By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — The crowds were dancing and sampling salsa in the middle of the street. And, as it happened, it was the street that we’d worked so hard to reopen to traffic.
It took years of planning and controversy and millions of dollars to complete that model block on the Downtown Mall between Las Cruces Avenue and Griggs Avenue.
I thought about that and other changes I’ve seen in the last 15 years as I walked from the thriving Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market in its “old” home to its future home on the block that now houses the restored state-of-the-art Rio Grande Theatre. (The historic landmark is also New Mexico’s oldest adobe theater.)
The mood on the block I’d left behind was definitely “last hurrah.” Some vendors were doing their best to accentuate the positive, but many were sad and worried and some told me they were throwing in the towel and not inclined to make the move.
The first weekends in the new location will be an adjustment and many of the artists and vendors will miss the opening transition since they had already planned to participate in regional festivals during the long Labor Day weekend.
I’m a market regular and hope other regulars will keep the faith during the transition, and that all the farmers and artists we come to see will hang in there, too.
I walked from the soon-to-be-transformed block (always my personal favorite) flourishing in full-tilt fiesta mode, to the recently revamped block, hosting enthusiastic crowds enjoying the brand-new, very promising MainStreet SalsaFest.
Would someone time traveling from 20 years ago recognize downtown Las Cruces today? In fact, will we, in another couple of years?
After decades of stagnation, things finally seem to be happening very fast ... and in a recession, too.
At least, that was the opinion of a museum expert who came here to interview Las Crucens, me included, about plans for a Las Cruces history museum in the old Amador Hotel.
I haven’t heard about the final report yet, but I did turn the tables and ask her about her impressions. She said she was amazed at all the construction going on in the downtown area and around Las Cruces, like nothing else she’d seen in her travels around the country during these tough economic times.
I thought about all the new things that I see now that didn’t exist in my first ambles down the Downtown Mall in the mid-1990s ... from stylish lampposts and benches to the behemoth, burgeoning silhouettes of the new federal courthouse and Las Cruces’ almost-complete new city hall.
And I thought about things I no longer see that I saw then: Inebriated and homeless people sleeping in doorways, sometimes including migrant moms with small children asking for a dollar.
We didn’t have the Community of Hope or Jardin de los Niños then.
We had some of the same buildings in other forms, too often, crumbling. What was then Court Junior High was a decaying haven for druggies and some pretty scary characters before it was transformed into the Pueblo Revival showplace and home of Alma d’arte Charter School. The Railroad Depot was there but it wasn’t a restored museum. And it would be some years before a major asbestos removal program would make the Las Cruces Museum of Art possible.
We gained some and lost some. A gallery burned down years ago, and White Raven, Griggs & Reymond and most recently IN EFFECT are among downtown galleries that have closed their doors. But several new art galleries have sprung up: Main Street and The Big Picture, UnRavel, Blue Gate, M. Phillips, Art of Life, Justus Wright and the brand new Tierra Montaña, plus the Cottonwood Gallery in the Southwest Environmental Center, Ocotillo Roasters Evergreen Gallery, and two galleries in the Rio Grande Theatre. And Ceil and Peter Herman gave us not only a brand new theater, the Black Box, but also a gallery with rotating exhibits.
The little Log Cabin Museum left the mall, but the next museum move will be a big one, when what was once the modest Mesilla Valley Mall’s Las Cruces Natural History Museum becomes the Museum of Nature and Science, 8,900-square-foot showplace in the old Bank of the Rio Grande Building on the Downtown Mall.
Forms are changing, but the city’s alma y corazon, heart and soul, appear to be growing stronger.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org