Mazatlan is a winter haven for snowbirds from the northern U .S. and Canada. Most arrive just wanting to escape the cold and snow, and most spend most of their vacation time sauteing on the beach. Every so often boredom steps in and when it does, they leave the beaches of the Gold Zone and find their way to Machado Square in the heart of Old Town.
The Square is the locus for upscale shops, fine dining, and theater. The shady oasis with its bandshell was named for the Filipino banker who opened the port to the world. In the 19th century the surrounding buildings housed the major businesses of the day plus some family residences.
The jewel of the area is the Angela Peralta Theater. Originally called the Teatro Rubio, it opened on February 15, 1874 with a three-act drama "The Bell of the Alnudaina" a play by Juan Palou y Coll. A decade later it was to have presented the debut of Angela Peralta, known worldwide as the Mexican Nightingale, but the night before the performance the diva perished of yellow fever next door in the Hotel Iturbide.
This may have been a jinx since through the years the theater's fortunes steadily declined from opera to burlesque. In 1975 Hurricane Olivia finished what years of neglect had done to the building, and it was in ruins. In 1986 the long process of restoration began with the efforts Antonio Haas and a group of friends. The current structure is a tribute to their dedication. Built in neoclassical style, the deep sienna exterior with fluted white columns and open balconies is complemented by the interior with its horseshoe design and three levels of balcony seating with balustrades and columns of wrought iron.
Adjoining the theatre the Municipal School of Arts holds classes in music, dance, graphic arts, and pottery. The building was constructed in two stages: the first in 1840 as a small hotel and the second in 1873 as the Hotel Iturbide.
One corner of the square houses the Machado Museo Casa in the old Canobbio family home, built in 1846. Climb the stairs to the second floor and view a time capsule of the home of "a refined European socialite," Italian immigrants who lived on the upper level and used the ground floor as a drugstore. Included in the room displays is a section on Carnaval costumes. In place of the drugstore, a restaurant now occupies the ground floor.
Shoppers find a wide selection of galleries and shops on streets radiating from the square. Casa Antigua on Mariano Escobedo specializes in silver and handcrafts. NIDART on the corner of Libertad and Carnaval houses the workshops of leather artists famous for their colorful Carnaval masks. Gandarva on Constitucion and Casa Etnika on Osuna both have marvelous selections of Mexican crafts, jewelry, and decorative accessories.
From Machado Square stroll down Sixto Osuna to the Museo Arqueologico to discover more about the prehistoric past of the region. Sinaloa was never the hotbed of ancient cultures you find in other places in Mexico, but a stop at the small museum is definitely worthwhile. Exhibits are in both Spanish and English, and they chronicle both pre and post-Hispanic times. Of particular interest is the statue of Jorobado de la Nautica, the nautical hunchback, which was discovered in the port excavations. Displays include pots, projectile points, religious objects, and agricultural implements. Sala Four has a reproduction of an ancient pot burial.
Mazatlan's Art Museum is a large building with galleries opening onto a pleasant courtyard. Exhibits come and go, but there are permanent displays of prominent Sinaloa artists. A bookstore carries a huge selection, but unfortunately everything is in Spanish. Unfortunate also are the museum hours, only 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
Wandering back to my room at La Siesta, I came across a small English lending library with a few 50 cent used paperbacks on a sidewalk rack. Having exhausted all the reading material brought from the States, I stop and select a couple mysteries. A Canadian woman is also seeking reading material, and we stop for a chat about the pleasures of the Historic District.