Main Street has always been a center of activity, dating back to the days when it was the end of the Gila Trail. During 1849, more than 60,000 travelers heading to the California gold fields followed Main Street to the rope ferry that would carry them across the Colorado.
But because of its proximity to the river, downtown was repeatedly destroyed by flooding - the last "big one" coming in 1916 - as adobe bricks melted back into mud.
Most buildings that now stand on Main Street date to the 1920s, when the street was first paved.
The 1933 post office (now Gowan Company headquarters) was one of the few buildings completed during the Great Depression.
But while downtown was abuzz through the busy war years and the 1950s, growth eventually shifted away from the historic town center, and the creation of a "pedestrian mall" on Main Street in 1969 failed to staunch the exodus.
The last decade has brought new life to the old downtown and the riverfront. Milestones include a new city hall and restoration of the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge (both 2002), the debut of the Yuma Art Center in 2004, and the reopening of Main Street to vehicle traffic in 2007, with a "convertible road" that accommodates a variety of festivals and events.
Yuma Art Center
The Historic Yuma Theatre, originally built in 1911, was a vaudeville theater before it was converted to a movie house. Now restored, it serves as the centerpiece of the Yuma Art Center (254 S. Main St., 373-5202) and hosts a variety of shows. Don't miss the Art Deco murals in the theater and cast plaster bas-relief in the lobby, which date from a Depression-era renovation.
The Art Center also offers classes for children, youth and adults, and provides space and support for a number of arts organizations. Yuma Fine Arts Association (329-6607), curates the main galleries and operates a gift shop featuring work by local artists. North End Artists Co-op members demonstrate their work 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays at the United Building (on sale through the Art Center other days, hours), and the Village Art Gallery (341-0039) is also now showing work by local artists in an adjoining space.
Doing the Downtown Stroll
Folks have been strolling to Lutes Casino (782-2192), since the 1920s. Though this Yuma original is called a “casino,” there isn’t (officially) any gambling at Arizona’s oldest pool hall, known for its “eclectic” décor and fun menu. For something completely different, don’t miss Carla Renee’s (782-0499), a crisp contemporary restaurant featuring California cuisine, a full-service bar and sidewalk dining. Or if you’re hungry for pizza and Italian specialties, try the stylish Da Boyz (783-8383) in the renovated Kress Building. Lighthouse Coffee Bar & Bistro (783-7000) offers fresh brewed java and homemade fare.
Fortified for some shopping, head over to Ms. Betty’s Boutique (329-4409) where the merchandise – and the owner – are always hot regardless of the weather. Great gifts are also in store at Prickly Pear (343-0390), along with fabulous home decorating items. At Basket Creations and More (341-9966), you can buy gourmet Medjool dates, gift baskets and more – along with a frosty date shake or warm cookie.
For hand-crafted items, don’t miss “pottery row,” where Tompkins Pottery (782-1934) and Colorado River Pottery (343-0413) face each other across a quiet block of Second Street. To get your own creative juices flowing, stop at Mementoes (782-5775), which offers supplies and classes for scrapbooking, stamping and other paper crafts, or Wild Imagination Pottery Studio (247-9428), where you can create your own a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
A block to the south on Madison Avenue, you can check out local history – and a beautiful garden and aviaries with live birds – at the Sanguinetti House Museum (782-1841). E.F. Sanguinetti’s gardens are also home to The Garden Café (783-1491), and its Redondo Room gift shop, where you can buy signature “Yuma Spice Tea” to enjoy hot or cold. Also on Madison, sample German cuisine and entertainment at Das Bratwurst Haus (329-4777).browse.
Two special spots for wine lovers include Old Town Wine Cellar (373-0405), with a array of vintages from all over the world - try a taste of Mike's own selections from 5-7 p.m. every Thursday and Friday. At Yuma's Main Squeeze (247-9338), they're making wine from grapes sourced from around the world - have a party and create a batch to celebrate a special occasion or make your own special gifts.