Map to the Historic Yuma Theatre : Parking is available in city parking lots behind the theatre on Madison Avenue and to the east of Main Street on Maiden Lane. There is limited parking available on Main Street directly in front of the theatre. The theatre doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain time.
History of the Historic Yuma Theatre: Located on Main Street in the City of Yuma's central business district, the Yuma Theatre building was constructed in 1912 and originally functioned as a vaudeville and movie house. The Yuma Theatre building has performed an important role in Yuma's commercial, cultural, and social history ever since.
The Zeller Theater
In 1911, Miss Anna Desmond, a resident of Los Angeles, who had earlier lived in Yuma, and her two sisters, Catherine and Nora owned the property fronting on Main Street. The site was occupied by two small brick and frame store buildings, one housing a laundry and the other, the Parks Plumbing establishment. Deciding to improve the property, Miss Desmond engaged Brooks and Cargill, Yuma architects and on November 2, 1911 a construction contract for a theater building was let and awarded to Charles Olchester, a local contractor. Miss Desmond also arranged to lease the new building to A. J. Zeller of Yuma, one of the operators of the Airdome Theatre located at Madison and First Street.
Known as the Zeller Theater, the building was 50 feet wide and 125 feet deep with a 12 foot high ceiling. The interior was finished in "old mission style" with a seating capacity of 900 on a sloping floor. The Zeller Theater was also the first theater in Yuma to contain fixed seating and to have a raked orchestra. The Theater also had the ability to show motion pictures.
The grand opening for the Zeller Theater was February 21, 1912 with A. J. Zeller operating the theater until about the spring of 1913. At this time, he abandoned his lease and removed the fixed seating. The building was then used for the occasional boxing match with temporary seating.
On September 8, 1913, the Zeller Theater burned in a spectacular fire that destroyed the theater portion of the building. The roof was destroyed as well as the interior, the temporary seating and the "moving picture machine." Fire damage to the roof framing the store room still exists.
Within three months of the fire, Miss Desmond made arrangements to repair, rebuild and lease the new structure to a new tenant, Riley's Garage. Riley's Garage officially opened the first week of January 1914 and occupied the building for eleven and a half years.
Rebuilding And A Grand Opening
In May 1926, Miss Desmond announced she would spend $40,000 to reconstruct the building for theater purposes. Miss Desmond also entered into a 10-year lease with the Arizona movie and theater promoters Rickards and Nace to operate the theater. The Yuma Theatre had the grand opening on January 12, 1927.
Rickards and Nace operated the theatre, using it almost exclusively for films, until January 25, 1936. On that date, a fire broke out in the attic above the stage while an afternoon film was being shown, with much of the theatre portion of the building damaged beyond repair from smoke and water.
Miss Desmond announced that repair of the building would begin at once with the design contract let to local contractor Lee A. Dennis. The design included a new stage, lighting fixtures, decorations, seats, drapes, carpets and a modern cooling system. The lobby and theater were redecorated by the Tony Heinebergen Company and included Art Deco light fixtures with a "wheat shaft" theme and a bas-relief cast plaster mural installed in the lobby. Construction was reported to "run into a considerable sum."
The Yuma Theatre re-opened on April 11, 1936. In the decades since, the exterior of the Yuma Theatre has gone thru several architectural styles but in 2004 the Theatre's front facade was restored to its 1912 grandeur. The Yuma Theatre has been in operation almost continuously since 1936. Today, when you enter the Historic Yuma Theatre, you will see an interior decor that has remained virtually unchanged since 1936, complete with two monumental mermaid murals in the audience chamber and the only functioning carbon arc projectors west of the Mississippi.
The Current Theater
The Historic Yuma Theatre is now managed by the City of Yuma with events occurring year-round including original film screenings, community theater productions, Saturday children's matinees, Arizona Historical Society tours and film series, jazz festivals, art symposiums, education workshops, graduation ceremonies, choir concerts, and special events and presentations in connection with Downtown Mall events.
Forming the centerpiece of the Yuma Art Center, the newly restored Historic Yuma Theatre features seating for 640, ADA accessibility, excellent acoustics, plus state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and digital projection capability. The Historic Yuma Theatre is available for lectures, film showings, demonstrations, presentations, seminars, artist-in-residence programs, and other education gatherings.
For more information and for ticket sales please contact the Yuma Art Center at (928) 373-5202 or go on-line with the City of Yuma.
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