victory parties. I was a neophyte sports writer at the time. We talked briefly. I was impressed by the man’s demure attitude. But that’s a story for another day.

More to the point, and how Webb provided the template for senior living in the sunny climes: It began with a “risk” that his company undertook in the late 1940s to build 600 retirement homes and a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. But the “risk” was a laugher. According to Wikipedia, “the opening weekend drew 100,000 people, 10 times more than expected, and resulted in a Time Magazine cover story.”

Next came Sun City Arizona, outside of Phoenix. Then, on to Summerlin. The first time Fran and I drove off of Lake Mead Boulevard, onto Del Webb Boulevard, and witnessed Palm Valley Golf Course on both sides of the street, we were in awe. It was love at first sight.

Unfortunately, neither Del Webb nor Howard Hughes lived to see Sun City Summerlin.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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