Preservation Matters

An Editorial by Lori B Law

The rumble resonated through the Motor Palace, shaking the walls. I ran to the front window and looked out to see a plume of dust rising to the sky from First Street. Demolition of the J.X. Woods Building had begun.

I grabbed my camera and headed outside, staying through most of the day as bit-by-bit, the walls crumbled under the machinery.

Saying goodbye to one of the oldest buildings in town with its distinctive facade and rich history made me intensely sad, but old buildings, like old people, disintegrate if they aren’t properly cared for—and this one had been neglected for far too many years.

It’s unclear how long the building had been empty, but judging by the boarded-up windows in the historic photo below, I would guess since at least the 1960s. (Anyone who knows more, please comment below!)

The Destabilizition

In 2002, the neighboring building to the east (seen on the right side of the above photo) was demolished—the Breed Building, oldest recorded structure in Winslow according to the historic registry—making the Woods Building vulnerable.

To stabilize the sandstone walls, the owner (architect Stephen Thompson) had a CMU wall built and laid out plans in a 2005 Winslow Mail article to remodel and bring back a retail space, along with turning the lot where the Breed building had been into a courtyard. Those plans, however, never came to fruition and years later, a structural engineer deemed the building unsafe.

And so the city took it down.

Still, it wasn’t easy to watch. 

Winslow’s Original Main Street

Railroad Avenue, Front Street, or First Street as it’s now known, was once the epicenter of activity. In 1896, Mr. John Xavier Woods–a Canadian who came to Winslow with the railroad–built the majestic structure along with several other buildings. In addition to housing a couple of different mercantiles, it also served as the first formal Masonic Hall Lodge and possibly even City Hall. From the newspaper archives:

Carpenters are at work in the Woods Building on Front Street getting the building in shape to be used as a city hall. When the renovation is completed, the quarters will be commodious and comfortable, and a vast improvement over the old shed heretofore in use.

Winslow Mail, July 14, 1916

The name that remained on the building, though, was…

The Babbit Bros. Merc. Co.

”Pure foods and good merchandise!”

Babbitt Bros Merc Co came to Winslow in 1898, buying out an existing mercantile (the Frasier-Dagg Mercantile Company) on Front Street at the JX Woods Buiding. 

Check out these great ads from the Winslow Mail, dating to the 1910s.

Even though the Babbitt Bros Merc Co only occupied the building from 1904 to 1914 when it moved to what is now the Snowdrift Art Space, its legacy remained on the facade, ever so faintly, until the very end.

What the building became in later years, I haven’t been able to determine. There are ads in the Winslow Mail from the 1920s for the Navajo Motor Co at 102 W. Front Street, featuring a full line of Chevrolet Parts, but after that nothing comes up. If anyone knows, please share in the comments below. What is known is that for many years it sat empty, decaying with each passing year, being taken over by cats and pigeons.

And then it came to an end.

Around three p.m on Tuesday, December 18th, the distinctive facade of this last standing structure from Winslow’s original main street crumbled to the ground.

Preservation Matters

It’s heartbreaking the building got to such a point that it couldn’t be preserved. This is why progress on our buildings–the Motor Palace and the Emporium on Kinsley Avenue, both built in the 1890s–might seem slow. Brian and I want the work done right to ensure these buildings last another hundred years.

Grant applications are in process on both buildings, contractors lined up, plans in the works—including a possible January event in conjunction with the Cinema Festival (if certain improvements at the Motor Palace are finished by then). If you walk by, you’ll notice the once boarded up hole on the north wall now has glass-block, thanks to Curtis Hardy and crew. Monty and Ace did stellar work squaring up a once jagged hole and creating a beautiful window. 

Each small improvement will keep our historic buildings from suffering the fate of the Woods Building and so many others the town has lost.

The Final Wall 

The last of the CMU wall stabilizing the Woods Building came down on Thursday morning, leaving six empty lots facing the railroad tracks.

But some of the old materials from the building may just find new life in the Historic District. More on that to come.

The Future

Out of this loss of history rises opportunity. A chance to rebuild. To expand on what’s working in Winslow’s Commercial Historic District. An operating business in that location will draw people beyond the corner to Winslow’s original street. It will expose them to the park along the railroad tracks. Maybe they’ll take a walk through the beautifully landscaped path to the Hubbell. Spend more time in this wonderful town of Winslow Arizona.

Until next time…

Take it Easy

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