‘First master-planned community’ celebrates 50 years of Scottsdale success
Posted Tuesday, August 9, 2022 10:00 am
McCormick Ranch is celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall, marking five decades as one of Scottsdale’s most popular and sought-after areas.
What some people may not know is McCormick Ranch isn’t just an affluent neighborhood. Its legacy is steeped in local history and accolades.
The community started out as ranch land and eventually turned into the first and largest master-planned community in the western United States, yielding a significant spot in Scottsdale’s narrative that now accounts for more than 8,400 single-family homes, 912 apartment units, several businesses, schools, a local hospital, parks and community amenities. About 27,000 Scottsdale residents call the area home, officials there say.
Some of Scottsdale’s core attributes come from McCormick Ranch, such as the popular Arabian Horse Show held every year to WestWorld. That legacy began on the ranch. Another landmark in Scottsdale, the Fifth Avenue shops in Old Town, came to fruition with the help of the McCormick family. And of course, the beloved McCormick-Stillman Railroad park enjoyed by about 1 million visitors every year.
While Scottsdale is much different than it was 50 years ago, some of the original characteristics implemented in the 1970s remain today.
As the local community turns a new chapter, the future for McCormick Ranch looks strong, says Jaime Uhrich, executive director of the Maricopa County Property Owners’ Association.
“That’s what we’ve always wanted, is a place for people to enjoy the absence of a vehicle — the original developers, when they developed the greenbelts and the lakes, what they wanted was for people to come home from work and be able to forget about having to drive somewhere. They wanted to be inside an area where they could just enjoy trees and green,” Uhrich said. “That’s what I feel like we’ve maintained.”
Recently, McCormick Ranch had the city sign-off on a landscaping master plan to ensure its greenbelts stay green at least for the next 10 years. Additionally, they created a water conservation plan.
“That is part of what McCormick Ranch is, ‘How can we connect the entire community together?’” Uhrich said. “There’s 25 miles of parks and pathways and lakes keeping it so people can have that connection by foot or bicycle.”
Today, a total of 68 subdivisions comprise McCormick Ranch.
According to real estate site Redfin.com, homes in the McCormick Ranch neighborhood range from about $650,000 up past $2 million.
Gene Montemore, a McCormick Ranch resident and Realtor, says the neighborhood is sought after in part because of good schools and the greenbelt.
“I think people don’t really think about it a whole lot until they go hang out there or hit a restaurant that’s in the middle of the neighborhood, and then see a bunch of people approach on their bikes or pushing a stroller. It’s a huge draw,” Montemore said. “It’s also a little more green than other places of Scottsdale. When you mix all of those unique attributes together, you get a little bit higher of a home value than in other parts of Scottsdale.”
Pictures from the Arabian Horse Show at Paradise Park on McCormick Ranch, February 1957. The Arabian Horse Association of Arizona held its first annual show at the Arizona Biltmore Resort in 1955, then moved the show to Scottsdale in 1956, where it has been held every winter since then.
How it all began
In 1944, Merle Cheney sold 160 acres of what was then known as “RP Ranch,” to Fowler and Anne McCormick of Chicago. The McCormicks continued to add to the original ranch property until it reached 4,236 acres. It became the largest ranch within Scottsdale city limits.
In 1969, Anne McCormick’s championship stallions and mares, along with her son Guy Stillman’s championship horses, were sold at auction. The stallion, Naborr, at age 19, was sold to Tom Chauncey and Wayne Newton for $150,000 — the highest price paid at that time for an Arabian stallion.
The McCormicks family’s horses sired multiple championship horses over the years.
After Anne McCormick’s death in 1970, the ranch was sold for $12.1 million.
McCormick Ranch grew from pasture lands where cattle and horses roamed to a 7-square-mile “city within a city.”
Scottsdale Historian Joan Fudala described Fowler and Anne McCormick as some of the most famous people in the city at the time.
The McCormick family attained prominence and fortune with the invention of the McCormick Reaper, a machine that revolutionized agriculture and established a modern grain trade with the mechanization of harvesting grain.
Further, Fowler McCormick’s paternal grandfather was John D. Rockefeller Sr.
In 1973, Fowler passed away knowing the property he and Anne loved would become a well-planned community. At that time, McCormick Ranch’s infrastructure and amenities under construction included a 36-hole golf course, 11 lakes, three resorts, the Indian Bend Wash Flood Control Project as well as 10 residential projects.
The first residents of McCormick Ranch were the Richard Kriss family, who moved in January 1973. The second residents were Pat and Ted Stump, who moved into their home Jan. 12, 1973. According to the Maricopa County Assessor’s website, the Stumps still own their home on Via del Futuro.
Many Scottsdale residents are fans of McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park, which came from the McCormick family in 1967 when the family donated 100 acres of their ranch to the city of Scottsdale, stipulating it be used as a park.
“It really has had a huge impact on Scottsdale, not only as a community but of the lives of so many people in Scottsdale whether they’ve lived in McCormick Ranch or whether they’ve just enjoyed it over the years,” Fudala said.
“To me, so much history has been made there. I’m not sure it ever set out to be so history making, it just has been.”
