Here’s where you’ll learn about the early days of the Village of Oak Creek/Big Park (why the two names?) and all about the reconstruction of SR-179 (our Main Street) and much more. Each month we’re featuring a different Village story from Loretta Benore’s wonderful 2016 book, “History, Hilarity and Heartbreak.” These stories were part of Loretta’s popular column in The Villager called “Days of Yore” that ran in the early 2000’s. The stories have been updated, expanded & compiled for this book and The Villager will be exclusively excerpting some of them.
Hoop-la and whoop de doo. The three years of litigation following the death of colorful Fannie Belle Gulick finally came to an end.
In 1967, the Fannie Gulick estate--920 acres in Big Park--was acquired by Irving A. Jennings, Jr., a Phoenix-based developer and renamed The Village of Oakcreek (one word).
At the same time, he had acquired the Big Park Water Company, which formerly had been operated by Mrs. Gulick. Principals in the firm included Jennings’ father, his uncle, and Glenn Snyder who was Chairman of the Board of Phoenix radio station KOY (now the oldest radio station in the state of Arizona).
There were big plans for the property. Of the 920 acres, 160 were being set aside for recreation purposes, including an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf course, along with a skeet range, tennis courts, swimming pools, bridle paths, and an upland game club.
There were 3,200 residential sites plotted on the remaining 760 acres with paved roads contoured to fit the rolling terrain. Underground utilities would be installed throughout.
Water was not expected to be a problem…Jennings’ experts had advised him that there was plenty of water in Big Park at about 600 feet, and there would be no difficulty in providing water for residences, the golf course, swimming pools, and other facilities planned.
Now came time for the Big Sell. On Memorial Day weekend, 1967, the Village of Oakcreek held its official ground-breaking ceremonies.
The celebration lasted four days. Governor Jack Williams and Congressman Sam Steiger headed a delegation of political luminaries who took part in the opening ceremonies. There were quarter horse races with minimum purses of $200.
The chief pilot for Mesa Flight Service would perform high speed loops and rolls in a P-51, and a 19-year-old professional aerobatic pilot was scheduled to demonstrate inverted flying, snap rolls and Cuban 8s while flying a Champion Citabrias. All this to sell year round vacation and retirement homes.
By November of 1967, the developer had sold a little over 30 homesites. The first home built in the development belonged to Mr. and Mrs. W.E. Lamb, Jr. of Tucson. Progress was slow, but fairly steady.
The first nine holes of the golf course were opened in September, 1969, with a head to head match play game between Miller Barber and Bob Rosburg. They played the nine hole course twice, with Barber winning $5000 and Rosburg $3000.
They each also received a Village of Oakcreek homesite. A December 1969 ad in the Verde Independent indicated that 700 homesites had been sold and that plans were under way to develop a 5-acre lake and a grassy amphitheatre for open-air entertainment.
It also stated that the Dooleyville riding stables were up and running. (Where are they now, you ask?) Dooleyville was to be the name of an “old-new” western town in Big Park. When plans for the town were aborted, the stables disappeared.
In late 1971 there were 62 actual residents in the Village of Oakcreek. On May 27, 1972, the second nine holes of the golf course opened.
A new shuttle service, with a double-decker English touring bus, running between the Village of Oakcreek, Sedona, and Slide Rock, carried signs advertising Oakcreek homesites and an audio system lauding life in the Village of Oakcreek. Does this sound familiar? Like Sedona time share sales today?
All was not well with the developers. 1972 was not a good year for them. The LOL (Lot Owners League) was created to thwart a number of questionable, heavy-handed pronouncements from the developers, aka Big Park Development Company and the Village of Oakcreek Association.
The games were on. Next Month: Part II, The Ongoing Saga
Loretta Benore was a 20-year resident of the Village of Oak Creek, with a B.A. in History and a M.S.S. in Social Science. Loretta and her husband David retired in 1998 to the Village of Oak Creek where she focused on her first love -- history. She had been a docent at the Sedona Heritage Museum since it opened in 1998 and is a former Board Member of the Sedona Historical Society.