11. Winslow Theater

Theater - NAUButton - ListenThe Winslow Theater, formerly the Rialto, was built in 1926 by the same company that built the Flagstaff Orpheum, the Phoenix Orpheum, and the Tucson Rialto Theater.  The grand opening was held in July of 1927, boasting a fine building with 650 seats on 2 levels.  The theater featured live stage performances and showed silent films accompanied by a pipe organ.  The dressing rooms and wings of the stage were ready to host the greatest performance stars of the time.

Rilato-648x437Leorena Shipley grew up in Winslow and she dreamed of being a famous actress on the stage.  She performed at the local theater regularly through High School and stole the show.  She attended UofA to earn her teaching certificate and continued acting while in college.  She returned to Winslow to teach at the elementary school while acting on the side.   Eventually she gave up teaching and moved to Los Angeles.  Leorena adopted the stage name “Norma Deane”.  She became a well-known stage actress across the United States, even performing in Canada.  Her hometown couldn’t be prouder of her. 

IofAW 122tDespite her fame, Leorena remained loyal to her family and her hometown, visiting often and always taking the time to talk to her prior pupils.  One fall, Leorena brought a few friends home for a visit.  A group of family and friends decided to take a Harvey Car Tour to the Petrified forest.  The tour meandered through the desert and crossed the Cottonwood Wash on their way home.  Unbeknownst to the group, monsoon rains had washed out the underpinnings of the bridge.  The first car in the tour made it across the bridge with no trouble, but Leorena’s car fell backward into the Little Colorado River as the bridge collapsed under the vehicle.

The car began to sink in the flooded river and the passengers were unable to open the doors because of the weight of the mud.  One man was able to roll down a window and climb out, helping to lift the other passengers to safety.  In the chaos, no one noticed that Leorena had hit her head when the car fell.  The river fought its way into the vehicle and the car began sinking into quicksand.  Volunteer crews worked around the clock to get her out, but the monsoon-swollen river and quicksand were too much.  It took two days for the car to be extracted from the riverbed.  Leorena’s body had been shoved to the floorboards by the weight of the quicksand.

IofAW 29tMiss Shipley’s funeral was attended by friends, family, students and the Hollywood elite.  They lined Second Street as a dark car pulled away from the funeral and headed towards the Desert View Cemetery.  The entire town stopped for an hour as local businesses shut their doors to allow their employees to say goodbye to Leorena.  Leorena’s family provided a single rose for her dressing room every time she performed.  It is said that the scent of roses still lingers in the dressing room hallway.   Sometimes, the shadow of a beautiful young woman dancing can be seen reflected on the darkened movie screen.  If you’re in the theater alone, some people say they have even heard her singing.  Leorena was only 29 years old.Theater Logo

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