A place for memories to be made
The Scottsdale Historical Society houses an oral interview with Harold Daugherty, the original horse trainer for Anne McCormick. Daugherty spoke of Anne McCormick’s love and success for the horses, as well as blue-ribbon Black Angus cattle, the start of the Arabian Horse Show and the growth of McCormick Ranch.
Daugherty came to the Scottsdale area in the 1930s. After he returned from serving in the war years later, he began working with the McCormicks.
One interesting fact that he spoke of, was Anne McCormick’s involvement in Scottsdale and taking “an interest in the people.”
“The Fifth Avenue shops basically, she was one of the people that was responsible for there being Fifth Avenue shops there,” Daugherty told Virginia Potter in his oral interview.
“Probably very few people know that … Lloyd Kiva had a chance to buy this land where Fifth Avenue is now and he was just getting started and didn’t have the cash to do it and Mrs. McCormick backed him in the thing. And actually that was the start of Fifth Avenue.”
Daugherty said Anne McCormick did this for many people.
“She would back them in different endeavors and stuff like that and someone that she liked, she would back them up to give them a start,” he explained.
Further, Fudala says the Arabian Horse Show owes its long-term success to the McCormicks as well for hosting the event at the Ranch for so many of its formative years.
“That has really been so important to Scottsdale,” Fudala said of the Arabian Horse Show.
On the planning side, Fudala says McCormick Ranch was sort of a “test case” for so many things Scottsdale wanted to become.
“McCormick Ranch raised the bar and set the standard for any future master-planned communities. It was history making for not only being the first, but setting the pattern for it,” Fudala said.
Part of the community’s success was due to Scottsdale’s planning director at that time, George Fretz, quitting his job at the city — with their blessing — to become planning director of McCormick Ranch and its owner, Kaiser Aetna.
“It almost sounds like something that’s too collaborative these days, but it really helped make that dream of Scottsdale come true, that George Fretz worked so hard and with so many residents and city officials to make this master-planned community concept an idea,” Fudala said.
From golf and tennis tournaments to horse shows and personal memories made on McCormick Ranch, Fudala says the neighborhood as touched the soul of Scottsdale.
“Even though there were those big history items, think about the personal histories, the Kodak moments at the railroad park or taking your kids to the Mustang Library, all the babies born at Scottsdale HonorHealth,” Fudala said.
“It’s certainly a very significant place before, during and into the future of the planned community.”
Views around the McCormick Ranch neighborhood. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)
A sense of place
What once was the McCormicks’ personal 4,000-acre property was developed into one of the largest and “most successfully” planned community developments in the southwest.
In 2011, McCormick Ranch was reported to have:
- 1,771 acres of residential
- 542 acres of commercial
- 93 acres of city use
- 61 acres of hospital use
- 42 acres for the school district
- 184 acres of common area
- 120 acres in the 11 lakes
- 303 acres in the two golf courses.
At that time, the residential acreage was 99% developed, with commercial parcels 98% developed. The ranch was nearly built out, with only one single-family lot and 37 unbuilt condominium units remaining.
In 2011, McCormick Ranch would have been Arizona’s 14th largest town if it were to be incorporated.
Montemore says of the neighborhoods within McCormick Ranch, from a real estate perspective, many houses don’t “knock your socks off,” explaining that it isn’t the individual homes that draw attention.
“It’s more about it has a sense of place and people feel that way,” Montemore said.
Uhrich has been president of the McCormick Ranch Property Owners Association for about 10 years and worked in its front office for years prior to her appointment. She’s been with the McCormick Ranch POA since the mid 1990s.
As society evolves, some changes are being felt within the 50-year-old neighborhood.
Uhrich talked about fighting to maintain the western, ranch-style housing that is true to McCormick Ranch as more investors look to “flip” houses for a profit.
And, this type of transactional real estate has shifted the composition of the MRPOA away from resident volunteers to experts.
“I’m use to doing the positive side of the work — improving the common areas, working with homeowners, what they want to see with the parks, sharing water conservation ideas — and now I’m fighting people who have no long-term investment in the community,” Uhrich said. “That’s the sad part of it. I’m glad I have a really strong board and they support the long-term goals of McCormick Ranch, like keeping the harmony and not going with the trends.”
Uhrich says with the advent and popularity of television programs that show home remodels, the MRPOA reminds people they’re living in Arizona and wood siding may not be a good idea.
“It’s been a shift, a shift for everybody. The board was use to making fun decisions and now they have to tell people no. So even their role has changed and we’ve had to get new personality, different personality almost,” she explained. “We use to have a few stay-at-home moms on our board, and they were really good at connecting with the homeowners, but now we have to have attorneys because they have to be able to answer the questions and speak intelligently.”
Uhrich says having one house on the block stand out is the opposite of McCormick Ranch’s goal, but they also want homeowners to express their individuality.
“That’s where the timeless comes in, and not the popular, because it’s those trends that always go away,” Uhrich said. “We try to remind people when they come in with the popular materials that McCormick Ranch has stayed special because we’ve honored those original ranch-style homes.”