Mention the “Sundome” and it brings a smile of recognition to the faces of long-time residents, and a questioning look to recent newcomers. The Sundome Center for the Performing Arts played a major role in the entertainment life of Sun City West for more than 30 years.
As part of Sun City West’s 40th anniversary celebration, museum board member Don Tuffs, shared his experiences managing the Sundome in its early years. At the time, Don was Vice-President of Marketing for the Webb Corp, and tried to convince John Meeker to build two, smaller auditoriums of different sizes. But Meeker’s mind was made up! The Sun Bowl that he had built in Sun City regularly played to crowds of upwards of 7,000 residents, and he wanted to put that number indoors in air-conditioned comfort in his new community of Sun City West. Construction of a building of that size was an enormous challenge for the Webb Corp. as the interior was nearly the size of two football fields, side-by-side!
Don had booked performers for the Sun Bowl, and took over the role of managing the Sundome Center for the Performing Arts upon its completion. He shared many amusing, stories about his experiences with the entertainers – from Red Skeleton who preferred dinner with the Tuffs family to the Hawaiian performer who was booed from the stage!
Don also oversaw the transition of the Sundome to Arizona State University ownership in 1984, and explained the reasons for it. ASU managed the facility for 20 years before stage limitations made it difficult to book the latest Broadway shows. The number of shows gradually declined and audience numbers dwindled, leading to the Sundome’s eventual sale to a developer.
While the Sundome may be gone … it lives on as “Sundome Jr.” at the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum.