CAREFREE is, just that. I have always been drawn to this unique community, and selling real estate here I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing the exceptional craftsmanship of an architect whose homes reflect the spirit of this town, Gerry Jones. Compelled to learn more about how Carefree came to be, I share here an article written by Beth Duckett and featured in the Arizona Republic which captures the birth of this town and explains much of its ambience:
Gerry Jones considers himself the last of the original residents of Carefree. Jones, an architectural designer who helped in the town’s original framework, was involved in the talks that led to its street names. There was Never Mind Trail, Huff N Puff Place and Easy Street. Jones, 83, considered them “geriatric.” “I argued against them,” Jones said. “I thought people would not even be willing to live on street names like this.”
Turns out, he was wrong. Carefree’s developers, K.T. Palmer and Tom Darlington, had a rationale behind the clever monikers – free publicity. In a matter of months, publications such as the New York Times had picked up the story. They called Carefree an enchanting desert enclave with the second-largest sundial in the world (now the third-largest sundial in the Western Hemisphere). Carefree, which celebrated its 25th year of incorporation last fall, was actually conceived 25 years prior to that, in 1959. That’s when the first home was sold. It is also when the legendary sundial was erected in the Town Core.
BORN IN A RESTAURANT Now considered visionaries, Palmer and Darlington met at a hotel restaurant in 1946 to discuss land planning. Both held prominent positions in Scottsdale and were dissatisfied with policy related to zoning and property rights, Jones said. It was at that restaurant that the seminal concept of Carefree was born. “They tried desperately to move Scottsdale into intelligent directions,” Jones said. “They said, ‘To hell with this. Let’s go out and build our own town.’”
Palmer was an intellectual introvert. Darlington was an outgoing talker. Together, they were a perfect match. The men developed Carefree in harmony with its undulating contours and desert landscape. Stringent architectural guidelines prevented the desecration of nearby mountainsides. Homes sold for a whopping $60,000 to $80,000, which was six to eight times the cost of a two-bedroom home in Phoenix or Scottsdale, Jones said. “These were people who had money and who could live anyplace tin the world,” Jones said, “and they chose Carefree.”
APPEALED TO RICH & FAMOUS The renowned Carefree Inn opened for business in December 1963. A high-end resort with 125 rooms, it was marketed to out-of-towners and celebrities looking to move to the next “Palm Springs.” The hotel’s aqua maids were a big draw. Clad in one-piece bathing suits that were risque then, the women performed synchronized swimming routines. “Their idea was to have a first-class facility in Carefree, which was just getting started,” said Roger Foussard, a 20-year resident whose brother was part of a group that owned the inn. “It was a very popular place.”
The town’s airport, Sky Ranch, was a landing pad for high-rolling investors and the who’s who in America. Now a private airstrip, it is considered the first airport in Arizona to boast drive-in residences. Carefree resident Don Dickinson, 79, owned a couple of airplanes there. he recalled the theft of one of those planes. “They found it in Wilcox loaded with marijuana,” said Dickinson, a longtime broker who moved to Carefree in 1972. “It destroyed the front end of the airplane.”
FIGHTING OFF SCOTTSDALE By 1977, Palmer and Darlington had died. Things began to change. Scottsdale had its eye on Carefree for annexation. Jones and other founding citizens were not pleased. “I knew that K.T. and Tom would spin in their graves if we allowed Scottsdale to annex us,” Jones said. After one failed attempt, Carefree was incorporated in December 1984. The town celebrated the occasion with festivities on Oct. 3 that included tours of the local fire station, airport and Town Hall.
Jones, who continues to work in the architectural-design business, finds solace in the history. Since 1976 he has lived atop Carefree’s Black Mountain, which offers a striking view of the community he helped design. “Every single day I look at what has been put here since K.T. and Tom came here…It’s always been a big portion of what has brought people here: the unusual architecture, the unusual terrain, the lush desert growth and the beautiful rock formations.”
Gathering at the post office to get their mail, buying local fare at the Friday Farmer’s Market, wandering the Sundial Fine Art & Wine Festivals held several times a year, enjoying a desert hike with the dogs, or enjoying a cup of tea at the English Rose. These are the simple gifts Carefree residents enjoy. Pay a visit!
Written by Sally Cashman | February, 2010