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Saying goodbye to the Sundome
When the Sundome Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1980, the sounds of Lawrence Welk and his big band filled the 7,000-seat theater.
Over the years, Harry Belafonte, Rosemary Clooney and Bob Dylan could be heard here, but now the Sundome, in the heart of the retirement community Sun City West, is silent.
These days, you can hear a construction crew digging out waterlines in the Sundome’s weedy parking lot. Soon they will be putting in new ones for a Fry’s supermarket, set to arrive in the coming months, but that is hard to picture right now. The venue’s Spanish archway is blocked off by a chain link fence, and the whole place feels deserted, but years ago, Katy O’Grady said this spot was famous, even beyond the boundaries of Arizona.
“When you told your friends you were from Sun City West and Bob Hope was coming out here to play this concert or this show, that was impressive,” O'Grady said by phone. “You could impress your friends from out of town. So, everyone has those good feelings and those bragging rights tied up in the Sundome, and it’s hard for people to let those go.”
O’Grady works for Sun City West’s recreation centers, but she also spent years as a newspaper reporter in the area. She says many people are disappointed with the demise of the Sundome, but even in its heyday, it never really made money.
The stage was too small, and there were too many seats to fill, even for many big acts. The theater was also juggled between developer Dell Webb, Arizona State University and Maricopa County. O’Grady said competition from newer venues across the valley did not help either.
“Those who are sad to see the Sundome go, and I’m one of them, you know, it’s just a reality,” she said. “Sometimes times change, and I think there’s a lot of people who tried to save the Sundome, who tried to give it a second and third shot, and they just weren’t able to do it.”
That does not come as a shock to everyone in the community. At the bowling alley a few doors down from the Sundome, Jeanette Cooper said she loved seeing Diana Ross in concert there a few years back.
The Sundome's parking lot now sits empty and unkempt. (Photo by Stina Sieg-KJZZ)
“And the theater was fabulous,” Cooper explained, “but it was too large, you know, they needed a smaller theater.”
Other seniors complain about the types of shows that were offered in the Sundome’s final years. In an effort to bring in outside audiences, promoters showcased the likes of Morrissey and the percussion group Stomp, but some Sundome fans, like Marty Bell, choose to remember the venue’s glory days. He saw many shows there but insists he cannot pick a favorite.
“I don’t like to choose favorites,” he said. “I like to choose those things that excite the heart.”
Community talent shows always gave Bell that flutter. Sun City West used to come together to put on homegrown showcases that he said would sell out the Sundome.
“That was heartwarming. It was better than watching a movie, because these were your friends and your neighbors, and the people who have studied all their life some skill and demonstrated it on a regular basis,” Bell said. “Missing that is like losing a friend.”
Bell added that he has nothing against having another supermarket in town, but for him, there is just no replacing the Sundome.