Taking it Easy in Winslow, Arizona

Taking it Easy in Winslow, Arizona

Long before Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey were born, people were standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.  The town sprung up near the rail line in 1880.  The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe company owned the railway and travelers eventually could go from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1930 Santa Fe Railroad built a large complex in town.  It included a depot which also housed divisional offices.  It also featured the first Diesel locomotive roundhouse in the United States!  But the crown jewel was the attached Harvey House hotel and restaurant.  And while Fred Harvey built many such hotels across the United States, this one stood head and shoulders above the rest.

In this day and age, railroads did not typically provide sleeper cars.  Passengers were left to fend for themselves, with often unpredictable results.  Fred Harvey revolutionized this by providing quality food in clean facilities for reasonable prices.  By 1890 there was at least one Harvey House every 100 miles of Santa Fe track.  In the 1920’s Harvey and Santa Fe began setting up even larger hotels in an attempt to market travel between Chicago and Los Angeles centered on “Indian Detours” in the Southwest.  The last great hotel in this plan was the La Posada.

Mary Colter, who designed many of the buildings at Grand Canyon National Park as well as many Harvey Houses, came up with a design which she considered her best work.  The overall depot/hotel cost $1-$2 million dollars and opened in 1930, right at the beginning of the Great Depression.  It weathered that storm and provided food and lodging for almost thirty years.  The heyday may have been around the time of the 1946 film “Harvey Girls” starring Judy Garland.  It featured prominently the Harvey House waitresses and included the famous “Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe” song, which won an Academy Award.  The movie was shot in the studio and on location in Las Vegas and in Monument Valley.  The location where Judy and the Harvey Girls worked was stated to be Sandrock, Arizona (a fictitious name) but the hotel scenes used the Castaneda Harvey House in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Unfortunately as road travel grew, rail travel diminished and La Posada ceased operations in 1959.  Santa Fe brusquely auctioned off all the furniture and remodeled half of the building into standard 1960’s offices, complete with vinyl tile flooring and acoustic tile suspended ceilings.  Nothing else changed for another thirty years, until Santa Fe (now Burlington Northern Santa Fe, BNSF) moved all offices to other locations.  They probably would have demolished the building long ago, but the walls were two feet thick and reinforced.  And that is how things stood until the mid 1990’s.

Preservation efforts had begun, but neither local groups or the city of Winslow had enough money to handle such a massive job.  Eventually Allan Affeldt and his wife Tina Mion were joined by artist Daniel Lutzick and managed to round up the funding required to both purchase the property and begin renovations.  And on April 1, 1997, Allan and Tina moved in.  They quickly removed much of what had been added and began the process of restoring what had been lost.  Within a short time they actually had a few rooms available and began taking in guests.  This helped them achieve further funding which they have put to good use.

When we found this amazing place much of it looked like its former self.  Large arches, wide open spaces, southwest colors, long verandas, curving staircases.  Beautiful gardens and landscaping surround it.  As we wandered through we never knew what was around the next corner.  The restaurant, ballroom and gift shop are fully functional.  Many guest rooms are available, and the prices are more reasonable than I would have guessed!  Tina has an art studio upstairs, and her work adorns many walls.  In one room you can watch a DVD of her explaining the creation of her artwork, and it is as fascinating as the pieces themselves.  In another room you can watch a DVD of the renovation work that has been done, as well as future plans.

You can also stroll out what appears to be the back door and you will find yourself near the rail yards.  For most of its life, these were, of course, the front doors.  But now that most of the traffic comes down historic Route 66 on the other side, these doors are mainly for those who want to stroll the grounds.

Winslow has developed into a very nice place to visit and appeals to a few different crowds.  Rail fans have an obvious draw here.  It is an Amtrak station, and there is a lot of history in the buildings.  Route 66 passes through town and fans of the Mother Road can find several pieces of architecture and businesses catering to them.  And of course any one who has ever heard the Eagles song “Take it Easy” will enjoy “Standing On The Corner Park” which memorializes the song and gives visitors several unique photo opportunities.  So if you ever find yourself traveling down Interstate 40 in eastern Arizona, do yourself a favor and take the Winslow exit.  I think you’ll agree that it really is “such a fine sight to see.”


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