When the Sundome Center for Performing Arts (above left) opened in September 1980 in Sun City West, it was billed as the largest single-level auditorium in the Southwest.
The state-of-the-art venue was constructed by the Del E. Webb Development Co. (DEVCO) to help sell homes in its newest active-adult retirement community, Sun City West, which opened in 1978. To build a greater sense of community in the early years of Sun City, DEVCO had built the Sun Bowl. Residents set up their own chairs on the grassy terraces to watch national performers. Up to 7,000 would attend, and John Meeker, president of DEVCO, wanted to entertain 7,000 Westers indoors, in air-conditioned comfort.
The Sundome accommodated a crowd of 7,000 and hosted concerts featuring the biggest performers of the day, as well as Broadway productions, talks by political leaders and international personalities, high school graduations, the community’s interfaith Thanksgiving service and the ever-popular Sun City West Variety Show.
The massive theater presented a huge construction challenge for DEVCO. Giant laminated trusses, 250 feet long and up to 19 feet thick in the middle were needed to provide for the huge open space.
The floor of the hall dropped 17 feet from rear to front. It was rumored that DEVCO CEO John Meeker personally chose the seats and set the spacing between rows.
Not wanting to saddle SCW with the expense of operation and the complexities of booking perfprmers, the Del Webb Corp gifted the Sundome to ASU in 1984 for $1. It had the knowledge and experience gained in operating a major Performing Arts Center on its campus.
Over time, it became difficult to attract name-brand artists to perform at the outdated facility. Costs to upgrade and maintain the Sundome eventually became too prohibitive. ASU closed the facility for good in 2009.
Fry’s Food Stores would ultimately purchase the property and in 2013 totally demolished the facility to replace it with a 100,000-square-foot grocery store ( above right).
The store’s front entrance was designed to replicate the Sundome’s original architectural look, and some of the Sundome’s original iron grating were used for the front entrance.
The story of the Sundome — and six original theater seats — can be found at the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum in Sun City. Visit www.delwebbsuncitiesmuseum.org.
Archive photos courtesy of the Sun Cities Area Historical Society. Current photo by Bret McKeand/Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA
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