The Sun Bowl Amphitheater, The Diamond that Continues to Sparkle!
Del Webb, in countless stories, has been called a “visionary.” No one would ever question his genius, but sometimes overlooked were those working for him. None more so than John Meeker. His name is synonymous with Sun City’s success. When anyone looks at the Sun Bowl, they should see Meeker’s handiwork. He was the force behind its creation. While on a plane to Seattle, he read an article in Time magazine about an outdoor venue a contractor built near San Francisco that was still in existence some 15 years later.
As creative as he was, Meeker was not above capitalizing on successes of others. Webb, Inc. had the land for an amphitheater, and by 1966 had extra money in the development budget. Meeker had just disbanded the 50-person advertising department, and that cost savings alone generated more than enough funds for the Sun Bowl’s construction. Over the years, the Sun Bowl proved over and over to be a brilliant investment by providing one of the best marketing tools in Sun City’s storied history. Del Webb officially dedicated the venue himself in November, 1966 when Webb visited the community for a dual purpose. Webb turned over the first shovel of dirt beginning the construction of Mountain View Recreation Center
The Del E Webb Development Corporation (DEVCO) quickly started the yearly “Sun Bowl Celebrity Series.” The very first acts was Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians who appeared on February 5, 1967. Tickets were $1.50, bring your own chair and they quickly sold out as. Lombardo was at the height of his fame. John Meeker claims there were 7,000 in attendance but they could have easily sold 14,000 tickets if space had allowed.
In the following years, the Celebrity Series became one of the hottest tickets in town. Beyond the residents, the attraction brought throngs to Sun City. After watching the shows that started at 2 :00 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, spectators were invited to tour the latest set that the Sun Bowl helped sell countless numbers of homes.
In the late 70’s, DEVCO began developing Sun City West and among its first large projects was building the Sun Dome. With its completion, DEVCO wanted to divest itself of the Sun Bowl and offer ownership to the RCSC on a 3-year trial basis. If RCSC wanted to take ownership after the trial period, they could buy it for $10. If not, DEVCO would take it back. There were substantial operational costs anticipated projected at $70,000 per year. In April of 1981, the RCSC sent a mail-in-ballot (survey) to the membership. RCSC asked for a yes or no vote, with a yes vote including a $2 per year increase in annual assessments from $40 to $42. The outcome was interesting; 15,755 Yes, 9,788 No and 2,059 no preference. Thank goodness the RCSC membership understood the potential value of owning such a remarkable setting.
Over its history, the Sun Bowl has held countless numbers of community events. None more successful than the late fall and early spring free concerts for residents on Sunday evenings. Crowds still reach 5,000 to 7,000 in attendance. Residents still bring their own chairs. Food trucks are available, and clearly there is no more pleasant a venue with the sun setting behind those in attendance with gentle breezes wafting overhead and amazing entertainers providing that perfect place to kick back and enjoy the Sun City active way of life.