To call the history of Scottsdale’s WestWorld “event-ful” is not only a pun, but an understatement. For 30 years it’s been the place for an eclectic mix of signature and special events, has attracted tens of thousands of participants and has contributed millions to the local economy. But what’s the back story?
- Founded as a farming and ranching community, Scottsdale had always had a strong horse culture. As ranches made way for development, the City of Scottsdale recognized the need for a park where horse-lovers could ride their steeds. In 1970, Desert Park, later renamed Cholla Park, opened on the north end of the Scottsdale Airport runway as an equestrian park. Within 10 years, the park closed to make way for a runway extension, and the city sought a new venue.
- In 1982 Scottsdale entered a long-term agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to lease land north of the Central Arizona Canal and at the base of the McDowell Mountains for development as a park. Horseman’s Park opened in 1986 on a 356-acre site, and initially featured an open-air arena, several smaller open arenas, stables, recreational vehicle hookups and a large field that served as a parking lot as well as a flood control basin.
- From 1986 to 1997 Scottsdale contracted with K-Lin to operate the park, which it renamed HorseWorld in 1988, and to WestWorld in 1990. K-Lin made many improvements to the facilities, and opened the Rattlers Restaurant (now the Monterra catering facility). The City of Scottsdale resumed operation of WestWorld in 1997.
- The Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction and the All Arabian Horse Show moved to HorseWorld in 1989. Each has continued to stage their internationally-renown events at WestWorld annually.
- To accommodate ever-larger events staged at WestWorld, the city purchased 119,700 sq.ft. permanent tent in 2005. Originally displaying an enormous American flag on its side, the tent was later painted a tan color to blend in with the natural environment.
- Many historic community events have taken place at the site. For example, on Oct. 3, 1994, the Scottsdale City Council met on the patio of Brett’s Barn (razed in 2011) and, after hearing public testimony, voted to create the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The community mourned together at the January 1998 memorial service for beloved former Mayor Herb Drinkwater, and again in 2010 for City Councilman Tony Nelssen (namesake of the climate-controlled, 120,000 sq.ft. Equidome and north/south exhibit halls of the Tony Nelssen Equestrian Center, which opened in 2013).
- Among the interesting events that have taken place at WestWorld: a dragster mud bog, a llama sale, the Thunderbird Balloon Classic, the National Festival of the West, the 1994 Congress of Cowboys & Indians, SolFest, HarvestFest, the Cactus Cup bike race, the Mayors’ State of the City breakfast (1996), the Shrine Circus, Junk in the Trunk Vintage Market, the McDowell Mountain Music Festival and many others.
- Perennial events at WestWorld include: Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction, Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, Parada del Sol Rodeo, Scottsdale’s Fourth of July celebration, Sun Country Circuit Quarter Horse Show, Goodguys Annual Southwest Nationals (hot rod show), Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships, home shows, trade shows and scores of other events.
- The Silverman family – former owners of a resort on Scottsdale road – donated their house to the city, which was moved to WestWorld in the 1980s and serves as offices.
- The Scottsdale Police Department Mounted Unit’s horses are stabled at WestWorld.
- For a list of events, or how to stage an event at WestWorld, see: westworldaz.com
~ By Joan Fudala