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c. 1970

Retiring to “Youngtown”

America's first retirement towns were booming. What was—is—the big draw?

Older residents of Sun City, a planned retirement village near Phoenix, Arizona, riding bicycles and tricycles through the neighborhood in 1970. (Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Come on, what else were they going to call America’s first retirement town? And when I say ‘they’, I mean the people who actually lived in the place. Founded in 1960, Youngtown’s first residents picked the name and were pioneers, therefore, in more ways than one.

Because Youngtown was the first of many such ‘youngtowns’ —new towns created for an older generation. The towns were often located in Florida, or California, or the dry and sunny Southwest—like Arizona’s none-more-literal Sun City, shown here.

By the time these pictures were taken, ten years after the original Youngtown was born, Sun City had 14,000 citizens.

And it was growing, with seven more houses built each and every day. According to LIFE magazine, for which these pictures were taken, the people who lived in Sun City came from any and all backgrounds — “people from relatively humble walks of life” and “retired physicians, engineers, lawyers and Army officers.”

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What was—is—the big draw? Yes, so the towns had clubs and communities covering all possible enthusiasms, and yes, it was possible to live much more economically than the ‘outside’ world. Plus the four golf courses, three malls, a hotel, three bowling greens, three pools, a 33 acre lake and a 28ft (fake) waterfall, all across eight square miles.

Nice. But surely there was more to it than that.

There was. There is. Escape—not from physical restrictions, but psychological ones. Here in Sun City, in Youngtown, no one is old, or rather, no one is seen as old by anyone else.

As one Sun Citizen told LIFE in 1970, “It doesn’t matter what you used to be, all that counts is what you do here.”

It turns out age always was relative.

1970
A flaring red skirt
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
View from above
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Dance party
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Bicycle and tricycles
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Bowling
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
White shirts and wide skirts
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Together into the sun
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Fingers to toes
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Greens and pinks
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Jerry’s Lounge
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
Swing your partners
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1970
From every state
Ralph Crane / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

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