How Winslow Residents Saved Their Town (Part 1)

At the center of the Winslow Historic Entertainment District sits a park with a mural and two bronze statues, a place people gather and smile and take photos, a place brimming with life and joy—all thanks to an idea a small group had more than twenty years ago. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore the history behind the Corner-Made-Famous-by-a-Song.

People Standin on a corner in Winslow Arizona

Part One: Winslow Takes Action

It may sound cliche, but there’s a lot of truth in the following quote from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

In the early 1990s, a few citizens took Winslow’s future into their hands and reversed the downward spiral that began when the I-40 bypassed downtown. Winslow immediately felt the impact.

I remember October 8. 1979, about four o’clock in the afternoon when I-40 opened and Route 66 seemed to just dry up.

Pete Kretsademas from the Winslow Mail

Businesses began to fail. One by one, buildings burned, fell, or simply slipped into varying states of deterioration.

Until a handful of people took action and changed the course.

If you know the story of the rebirth of Route 66, you know Seligman native Angel DelGadillo was at the heart of resurrecting the iconic American highway. In January 1990, he visited Winslow and spoke to a group of about 60 people gathered at the Town House Restaurant to get them on board.

Route 66 will affect every man, woman, and child in Winslow. What it’s going to take from you people in Winslow is to work on Route 66 because you love Route 66…. You’ve got to tell the world, “Hey World, we’ve been bypassed by the I-40 but here we are. We’re still here…. Won’t you get off I-40 and come look at us?

Angel DelGadillo

He also told the crowd they better be ready for the tourists, to be friendly, to talk to them, tell them the story of Winslow. DelGadillo‘s final words of advice? Employ the FOUR Ds.

Dedication, Desire, Determination, and Discipline

Pete Kretsademas—then Chairman of Winslow Tourism—encouraged the attendees to fight for their town, to brand their businesses with Route 66. At the end of the meeting, he called for volunteers for a Route 66 Restoration Steering Committee. Several people stepped up including Charlene Benham, Diane Patterson, Marie Lamar (VP), Lee Earl (President), Don Ayers, Barbara Lohrey, Doug Kilberg and Tom McCauley (Secretary). They all agreed something needed to be done to clean up downtown.

”If we’re going to sell 66, are we going to sell 66 in shabby clothes? Are we going to sell a crud corridor? Are we going to sell two streets parallel to each other where motel owners are asked, “Is it safe for me to park my car here?”

Don Ayers

All agreed the town first needed to be cleaned up.

“We’ve got to make Winslow something that when people go away they’ll say, “Winslow, Arizona, that’s where we stopped. That’s where we had fun.”

Barbara Lohrey

By March 1990, the committee had met three times and had purchased fifty Route 66 signs, plus, they put together a proposal for a long-range plan of development to create an awareness of Winslow’s unique opportunities for locals and tourists, and in general, create a positive attitude within the community.

Winslow AZ postcard

From this committee, others began to form.

La Posada Foundation

The Route 66 bypass wasn’t the only problem in town. The La Posada Hotel, crown jewel of the once-thriving Harvey House empire, sat empty, the grounds dying. After the hotel closed in 1957, the Santa Fe Railroad completely remodeled the building and turned the historic property into offices.

From a 1990 article, Janice Griffith wrote about the Santa Fe offices gearing down and the city of Winslow working with Santa Fe to acquire the property. Griffith laid the groundwork for putting the La Posada on the Historical Record…

“Thereby returning it to eventual active use by the community. Present and future generations alike stand to benefit from exposure to such great architectural beauty and rich local history.”

Janice Griffith

Janice Griffith had a love for history. She grew up south of town with her school teacher father and beauty queen mother, and read every issue of Arizona Highways cover-to-cover the second it dropped in the mail. Janice refused to let a treasured historical site die. With the railroad moving out for good, she knew the extraordinary hotel was in peril of demolition. Janice went to work, and on March 31st, 1991, succeeded in getting the La Posada on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Gardening Angels

Still, without a tenant, the property continued to be at risk. Thanks to a broken water line, the grounds went without water for two months. June 27, 1993 Janice Griffith brought together four dozen volunteers with rakes. The group called the “Gardening Angels” divided the six-acre lot into twenty-four smaller parcels, dragged water hoses from homes to keep the trees alive, and worked tirelessly to keep this meaningful property from falling into ruins.

That movement grew in scope.

Original La Posada foundation members in Winslow AZ
Bert Peterson, Juanita Walters, Marie LaMar, Janice Griffith, and Larry Pane

In an effort to save what remained of the town treasures, Janice Griffith, Bert Peterson, Marie LaMar, Larry Pane, and Tony Christensen formed a 501C3 in June of 1994, the La Posada Foundation. Forty-three months after organizing their efforts, on January 29, 1997, the La Posada title transferred from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad to the City of Winslow to La Posada LLC–thus saving a national treasure which now draws people from around the world.

But the La Posada wasn’t the only project the five had been working on.

They knew something had to be done with the lot left empty in the middle of town thanks to a fire. What they did changed the course of Winslow’s future.

Burned building where Winslow Arizona’s famous park now sits.

Next up…

Part Two: The story behind the birth of Standin’ on the Corner Park.

Until Next Time…

Take it Easy

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  • Cristie Bennett

    Love this write your and the history of Route 66′. Grew up with a train o’holic dad and a maternal great grandfather that worked for the railroads. Love everything related and the history.

    Prior to the visit th Winslow, we had sent traveled through other states and communities that suffered from interstate construction.

  • Cristie Bennett

    Love this write up and the history of Route 66′. Grew up with a train o’holic dad and a maternal great grandfather that worked for the railroads. Love everything train related and it’s history.

    Prior to the visit to Winslow, we had traveled through other states and communities that suffered from interstate construction.

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