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photoThe Winthrop Auditorium Association’s annual potluck dinner meeting.

Gather Up
The Winthrop Barn

The Methow Valley’s largest meeting and banquet facility is the Winthrop Auditorium aka “The Barn.”

It has an official capacity of 500 people, complete kitchen facilities, plus two meeting rooms in addition to the main auditorium and stage—all of which can be rented.

The Barn is owned by the Town of Winthrop, which pays for utilities—water, sewer, lights and garbage—and provides insurance on the building and its contents, according to Michelle Gaines, town clerk.

However, it is operated and maintained by a volunteer board of directors and three part-time employees—an administrator, a bookkeeper and a maintenance man, who have been known to work without pay when times are lean.

User fees, grant money and memberships in the Winthrop Auditorium Association—$25 a year for individuals and $45 for a family of three or more—have kept the doors open. A $50,000 bequest from the late Red McComb has meant the Barn could upgrade the kitchen. Another $35,000 was recently received from McComb’s estate, giving it a financial cushion, says Susan Philbrick, Barn administrator.

curved roof large wood buildingABOVE: The original Quonset-style building. BELOW: Floodwater surrounded the peak-roofed building in 1948. Photo courtesy Shirley Haase.building surrounded by flood water

“We have this wonderful kitchen and it needs to be utilized more,” says Philbrick, who would like to see the Barn in constant use. “I want to see it … utilized by the community more … for exercise classes and school events.” And she wants folks to know that there are discounted rates Monday through Thursday to encourage mid-week use for small gatherings.

The Barn is used by everyone from a small weekly sewing group to an annual Zumiez sportswear company managers’ training that brings hundreds of young urban salespeople to the venue. The Winthrop Town Council, Winthrop Chamber of Commerce and local Kiwanis Club meet regularly at the Barn. It is the site for celebratory events including weddings and gala fundraisers for local non-profit organizations such as Room One’s annual Soup Dinner and the Ski Ball. Methow Arts stages special entertainment at the Barn. And most recently, it was where local kids shared their wish lists with Santa Claus as part of Christmas at the End of the Road.

Philbrick, who is on site from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, says the Barn has been run “like a business” since she’s been involved. So she recently invited Shirley Haase and Frankie Waller, two local women with more historical memory than her own nine years, to meet at the Barn and talk about the auditorium’s earlier less commercial chapters.

The original auditorium was a Quonset-style wooden structure built in 1931 that was the site of many a dance and community gathering. Photographs show that at some point the building was given a peaked roof. That building survived the 1948 flood but collapsed under heavy snow in January 1971.

It was unthinkable for the town not to have a gathering place, according to Haase. “It had belonged to everybody and nobody,” she says of the auditorium. Anybody who wanted to use it could. “You came in, set up and cleaned up after yourselves.”

photoFrom left to right: Frankie Waller, Shirley Haase and Susan Philbrick recently shared stories about the Winthrop Auditorium’s history.

Waller recalls coming to dances as a child. Everybody brought their kids to dances in those days, she said. They slept along one of the walls until their folks were ready to go home. She also recalled that “there were melodramas every [year for] ’49ers” and junior and senior proms.

Haase and Waller recall that there was hardly ever an admittance fee and no need to collect maintenance money because everybody just pitched in and did what needed to be done.

For example, the building had a wood-burning stove, and every fall the men would go to the woods and cut enough to get through the winter, Haase recalls.

She was one of seven active members of the American Legion Auxiliary who decided to get a new auditorium built after the old one collapsed. “The auxiliary’s idea was to have a building where we could come and just be old Methow Valleyites,” she adds. The women started talking to people, including Frank Buell of Farmer’s State Bank, who said, ‘We’ll help any way we can.’”

The ladies organized a series of fund-raising casino nights at what is now the Winthrop Town Hall on Riverside Avenue. “People came from all over the county,” Haase recalls. As money was raised others got interested in the project and pitched in, says Haase. And there was a big article in the Wenatchee World newspaper.

photoA list of last month’s events at the Barn. February-March and September-November are the busiest months for rentals. The largest annual private event is Zumiez managers’ training in early May.

“There were nine or ten families that all borrowed $1,000 from the bank and that made enough to start the building. Back then $1,000 was a lot of money but we wanted it that bad,” Haase says.

Many materials were donated and there were more volunteer workers than the auxiliary ever dreamed would pitch in. The “Auxiliary Seven” all worked. “We dug footings, pounded nails and I remember hanging from the ceiling painting,” Haase recalls. “We did it all. Amazingly enough we got it to where we wanted it.”

A photograph of the auxiliary members hangs in the stairway to the upstairs meeting room. An accompanying label is headlined: “The Instigators.” It says, “The dream to build this facility started with the following ladies: Shirley Haase, Joanne Erickson, Peggy Dufresne, Lori Sullivan, Carol Lester, June Gatewood and Phyllis Johnson.” All but Johnson, who was not available the day the picture was taken, are shown holding a tennis shoe.

Haase laughs recalling that although tennie runners were the group’s trademark, she told the photographer she wore cowboy boots not tennis shoes. However, she cooperated by holding someone else’s shoe for the picture.

On March 7,1983, the tennie runners were retired, according to another informative sign. The building was completed and all loans were paid in full. The dream of a barn built by the community, for the community was fulfilled. Four of the seven women responsible for getting the barn built are alive, although Haase is the only one still living in Winthrop.

Waller, who grew up and went to school here, says she found last year’s all-school reunion at the Barn “heartwarming” because so many people came back for it. She emphasized that the event, which is held every five years, is an “all Winthrop reunion,” not just a school reunion. Anyone with ties to Winthrop past or present is welcome.

Philbrick says she will continue to promote more local use going forward. “It’s not my Barn, it’s everybody’s,” she says.

To learn more about rental rates and facilities see the Barn website at

photo of front of winthrop barnThe current Winthrop Auditorium was finished and paid for in 1983.


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