Andy Womack: the Rodeo Clown Who Helped Build Phoenix
By Tom Pickrell
Andrew Jackson Womack was a gregarious and generous man who was quick with a joke and comfortable taking risks. He enjoyed socializing with friends over drinks and poker and was an eternal optimist about marriage since he did marry eight times.
In Phoenix, Andy started with Womack Brothers Construction and then became a brick contractor. In 1935, he got a general contractor license, formed Andy Womack Building Co., and built several custom homes in the Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood. Andy, like Porter, became a well-known home builder. They were business competitors but remained on cordial terms. Several years later, together, the brothers built a new home for their parents.
Andy Womack with Dynamite and Hugo in Rodeo of Rodeos
By 1937, the housing industry had rebounded, thanks to an improved economy and new FHA-backed, long-term, fixed-rate home mortgages. Andy commenced Womack Estates, a residential project covering two-square blocks in the Coronado neighborhood, and built 23 ranch-style homes using an assembly-line process. This development was the first mass-produced subdivision built on speculation in Phoenix, as Andy recognized the market for small tract homes.
During the pre-World War II years, Andy developed another profitable business niche: the roadside motel. U.S. Highway 80, the route of travelers driving east from San Diego, entered Phoenix on West Van Buren Street. Andy built and sold four motels on the street between 16th and 12th avenues: Park Lane Motor Court, Mayfair Motor Hotel, Palomine Hotel Auto Court, and Greenway Terrace.
Construction slowed during the war, but Andy built the Palmcroft Apartments, a defense housing project with 24 units, on West McDowell Road. Phoenix encouraged its residents to share their home with a war worker’s family due to a severe housing shortage. Andy did one better and let war workers live at these apartments rent-free.
Andy was a true horseman who embraced Arizona's cowboy culture and the rodeos across the state that celebrated their skills. He was also a bit short and stocky with lots of grit – perfect qualities for a rodeo clown.
Ad for Andy Womack's biggest subdivision, Stardust Skies
During the war years, Andy achieved prominence in the Phoenix Jaycees, a boisterous young men's civic organization. He organized the first Phoenix Jaycees Rodeo of Rodeos. This three-day extravaganza began with a horse-drawn, pageantry-filled parade down Central Avenue followed by two days of rodeo competition at the State Fairgrounds. Schools and businesses closed so that residents could attend the parade. The rodeo was a sell-out event that featured Hollywood celebrities, such as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
Andy lived with his wife and daughters on a 60-acre ranch on the north side of the Arizona Canal, where Sunnyslope High School is today. Andy served as chairman of the Rodeo of Rodeos in 1939 and 1942-43. At his ranch, he entertained many rodeo performers.
To read the rest of this article, you are invited to purchase the digital issue here.
This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Sept/Oct 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No. 5.