Well, here we are once again, looking back at Fountain Hills’ early history as part of our participation in the 30-50 Celebration that the town is putting together this year.
In recent weeks, I have written columns about the start of the business community (two parts), the first five restaurants and celebrities who have lived in our town.
This week I’m looking back at those individuals of note who have visited our community.
The first two celebrities to visit our community were western movie veterans Chill Wills and Pat Buttram.
They were brought to the community by C.V. Wood, the master planner of Fountain Hills and president of McCulloch Oil Corp. The native-born Texan loved western movies and his wife, actress Joann Dru, was in the motion picture business.
Wood had also won the World Champion Chili title the year before in Terlingua, Texas. So, he decided the first special event for promoting Fountain HiIls would be the Arizona State Chili Championship at Fountain Park. The winner, a man from Globe, received a spot in the world championship competition.
McCulloch and Wood were promoters and used Fountain Park as a venue for attracting people to come to Fountain Hills. They put on a series of park concerts on Sunday afternoons in the 1970s. The first band to perform was Les Brown and his Band of Renown.
The Count Basie Orchestra was the next group to play in the park. A surprise guest appearance by singer Ella Fitzgerald capped off a memorable evening of big band sounds.
McCulloch then invited the Phoenix Symphony to perform with a series of guest conductors. Among them were Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops Orchestra, Henry Mancini, Andre Kostelanetz with Walter Cronkite doing a Lincoln reading and the symphony performing the full score of the “1812 Overture” complete with cannon to end the evening. The final guest conductor was a man named John Greene. Although he wasn’t a household name, his music was. He had written the scores of many major motion pictures.
The White Castle promotions of the 1980s brought new faces to the park. TV’s Batman, Adam West, was the headliner one year, and Clayton Moore, The Lone Ranger, led the refrigerated truck with the original sliders inside. The masked man rode a white horse down Saguaro Boulevard.
A crowd of some 175,000 filled the west side of Fountain Park for a July 4th,1989, country music concert that featured the Gatlin Brothers, Highway 101 and our own Jeff Dayton Band.
The opening of the Fountain HiIls Swim & Racquet Club brought Bobby Riggs to town. The tennis star was fresh off his loss to Billie Jean King at the Houston Astrodome in the “Battle of the Sexes.” The racquet club eventually became Club Mirage. It was bought by developer Gary Martinson. A promoter himself, he was looking for another element for the club’s offerings. He read an article in USA Today where the European heavyweight boxing champion, Frank Bruno, an Englishman, was looking for a training site in the southwest for his title fight with Mike Tyson in Las Vegas.
Martinson was successful in bringing Bruno to Fountain Hills where he trained for two months. He became a familiar sight while jogging around Fountain Park waving and saying hello to each passerby.
Bruno lost to Tyson in seven rounds at the time when the young champion was knocking out everyone in two rounds or less.
The assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat brought another person of note to Fountain Hills. Sadat’s widow accepted an invitation by Fountain Hills resident Kamal Amin to visit him. He held a reception at his home with some 12 people in attendance. Her friend, who she brought with her, was none other than Tarzan’s first Jane, actress Maureen O’Sullivan.
Both ladies were very gracious and seemed to enjoy the conversations with people.
Amin had been a long-time friend of the Sadats. He was an architect who trained with Frank Lloyd Wright.
CBS news correspondent Bill Moyers had a regular program called “CBS Reports.” He brought his film crew to Fountain Hills seeking residents’ feelings about living in a planned community. Their opinions would be compared with those made by residents of two other planned communities, Cape Coral, Fla., and Reston, Va.
The Civic Association held a picnic at Fountain Park. The purpose was to welcome Moyers and his crew to Fountain Hills. He could interview as many people as he wanted. A party was also held at the home of author Elleston Trevor. Moyers told Civic Association President Ruth Collins as he was leaving the party, “You people seem to like your town very much. We had a good time here. We thank you for all of your cooperation and hospitality.”
When the report aired, he summed up his segment on our town with a comment that upset most of the town’s population. Moyers said, “Fountain Hills may become the ghost of a town that never was.”
He was referring to the fact that the developer, McCulloch Properties, had pleaded guilty that day to 9 misdemeanor counts of land fraud at a development in Colorado.
McCulloch’s attorneys blamed several of its salesmen for making unfounded promises to potential customers while driving around the 29,000-acre development, called Pueblo West. The attorney who brought charges against McCulloch was a candidate for public office and the McCulloch attorney felt that was a prime reason for seeking a conviction against them.
Diane and I drove through a portion of Pueblo West on one of our cross-country visits to New Jersey two summers ago.
We learned that the convictions did not hurt the town very much.
Pueblo West is now close to 40,000 residents and its commercial center looked very prosperous.
The final person of note to visit Fountain Hills was Interior Secretary James Watt. He will be the main subject of my next column. I will also talk about the various politicians of note, including President Trump, who have come here for one reason or another.