Friday, February 13, 2009

Chae and the Winslow Theater

On our way to the Winslow (AZ) Visitors’ Center, we passed the Winslow Theater and knew we had to see if a tour were possible.

My question to the Center staff person about arranging such a tour was met with “Just stop at the La Posada Hotel and ask for Allan.” Since we were headed there next, we gladly followed this suggestion.

So, after asking about taking photographs in the Hotel, we casually asked if we could talk to Allan about arranging a tour of the Theater. Sheila said Allan was not due in today, but that she would call Chae (Shay) about giving us a tour. While waiting for Chae to return her call, we talked about traveling and what to see in Winslow. Upon hearing where we hailed from, Sheila mentioned that her husband was from Croydon, PA (45 minutes from Wycombe). This led to reverent comments about the wonderful sticky buns from Fritz’s Bakery.

(Later in the day, we learned that “Allan” was Allan Affeldt, the owner of the La Posada Hotel and the person responsible for heading up the $12 million restoration project and the owner of the Winslow Theater. And we bop in asking “to see Allan”—we explained the basis for our presumptive request to Sheila, and she just laughed--because Allan is a pretty down-to-earth guy and neither she nor Allan would be offended.)

We met Chae, who manages the Winslow, and his assistant, Justin, at the theater, and it quickly became apparent that they both enjoyed their work in this in-the-process-of-being-restored theater. The theater tour began in the projection room with Chae explaining the operation of the projectors.

The Winslow, originally called The Rialto Theatre, opened in the early 1920’s. The theatre presented movies along with live stage acts. It sported a Meisel & Sullivan pipe organ which was used occasionally until 1953, when a major fire damaged the theatre.

After major remodeling, such as this decorative grill work over the screen, the theater operated sporadically until about the mid-1980s. It sat boarded up with its marquee removed until a few years ago when Allan Affeldt bought it and reopened it.

The Winslow presently shows films and plans to eventually add live music performances and community activities. Chae noted that a recent film festival met with moderate success, and he hopes that the festival will be re-introduced.

Backstage we could see some of the remainders of the stage show period of the theater's history. Ladders leading to the ceiling raised more questions than answers, but they may have been necessary to work with scenery and curtains.

On the floor of the stage, a piece of lumber covered a stairway that led to to the catacombs under the theatre where many small dressing rooms from the old vaudeville days were located. We decided to take Chae's description of the downstairs rather than descend the stairs to the unlighted area beneath the stage.

Chae then reported a brief history of the ghost of the Winslow Theater. Several witnesses say a ghost of a man sits in the same seat in the theatre as though he is watching a movie on the screen. All alone, he sits down front—near the lower left hand side of the theatre and watches matinees from another time.

Managers of the theatre have lived in an upstairs apartment above the theatre. They often feel the presence of someone in their living quarters.

With his enthusiasm for the work of the theater and ideas about the next phase of the Winslow's rebirth, we're betting on the theater and Chae.