By David Brown, Scottsdale Progress Contributor, Sept 19, 2022
Celebrating its golden anniversary next weekend, Scottsdale’s first master-planned community is preparing for a new generation of residents who are discovering the joys of living in McCormick Ranch.
The 3,116-acre community is home to 24,000 residents and comprises seven square miles from Indian Bend Road north to Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road and east to Hayden Road.
About 60% of the community is residential and 18% commercial, with 2% allocated for the HonorHealth campus, 2% for public schools, 14% for lakes and golf courses while 3% is city-owned, said Adam Yaron, principal planner for the city’s Planning & Development Department.
The community is diverse: 25 miles of greenbelt, 11 lakes, lushly landscaped McCormick Parkway, 13 shopping areas with fine and casual dining, a golf course, the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, 30-acre Mountain View Park Recreation Center, Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, a Millennium resort, the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center; and the United States Postal Service Hopi Station.
Here too, are major city services: the main Scottsdale Police station, a fire station, and the city’s Mustang Public Library – its first and only free-standing branch library.
“We have every use you can think of: industrial, office, hospitality, greenbelts, medical, shopping, residential diversity of single-family homes, condos and apartments, public services and access to everything,” explained Jaime Uhrich, executive director of the McCormick Ranch Property Owners’ Association.
Uhrich, who accepted the position in 2012 when her mentor, Garth Saager, retired after 30 years, said, “The community has turned out to be everything the original vision intended it to be.”
Added long-time resident Lois McFarland: “If the Ranch were incorporated, it could be considered Arizona’s 14th largest city.”
She and her husband Loren moved from St. Louis and were among the first homeowners in Estados de la Mancha subdivision in Phase 2 of the Ranch. They lived there for 35 years until moving to Westminster Village, a retirement community.
“People often don’t realize all the city services maintained on the Ranch,” McFarland said. “These include the Corporation Yard, which houses city programs including purchasing, facilities, fleet and transportation as well as maintenance and sanitation departments.”
Desert to Development
McCormick Ranch comprised the hinterlands of Scottsdale when development started, with very little north of Shea Boulevard other than coyotes, cactus and sagebrush.
In 1921, Samuel Jolly purchased 45 acres and built a home near the southwest corner of Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads.
Twenty-one years later, Merle Cheney added land to this, bringing the total of his R.P. Ranch to 160 acres. He built a 7,000-square-foot adobe ranch-style home near the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian Bend roads.
In 1943, Chicago residents Anne “Fifi” Potter Stillman McCormick and husband, Fowler, president of International Harvester and grandson of both Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper, and financier John D. Rockefeller, at one time the country’s richest man, purchased Cheney’s acreage.
They also bought his home, the site of today’s Seville shopping center. This also included what had been the Jolly home across Indian Bend Road, now the site of the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park.
The McCormicks, who wintered in Scottsdale, eventually added to the property until their ranch totaled 4,236 acres. She brought 350 breeding cattle to the area from their Illinois ranch. Before her death in 1969, the couple donated the land for the railroad park.
When the master developer Kaiser-Aetna acquired McCormick Ranch in 1969, it was the largest single piece of property sold for a planned community and also the last large ranch in Scottsdale.
The area has transitioned from formerly large ranch developments to suburban and low-density equestrian properties, Yaron explained, noting that the company based the architectural style on Mission Viejo of Southern California.
“When McCormick Ranch began building houses on the edge of Scottsdale in the early 1970s, it pioneered the concept of master-planned communities where housing, business uses, schools, and recreation are all integrated into the whole. The concept was a hit and spread nationally,” he said.
Since then, Yaron added, more than two dozen master-planned communities have been built in Scottsdale.
A golden opportunity
People are returning to and putting down new roots in McCormick Ranch.
“I’m noticing that a lot of residents are coming back to McCormick Ranch,” said Uhrich. “Five years ago, a couple moved from McCormick Ranch to north Scottsdale for a much bigger home, but they’re moving back because they’ve told me there’s no other location like our community anywhere.”
As new people become residents, however, she said a major focus for the Board and Architectural Control Committee is to avoid what has happened in other Valley communities, where a mélange of introduced architectural styles changed the character of the area’s original look and spirit.
“We want to maintain what has made McCormick Ranch unique,” she said. “The Architecture Control Committee is tasked with embracing the need for homeowners to improve their homes to today’s building and floor plan needs, placing importance on proportion and eliminating the frivolous details which follow fashionable trends and have unpredictable day-by-day appeal.
“In renovating the older homes, we want to choose those materials and designs that are timeless, that will be as relevant in the next 50 years. We want to remember that the important thing about McCormick Ranch is McCormick Ranch.”
Two younger couples who are relative newcomers are the Fields and the Taylors.
Married in 2019, Matt and Anna Field have lived in the community for about four years. They have a toddler and a newborn.
An attorney, Anna grew up in Sunnyslope in Phoenix, and her husband, a native of Southern California, is in commercial real estate.
When she was in college, Anna became familiar with McCormick Ranch from visiting her folks and friends in Scottsdale and Phoenix. And, when she revisited the area in 2018, she saw something “new and different” from other communities.
“It was green and luscious,” she said.
“We loved all of the trees and that it was so clean and lush and, as we were planning for a family, we considered things like the safety of the greenbelt for them to play in and the phenomenal Scottsdale school district,” her husband recalled. “The community encompasses everything we were looking for.”
Anna said, “The more we saw, so many young families from everywhere, we knew that this was our future and the place we wanted to be. We are really happy here.”
To which her husband added: “We don’t plan on leaving.”
Dave and Anna Taylor have lived in McCormick Ranch for seven years with their two children, Sophie and Levi.
The couple formerly lived in Old Town Scottsdale, Albuquerque, and Los Angeles. A Seattle native, Taylor is supervising producer of The List, an entertainment, news, and lifestyle show on 35-plus stations nationwide, including ABC15, and on Newsy. Anna was raised on Long Island, N.Y.; she is director of recruiting for Semperis.
“McCormick Ranch is a terrific place to raise a family,” Dave said.” We are close to amazing family-friendly venues … there are several amazing schools in the area for kids of all ages, the home values have increased dramatically in the past several years, the community is full of kind people of all ages, and there are amazing restaurants galore.”
“We definitely intend to stay as long as possible,” he said.
Janet Rowe Wilson isn’t leaving either. Now in her 80s, she’s one of the original residents.
She and her husband Murray moved into the community as soon as their house was finished in 1975.
“I’m a widow now and the only original homeowner still here,” she said.
One lasting memory from the early years is from October 1975.
“On a Saturday morning, we woke to find our cul-de-sac teeming with sheep,” Rowe Wilson recalled. “They were being herded from their mountain summer home to their winter one in the Valley; this had always been their route, and these houses had not been there the previous year. We never saw them again.
“McCormick Ranch is still a great place to live, work and play, and it’s so convenient!” she added. “In 1975 there were not even gas stations or convenience stores on the Ranch; I can’t think of anything not here now!”
(This article originally appeared in the Scottsdale Progress)