Can The Eagles' "Take It Easy" Save Winslow, Arizona?
The Winslow Visitor’s Center is located inside the historic Lorenzo Hubbell Trading Post and Warehouse building, built in 1917. When I-40 bypassed the town in the 1970s, Winslow’s downtown fell on hard times.
A lot of people who grew up in Winslow, like I did, referred to it as The Slow, or The Slows, like it was a condition. I can visualize my town with my eyes closed. Railroad tracks running from east to west. On the outskirts, red dirt with a slight vegetative cover in muted greens. Plants barely tethered to the earth, ready to pick up and tumble along in any gust of spring wind. Follow a line of semi trucks rolling by town on Interstate 40, and you’ll see a smattering of trailers in a trailer park, a business called Curell’s Bargain Barn, nameless old motels, a garage missing any sign of being open for business except for motor oil stains, a furniture store located in a former bowling alley, another garage with washers and dryers and appliances lying about scattershot, little houses with yellowing yards, barking dogs, an old downtown spotted with blank plate glass windows.
“Who the hell lives here?” you could almost hear people thinking as they gassed up their cars.
The answer was simple: We did.
I was born in 1971, the same year Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner started a band in Los Angeles.
Sometimes I thought my early life had all the makings of a country-and-western song.
My mom and dad, who’d both grown up in Winslow, were high school sweethearts.
My dad went to work as a railroad engineer. My mom was an elementary school teacher. Our first home in town was an aluminum-sided, two-bedroom trailer on a small plot of dirt. The trailer park faced the high desert; at the end of the unpaved road lay the Winslow Cemetery. It had ONE WAY signs posted at the front gate.
By third grade, my parents bought an old two-story house. It sat on a corner. They hadn’t just bought the place to restore its original beauty, they’d bought it to bring change. In short order, they went about fixing it up, renovating and reinventing.
I can tell that Winslow has done a lot of beautification in the last few years to its streets and sidewalks. The city manager, Steve Pauken, tells me the city is in the fifth part of a six-phase Route 66 renaissance, part of a state- and federally-funded $10 million project.
“Starting at the west end of town and working eastward we’ve replaced curbs, gutters, streetlights, put new paving where necessary. It’s major face-lifting,” says Pauken. The city is also changing all streetlights to night-sky-friendly LED fixtures. This will not only help preserve views of the night sky, but cut down on electricity use by 65 to 70 percent.
These projects were begun before his tenure, but, says Pauken, “There was an awful lot of blight when I started working here. When I came in 2014, I made it a priority to clean up the blight.”
Winslow is a railroad town founded in 1882, its location chosen as a major division point for the railroad because it had a dependable water supply from the Little Colorado River, which was needed to power the steam engines of the late 19th century.
The La Posada, the last of the Fred Harvey hotels built by the Santa Fe Railway, opened here in 1930. Designed by architect Mary Jane Colter, it is considered her masterwork. Passenger trains from Los Angeles to Chicago delivered well-heeled guests to the resort hotel, but by 1957, rail travel declined and the La Posada closed. A few years later, it was turned into offices for the Santa Fe Railway, drop ceilings and overhead fluorescent lights dimming its grandeur.
After the bypass went through, leaving Winslow’s downtown cut off from travelers, another blow came in 1993 when the railway announced it would be moving out of the La Posada for good.
The buildings stood empty, and the railway stopped watering the grounds. An ad-hoc group of volunteers came together to care for the vulnerable gardens. The Gardening Angels, as they were called, were instrumental in keeping the grounds alive. Members of the group also successfully got the La Posada a National Register of Historic Places designation, further protecting it, and the La Posada Foundation was formed.
In 1994 the La Posada Foundation began working with the City of Winslow on the redevelopment of the downtown area. One of the Foundation’s projects was the development of a mini-park, measuring 26 feet by 134 feet. The theme: Standing On The Corner In Winslow, Arizona, taken from the Eagles’ song “Take It Easy.” The lot for the mini-park was the location of a former business known as the Catch Pen, owned by a local Winslow family. The building burned in 1992 and had been razed; only the lot remained. The Kaufman family gifted the lot to the La Posada Foundation for the creation of the park.
When the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the La Posada on its endangered list, it drew the attention of entrepreneur Allan Affeldt. He visited the hotel in 1994, and for the next three years, negotiated the purchase of the hotel from the BNSF Railway (with the help of the local preservationists). Though not a hotelier, in 1997 he and his wife, artist Tina Mion, moved in and began the extensive restoration process. With the La Posada’s future secure, the nonprofit La Posada Foundation renamed itself the Standin’ On The Corner Foundation and opened its park on September 11, 1999. The park’s history was a story of resilience.
The town wouldn’t let itself die.
Driving through town this August, I notice an old motel with a newer hand-painted sign that says “Sleepin’ on the Corner,” and a sewing and alterations shop called, “Stitchin’ On the Korner.” I smile: It’s like the joke of adding “in bed” to the end of any sentence. Was my town’s version adding “on the corner?” And had everyone agreed at some point by secret ballot to drop the “g” from their verbs?
“What’s it been like to see the park evolve over the years?” I ask foundation board member Greg Hackler.
“Unbelievable,” he says. “We didn’t know what kind of impact the park would have. We thought it would be a colloquial kind of thing, maybe draw people from around the state. But early on, people believed in what we were doing.”
The new bronze statue of Glenn Frey’s likeness will portray him leaning with his hand on a light pole, casually surveying the action on the corner. At least that’s what I’ve been told.
I ask Hackler good-naturedly, “Will the statue be ready in time?”
