In an age when movies can be viewed on a smartphone, a theater might not seem all that important, but a show house is a vital part of a thriving town, a gathering spot, a place where families can get out of the house for a night, where first dates happen, memories are made, inspiration happens. There’s nothing quite like sitting alone in the dark and getting swept away by the magic of storytelling with a group of strangers. I still remember summertime matinees in Tucson when Mom dropped my brother and me off to join a bunch of other kids who ate popcorn and got lost in a magical world.
Everyone, it seems, has a favorite cinema memory. For some, like Winslow local Larrilynn Oso, those memories shape who they are.
The Winslow Theater holds a special place in my heart because it was my introduction to storytelling and filmmaking – which I love.Larrilynn Oso
Larrilyn’s love of storytelling led her to produce a short film about her family’s memories of the Winslow Theater, made with the help of Northland Pioneer College filmmakers Jackson Kittrell and Anthony Marietta. On January 3rd, 2019 “#SupportYourLocalTheater” kicked off the First Annual Winslow Cinema Festival—a Larrilynn idea brought to life thanks to Roberta “Birdie” Cano, the City of Winslow, and an APS Grant. Along with the movies, the festival brought an opening night gala at the 66 Motor Palace, brunch at Relic Road, great raffle prizes, and the “Harvey Award” given to the biggest film fan of the festival.
The event was a smashing success.
Debbie and Tommy Martinez
While Larrilyn’s idea sparked the festival, it could not have happened without Debbie and Tommy Martinez, who have put their heart and soul into the theater (and the community) since buying the business on January 1st, 2018.
I’ve always wanted to own the theater. Why I’m not sure, Tommy never wanted to own it!!!!! Haahhaa… We wouldn’t be open without the support of this community. About 80% of our customers come at least twice a month, sometimes more. We love to stay involved with community events. We don’t want to be known just as a theater.Debbie Martinez, Winslow Theater Owner
Just another theater, they are not. The Martinez family gives back in many ways, and the festival is just another way for them to show their appreciation to the community.
Birdie and Larrilyn do such a great job putting on this event. They spend a ton of time. I feel it makes the theater look great!!!
The 2nd Annual Winslow Cinema Festival
The first cinema festival packed the house, brought loads of fun, and a fresh appreciation of our treasured Winslow Theater.
I hope that this festival becomes a yearly event!! And just gets better and better each year as we learn from it!!Debbie Martinez
February 24th, the 2020 festival begins with four terrific films.
Before getting into the details of this year’s festival, let’s look back on the theater’s history and how this jewel of downtown Winslow came to be.
Winslow Theater History
In 1926 John Barncord—who owned the Opera House on Front Street—bought the lot and buildings of the former Bank of Winslow and Daze Transfer Company on Kinsley Avenue to build a state-of-the-art theater. Before completion, though, he sold the nearly finished project to the firm Rickards & Nace out of Phoenix who owned fifteen other theaters around the state—whether because Mr. Barncord ran out of money or simply received too great an offer from them is unclear. The original estimate to build was around $30,000, but in the end, the 600+ seat theater—complete with fine opera chairs and an air conditioning system—took nine months and $80,000 to complete.
The Rialto Opens
On July 19th, 1927 the curtain of Kinsley Avenue’s new show house rose to rousing applause. On the screen? The silent film “IT” starring Clara Bow, accompanied by premier organist Mr. Joe Lumkin “one of the biggest features of the opening.”
The movie wasn’t the night’s only entertainment. The vaudeville act of Tommy LaRose and Stella Mayfield wowed the crowds so much, they had to come back for multiple encores. A musical revue featuring a bevy of local girls singing and dancing closed out the show.
The flashing costumes worn by the girls blended in marvelous style with the brilliant stage settings and under clever manipulation of the stage lighting, the picture was one that will not soon be forgotten by anyone who attended the opening of the Rialto.Winslow Mail, July 20th, 1927
The opening of this theater was such a big deal in town, the Winslow Mail printed a special edition, filled with congratulatory ads from other businesses.
The edition also included articles detailing every aspect of the theater, from the perfect ventilation and hand-built pipe organ to the Simplex projectors and remote control lighting to details of David Swing’s murals featuring Horse Thief Canyon, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco Peaks, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, and Deer Valley.
The Theater is indeed an asset of which Winslow and all the surrounding country might well be proud. It was promised the Rialto would compare most favorably with any theater in any town the size of Winslow… and that claim has been lived up to the letter in every phase of the new show house.Winslow Mail, July 20, 1927
The Rialto Closes
Over the years of operation, the Rialto Theater went from silent films to talkies, from stage shows and vaudeville acts to fashion shows and fight parties, until finally on January 31st, 1996 employees showed up to work to find the marquee taken down, equipment removed, and their jobs eliminated. “Bio-Dome” was the last movie to be shown.
Since closing, several made attempts to revive the theater, but running a single-screen movie-house has become a huge challenge, between the costs from movie companies and the required run times. Debbie and Tommy have done an extraordinary job keeping the Winslow Theater going, and doing it with heart. Why? Because they love their community.
“We don’t make a ton of money, because (the festival) is free. But it’s not about making money. I love to stand in the back of the theater and watch everyone watching the movie. When they laugh is my favorite. We appreciate all of you!Debbie Martinez, Winslow Theater
Support Your Local Theater
Even back in 1927, the owners understood the importance of being good to the community.
Any theater to be successful must have as its first and greatest asset, the good will of the citizenry from which it hopes for patronage.”Mr. Harry L Nace, Winslow Mail July 19, 1927
You can help keep the Winslow Theater thriving by not only going to see the movies but buying concessions. These days, that’s the bread and butter of the theater business, and what allows small single-screen theaters to keep the doors open.
The Winslow Theater 2020 Festival!
And here we are! Back to this year’s festival. The VIP tickets sold out fast (entrance into the Gala and preferred seating for every show… be sure to get yours early next year!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t attend. As Debbie mentioned:
THIS YEAR’S MOVIES ARE FREE!!
Birdie and I want to wholeheartedly thank APS for their grant to help support our efforts.Larrilynn Oso
The festival kicks off Monday, February 24th with Ghost, followed by Tuesday’s Jurassic Park, Wednesday’s ET, and closing out with a sing-along on Thursday to Grease! You can keep up on all the details by following the Winslow Cinema Society Facebook page.
You don’t want to miss the extravaganza of excellent fun. Winslow has a wonderful, history-filled theater, one we should be immensely proud of. Let’s keep the tradition of movie-going in Winslow alive.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL THEATER!
Developing the film festival was my way to both create awareness in the community about this beloved local businesses and also share the gift of film to others and making a difference or starting a spark in someone’s life.Larrilynn Oso
See ya at the picture show! Until next time…