The buildings in downtown Le Mars date back to the 1850s, with one of the first hotels still standing. Most of the buildings are early 1900s with various changes as aesthetic periods have dictated over the decades. One of our downtown buildings housed the 1st Chevrolet dealer in the nation.
In 1904, the first Portland concrete street in Iowa and the 2nd concrete street in the nation was laid on 1st Ave SW (formerly Eagle Street), on old Highway 75 as it met Highway 3. It was poured in large diamond squares which were grooved every four inches to help prevent horses from slipping on this new surface. It was paid for by private businesses on the route. It was 5 years before the next Iowa towns laid concrete streets: Davenport, Des Moines, Eddyville, and Knoxville. A two-day extravaganza was held in 1964 to commemorate this historic event. Of course, the very progressive Le Mars blacktopped this ½ block when they blacktopped the brick streets in our downtown.
Le Mars is currently in the process of requesting that the downtown be recognized and listed on the National Historic Registry.
Le Mars is a retail hub for area towns surrounding it. Remsen, Kingsley, Akron and Orange City are strong supporters of the Le Mars retail market.
Although many buildings are very old, over the years the building owners have ‘improved’ their facades. There appears to have been a number of facade changes in the 1920’s and again another push in the 1960-70’s. Some of the facades have now been returned to an earlier era. Many more are in the works for restoration through the Main Street Program.
Although almost fully occupied, the Le Mars downtown needs the ability to use tax credits and other incentives for building owners to improve the facades and infrastructure. Second and third floor living quarter remodeling is also hoped for, as many elegant apartments originally occupied the upper floors.
The Olson Cultural Event Center, a large outdoor pavilion, located in the Main Street district is used for entertainment opportunities, festivals, farmers market and outdoor movies. The Cultural Center sits on a quarter block of land situated one block off main street.
A Main Street Streetscape project was finished on Central Avenue with street lights, benches, trees, bike racks and trash containers added to the ambience of downtown. Additional changes will be made on Plymouth Street to complete the project.