WINSLOW – Some Winslow residents and business owners are trying to transform their community into a tourist destination, hoping to lure drivers off neighboring highways.
The revitalization efforts are part of a federal- and state-funded $10 million renaissance project to be completed by 2015 that aims to rejuvenate the town’s tourism industry, said Bob Hall, Winslow Chamber of Commerce CEO.
The northeastern Arizona town was once a bustling rural community that benefited from the foot traffic generated by those driving on Route 66, which cuts through the town. But the community has faltered since neighboring Interstate 40 was completed in the 1980s, offering drivers a faster option – one that circumvents the community.
“Everybody talked about how Winslow used to be. But that’s not the case anymore,” Hall said. “We feel like it’s our turn. We see more of a future.”
Recently, Hall led a group of about 20 people on a tour through Winslow, four hours northeast of Phoenix, population about 10,000. Stops along the tour included the Standin’ on the Corner Park, a homage to the Eagles’ 1973 hit song “Take It Easy,” which references the town’s intersection of Kinsley Avenue and Second Street, and the recently restored La Posada Hotel.
Most were members of the Route 66 Association of Arizona, founded in 1987 to promote tourism along Arizona’s Route 66 corridor. They wanted to see if Winslow’s efforts could work in their communities.
Hall pointed out the improvements: new Route 66 benches, road repavements and plans to expand Standin’ on the Corner Park offerings, including a new outdoor stage.
Built by local volunteers, the park is a popular tourist photo spot that opened in 1999, Hall said.
“They promised to embrace their Route 66 roots,” said Sharlene Fouser, Route 66 Association of Arizona president. “And they’re delivering.”
Signs of economic struggle remain throughout Winslow.
A former taqueria’s windows are boarded, inked with graffiti. The Winslow Theater’s marquee reads, “For sale.”
About one in five local residents lacks a high-school diploma and unemployment is 14.4 percent, according to the latest census data.
“There’s not enough here in Winslow. We need more business and jobs,” said mail carrier Arlin Rogers, 49, a father of three. “We spend our money raising our kids here, but they have to go somewhere else to work.”
Winslow wasn’t always this way. A clipping from a 1960s local newspaper ad promotes a Jackson Five concert there. The boys’ grandfather lived in the area.
A black-and-white photograph of nearly 300 kids riding bikes in a Fourth of July parade hangs in the town’s one-room museum.
This was before I-40 stole much of Route 66’s traffic, crushing Winslow’s economy.
“You could’ve rolled a bowling ball through town and not hit anything,” said 83-year-old Marie LaMar, who has lived in Winslow nearly her entire life.
She said Winslow is in a new era, which began in the 1990s when a couple of outsiders, including Hall, moved into town.
Hall arrived in Winslow in 1991, about the same time the Standin’ on the Corner Park was being built. He was a caretaker. Doctors said his patient had a year to live. The patient lived another eight years. By then, Hall had fallen in love with Winslow.
“It was a new life for me,” he said. “Winslow is united, that’s what I fell in love with. And there’s a history.”
Mormon leader Brigham Young sent settlers in the 1800s to colonize the area, which later became a railroad town. Hall estimated that a third of workers in town today work in the railroad industry.
Allan Affeldt, an artist from Orange County, Calif., said he moved to Winslow in 1997 with his wife, Tina Mion, to turn an abandoned structure into La Posada Hotel.
“In the O.C., I was living behind the orange curtain and grew tired of that,” Affeldt said. “Winslow has rough edges, but it’s the real world.”
But he said Winslow had given up and locals were skeptical. The idea of tourism in Winslow seemed far-fetched. But La Posada’s and the park’s success changed their minds.
Even Disney and Pixar took notice.
Executives stayed at La Posada to research the 2006 digitally animated feature film “Cars,” a story of a talking automobile that finds meaning in a Route 66 town, Affeldt said. Winslow residents are acknowledged in the film’s credits.
Today the 48-room hotel is 85 percent occupied year-round, Affeldt said. And dozens of tourists take photographs at the park daily, Hall said.
“We couldn’t have done better if we hired someone from Madison Avenue,” LaMar said.
‘Change the mind-set’
Winslow real-estate agent Lawrence Kenna, 51, said he noticed the renovation of La Posada Hotel on a drive home from work in 2000. But during the same drive he passed a gas station with a sign stating, “God hates Winslow.”
“I told my mom, ‘Either I want to make a difference or I want to move,’ ” Kenna said.
The third-generation Winslow native stayed.
That same week, he bought the gas-station property and got rid of the sign. A beauty parlor will open before year’s end where the gas station once operated.
The store’s owner, Marcia Garnett, said she’s trying to convince locals that they don’t have to go to Phoenix for a quality spa experience.
“You have to change the mindset,” she said.
Since purchasing the first property, Kenna purchased six additional lots along Winslow’s Route 66 corridor.
Now, they are souvenir shops, boutiques and a cafe. An outdoor garden stands where an abandoned bar once existed. Kenna said some of the stores’ architecture reflects Winslow’s diversity. The building’s Native American bricks were restored with plaster in a Mexican style. The decorative Christian crucifix is built of wood from a Western ranch.
The outdoor garden is a popular spot for tourists and locals, particularly during Winslow Summer Nights, which are held biweekly and feature local entertainment, Kenna said.
During these events, LaMar and a group of female volunteers from the Winslow Harvey Girls promote Winslow history.
They’re named after Fred Harvey, who founded a group of restaurants called Harvey Houses along the Southwest, including Winslow, starting in the late 1880s.
They provide free tours and presentations of Winslow landmarks, including La Posada Hotel, and of the historic Route 66 to keep the region’s history alive.
And LaMar said they end meetings with a quote from Margaret Mead, the Philadelphia-born anthropologist: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.”
“Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
by Kevin Cirilli – The Arizona Republic