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From Sun Cities to the Villages

A History of Active Adult, Age-restricted Communities

Judith Ann Trolander

Publication Year: 2011

Youngtown, Arizona, opened in 1954 and was the first development community to have a minimum age requirement (then 65) and to ban underage children as permanent residents. Developer Del Webb unveiled Sun City six years later. Adjacent to Youngtown, it offered modest homes abutting a golf course. In the ensuing decades, active adult communities have proliferated, including Harold Schwartz’s "The Villages" in central Florida, today the nation’s single largest retirement community.

For nearly sixty years, the success of these and similar communities have changed the image of retirees from frail, impoverished old people to energetic, well-off adults enjoying a resort-like lifestyle. While some experts predicted these communities would fail or undermine the obligations between generations, they are now firmly embedded as one possible extension of the American dream.

Judith Ann Trolander has written the first book-length history of the "active adult" lifestyle. Examining the origins, development, failures, and challenges facing these communities as the baby boomer population continues to age, she offers a truly original defense of a sometimes controversial aspect of American life.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Series: Sunbelt Studies


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Having taught urban history since the 1970s, I eventually came to wonder why no book-length, academic history of active adult, age-restricted communities existed. They comprised a distinctive type of community, so they should be well defined for research purposes. The popularity of these communities was continuing to expand. Some of them had actually ...

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Introduction: Ignoring the Obvious

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pp. 1-11

Jerry Svendsen was exasperated. He had done public relations for Del Webb in Sun City, Arizona, from 1961, a year after that pioneering active adult, age-restricted community opened, until 1982. A 2002 article in the Arizona Republic credited Del Webb’s Sun City, Arizona, with redefining retirement for Americans. Replacing “images of gray-haired ...

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1. Democratizing Wintering in the South

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pp. 12-46

“I looked forward to the time when I would be getting on in years and would want to come to Florida every winter,” remarked the famed inventor Thomas Edison. He recalled a trip he had made in the 1880s to Jacksonville, Florida, from there taking the train to Fort Myers on the Gulf coast, and deciding “that here was the place for me.” Fort Myers ...

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2. Del Webb’s “Sun City” Concept

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pp. 47-81

In 1972, developer Del Webb characterized the typical resident of his Sun City, Arizona, development as “the guy who worked for the power company in Chicago. He has a $50,000 house all paid for. He gets a touch of rheumatism. His doctor tells him to go to Arizona. He’s never quite had the country club life. He comes out here and God, he’s got something he never thought he’d have before.”1 ...

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3. Ross Cortese’s “Leisure World” Concept

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pp. 82-114

At the start of the 1960s, an employee in FHA’s cooperative housing program rushed into his boss’s office to inform him that “some lunatics on the West Coast were thinking of using our program to isolate thousands of senior citizens by actually walling them up in a slum in Seal Beach.”1 That was an unflattering reference to Ross Cortese’s pioneering efforts with relatively compact, gated communities. ...


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pp. 115-128

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4. Creating Community: The Developers’ Script

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pp. 129-165

The initial sales brochure for Sun City, Arizona, began with Del Webb saying, “Concrete, steel and lumber can make the buildings, but people make the community. Together we can realize a Way-of-Life unprecedented in America.”1 That quote appeared repeatedly in Sun City sales promotions up to Webb’s death in 1974.2 Webb, like most housing ...

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5. Proliferation and Standardization

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pp. 166-204

“We have a 93 or 94 year old gal . . . she’s out there every afternoon making her laps in the swimming pool, slow as she goes, so slow that we have our own name for her—but she couldn’t do that if there were children laughing and splashing and playing,” explained the president of the Florida West Coast Condominium Association to a 1987 congressional committee concerned with discrimination against children in housing.1 ...

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6. An Active Adult Subculture: The Residents’ Script

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pp. 205-240

“Could a vital age be built around such games [as bridge] in a community walled off from the rest of the world?” asked the famous feminist and social critic Betty Friedan. Her own mother had spent a couple of decades at Leisure World Laguna Hills. Friedan concluded that while many residents, especially new ones, were often very busy going to ...

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7. Assessment: Problems, Strengths, and Twenty-First-Century Trends

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pp. 241-278

“Age segregation only reinforces negative stereotypes, leads to a willful forgetting of commonalities and encourages our less-charitable instincts,” says writer Andrew Blechman.1 Author of the 2008 book Leisureville, Blechman was highly critical of active adult, age-restricted communities for exacerbating generational divisions in American society.2 In other words, while retirees ...

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Conclusion: The Significance of Active Adult, Age-Restricted Communities

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pp. 279-289

“The making of a new town, the search for a new utopia, is a great American tradition,” observe Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins at the start of their book on Celebration, the Disney Corporation’s interpretation of the “new urbanism” near Orlando, Florida.1 While Disney’s planners designed Celebration to be a pedestrian-friendly, child-friendly ...


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pp. 291-331


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pp. 333-340


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pp. 341-352

About the Author, Series Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813045559
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813036045
Print-ISBN-10: 0813036046

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 23 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Sunbelt Studies
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OCLC Number: 801844027
MUSE Marc Record: Download for From Sun Cities to the Villages

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Subject Headings

  • Retirement communities -- United States -- History.
  • Cities and towns -- United States -- History.
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