“I was assured last night it’s in the making right now,” he says. “At our original statue unveiling [in 1999], ‘Easy’ came in at the very last minute in the back of the artist’s truck.” Volunteers hurriedly gathered at the park to help set the statue, finishing with little time to spare.
“It almost feels the same now,” says Hackler.
Glenn Frey tribute statue in progress at sculptor DJ Bawden’s studio.
Courtesy of DJ Bawden
I started out thinking getting another statue was a pretty corny idea. But now I’d begun to feel impressed. The Standin’ On The Corner park was a grassroots effort that showed signs of success, attracting a mix of Route 66 buffs, Eagles fans, train diehards, Mary Jane Colter enthusiasts, and those looking for Radiator Springs.
“Take It Easy” wasn’t just about having a loose, relaxed approach to life, but, to those of us who grew up in Winslow, it spoke to the idea that everyone went through hard times at some point — something many Winslow residents could identify with. Twenty-six percent of residents are living with incomes below the poverty level, which is much higher than the national average. And the city has experienced stagnant population growth for a number of years. I haven’t lived here since high school, but I’m frequently drawn back by the people and the natural beauty of the surrounding area.
A comprehensive tourism survey conducted by the Winslow Chamber of Commerce back in 2012 captures signs both positive and negative. When asked to describe their experience in the Winslow area, by far, the most frequent comment tourists made noted the friendliness of the people. On the other side of the coin were comments such as: needs more places to eat, wish the area was doing better economically, and needs rejuvenation. That seems like a pretty fair assessment.
The pace of revitalization is way too slow. That’s the simple answer. Pauken says, “I watch TripAdvisor, and I’m just as discouraged as anyone when I read, ‘I went to the park and then left because the rest of the town is a dump.’’’
“People would drive through looking for something. Now, people get out and look around,” says my dad, Bert. “But most people pose for some pictures and head out of town.” The trick has always been keeping them here.
Winslow has made progress. The number of people stopping has increased tremendously. The La Posada is listed on Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List. The Old Trails Museum, just down the street from the park, is a fantastic (and free) local history museum worth the stop; the Winslow Visitor’s Center is housed in the restored Lorenzo Hubbell Trading Post and Warehouse building constructed in 1917. The ancestral Hopi villages at Homolovi State Park are five miles away. The Petrified Forest National Park is located 50 minutes east, while Walnut Canyon National Monument is 50 miles northwest. And hey, now the town will have a new statue in the likeness of Glenn Frey.
It is hard to know how much annual revenue the park brings to Winslow without knowing the dollar amounts that all the restaurants, hotels, gift shops, and gas stations attribute to visitors of the park versus visitors to La Posada versus visitors to other area attractions. Says Bob Hall, CEO of the Winslow Chamber of Commerce, “You are not the first person to ask that question. I wish I had a clearer answer but suffice to say, tens of thousands.”
I ask Sabrina Kislingbury Butler, “What happens when people start forgetting who the Eagles are?”
“It may come to an end at some point,” she says, “but parents share their music with their kids, and the kids end up loving the music, so I’m hoping that it keeps going on, and hopefully we can always find ways to keep it fresh.”
You know, the Beatles refer to Tucson in “Get Back,” but there’s no statue of Jo-Jo. I’m starting to think maybe there should be.
Jo-Jo left his home in Tucson, Arizona / For some California grass.
I reach DJ Bawden, a sculptor and owner of Total Statue in Provo, Utah. He’s got the commission to complete the Glenn Frey memorial. He confirms work on the statue is underway. Asked to describe it, he says it’s a hippie -looking guy with a Fu Manchu mustache that resembles a 1971- or 1972-era Glenn Frey. He’s got his left hand in the hip pocket of his jeans.
“How’s it coming along?” I ask.
“Coming along fine. Head’s all finished. Should be headed to the foundry next week,” says Bawden. The statue is another tribute to an analog world, to an era when a song was written and a freeway bypass was about to change the way a small town viewed itself.
The Standin’ On The Corner Festival culminates on Saturday night with the performance of an Eagles cover band, which a few years ago, the last time I was in attendance, was the all-girl Eagles tribute band the Sheagles.
That night, I sat on a patch of grass with my brother and sister-in-law, my daughter, and my spouse, watching the crowd dance to a Mexican Banda band. Kids ran around with marshmallow shooters some enterprising vendor has made out of PVC pipe, scattering marshmallows across the dusty pavilion. One particularly exuberant man, who we nickname “the Scarecrow” because he is so tall and skinny, keeps raising his arms, outstretched and flapping, to draw more people out to the dance floor. What unites everyone is a mix of music, Navajo tacos, a light coating of dust kicked up by dancers’ feet, and beer.
When the Sheagles come on, my fellow townspeople gather around the front of the stage and stare at the eight female musicians from Nashville, seemingly tentative. But they warm up after just a couple of songs, after one of the Sheagles challenges into her mic, “Let’s hear it, Winslow!”
Their set is made up entirely of Eagles songs, building to the one song that is the cornerstone for the whole event.
“Take It Easy” is not, arguably, one of the Eagles, greatest songs, and yet, you could walk into a bar literally anywhere in the country and say you’re from Winslow, Arizona, and someone’s going to remember that lyric.
That song gave us something to believe in — this town that metaphorically wants someone to slow down and take a second look. That’s what a song can mean.
The Standin’ On The Corner Festival will take place September 23-24. The Glenn Frey Memorial statue dedication will take place Friday, September 23 from noon to 2:30 p.m. at the Standin’ On The Corner Park, Second Street and Kinsley Avenue in Winslow. A live broadcast of the dedication can be heard on KSLX 100.7 FM. For more information, visit standinonthecorner.com.
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