Del E. Webb (1899-1974)

The Del Webb Company was awarded the contract to construct the Poston Relocation Center. Here's some information about the founder of the company.
                                            Photo: Del E. Webb.  circa 1940

The story of founder Del E. Webb...
     Born in 1899 in Fresno, California, Del Webb learned carpentry as a hobby and baseball. Before he finished his freshman year in high school, his father's company ran into financial problems, and Del was forced to quit school to become a carpenter's apprentice. Del's love of baseball was still the driving force in his life, as he would work only for companies that had a baseball team.

     In 1927, at the age of 28, he contracted typhoid fever, and on the advice of a friend, he & his wife moved to Phoenix to recuperate. In 1928, Webb started his own company and by the late 1930's, his contracting business was one of the largest in Arizona. He was offered numerous defense contracts, in preparation for World War II. Several contracts called for building entire cities. After the war ended, Webb continued working on projects for the government, introducing his to Howard Hughes, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and the Goldwater brothers, Barry and Robert. In addition to government projects, Webb's home building reputation was growing.

In 1945, Del realized a dream when he and a partner bought the New York Yankees, and the Yankees won the World Series 10 times during the 20-years that Del owned them.

Del Webb: The Man Who Built San Manuel
By John Hernandez

     Delbert E. Webb was an American construction magnate and real estate developer. He is famous in Arizona for creating the Sun City developments. Sun City was not the first retirement community that was built but it became the model for future retirement communities around the country.

     Del Webb was born in 1899 in Fresno, California. He was born into a wealthy family but his father lost the family fortune in 1915. Del dropped out of high school and became a carpenter’s apprentice. He also played baseball as often as he could. He worked for construction companies that sponsored baseball teams so he could play and make extra money. He was a lifetime baseball fan and baseball would be a life changing and integral part of his life.

     Del was playing at the semi-pro level when his team visited San Quentin Prison to play an exhibition game. He contracted typhoid fever from an inmate ball player and nearly died. He was out of work and lost 100 pounds off his six foot 204 pound frame.
He and his bride moved to Phoenix so he could recover from his illness.

     In 1928 after recovering Del Webb began working in construction. He became a contractor after the man he was working for failed to complete a job and left, leaving his workers unpaid and the building incomplete. The owner of the building asked him if he could finish it. Del did and became a construction contractor. He gave up baseball and concentrated on his business. The man he helped finish the project for was one of the Bayless family. The A.J. Bayless grocers family would provide him with regular construction work and contacts for other jobs.

     Del Webb started out with his assets being one concrete mixer, 10 wheel barrows, 20 shovels and 10 picks. Five years later his company was $3 million operation. This was 1933 at the height of the depression. He then started bidding on government jobs and built an addition to the state capitol in 1938. He established that his company was now one of the largest in Arizona. His company was now poised for greater things.

     On Dec. 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America entered World War II. The War would make Del Webb rich. Del Webb contracted to build new military facilities and war plants. His company constructed the Poston War Relocation Center near Parker, Arizona. It was the largest of the American internment camps operated by the War Relocation Authority during the war. Over 17,000 Japanese Americans were interned at the Poston facility, which at the time made it the third largest city in Arizona. Poston was built on the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

     During the war, Del Webb met and became friends with Howard Hughes, and later would conduct $1 billion worth of business with Hughes.In 1945 Del along with two partners, Larry MacPhail and Dan Topping, he bought the New York Yankee baseball team for $2.8 million (now the average major league ball players make more than this in one year). Between 1945 and 1964 when the team was sold to CBS Broadcasting for $14 million, the team won 15 pennants and 10 World Series. Del Webb also used the Yankee game tickets to make business contacts, close construction deals and influence U.S. Senators and Congressmen to use the Del Webb Company for 'porkbelly' projects in their districts.

     Del Webb took a job in Las Vegas, Nevada building an unfinished hotel as a favor for a banker friend of his in 1946. This job would bring him face to face with the famed American gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel . Bugsy wanted to open a hotel and casino in Las Vegas where gambling was legal. The New York mob led by Charles “Lucky” Luciano was financing the operation as well as Bugsy’s long time friend and associate Meyer Lansky. The job Del had taken was building the Flamingo Hotel. Apparently Del did not have any problems with the hot tempered and dangerous Bugsy only saying in his biography that he remembered that Siegel paid on time and paid in cash. The hotel would open in 1947. Bugsy Siegel was murdered by the mob a few months later for skimming from the casino.

     Del Webb later owned casinos of his own in Las Vegas-- the Sahara in 1952 and the Mint in 1961. The Del Webb Corporation was the first public stock corporation involved with Las Vegas gambling. Del Webb quickly expanded, bought the Thunderbird Hotel,  the Lucky Club in downtown Las Vegas, and a Lake Tahoe casino. In 1978, the Del Webb Corporation became the largest gaming employer in Nevada. He later built the City Hall and several Las Vegas area schools.

     In 1953 the Del Webb Corporation was hired by Magma Copper Company to build the town of San Manuel, Arizona. Although Del Webb was already rich, with many people working for him, he still took enough interest in the San Manuel project to visit the townsite. The company built streets, stores, parks, schools, homes, a hospital, and infrastructure - all in the middle of the desert.

Del Webb died in 1974.

Construction of the Colorado Relocation Center (Poston Relocation Center)

     A crew headed by renowned contractor Del Webb began construction of Poston I on March 27, 1942. This was the second contract that Del Webb obtained. They cleared the land for Poston I in one day, and the crew of 5,000 men completed the camp in less than 3 weeks. Because pine lumber was in short supply, heart redwood was used for the construction of many barracks walls; however, the redwood shrunk as it dried in Poston’s intense heat leaving large gaps in the walls. The Del Webb construction crew later, returned to cover the cracks with “millions of feet” of thin wood strips.
   The first group of Japanese Americans arrived on May 8, 1942 to help prepare the center for the later arrival of the evacuees. Within the next 3 weeks, 7,450 evacuees arrived to Poston. Four months later, the construction of Poston II and III were completed in record time.

Sources:  Burton JF, Farrell MM, Lord FB, and Lord RW. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. Seattle: University of Washington Press.2002

Finnerty  M. Del Webb: A Man. A Company. Flagstaff, Arizona: Heritage Publishers, Inc.1991

Leighton AH. The Governing of Men: General Principles and Recommendations Based on Experience at a Japanese Relocation Camp.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University, Press. 1945

War Relocation Authority photos

1943. Mr. Wade Head, 1st Project Director at Poston.

09/1945 Duncan Mills, was named Poston Project Director after Wade Head resigned.

Fall 1945. The barracks are vacated.

Fall 1945, Poston camp II. Mrs. A.D. Franchville, Superintendent of Home Economics. formerly from Denver with members of the Hopi tribe standing in front of their new (barrack) homes. On Sept 1, 1945, 16 Hopi families (78 people) arrived at Poston II from the Hopi Indian Reservation (Keam Canyon, AZ).

Fall 1945, Poston camp II. Albert Yava, a linguist (English & tribal languages of the Tewas, Hopis & Navahos), was an artist. He is in front of his new home.