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14 questions about the famous decor at Lutes Casino
Can't tell if someone's a newcomer to Yuma?
Take them to Lutes Casino and see if their eyes pop just as they did the first time you laid peepers upon the wildly wonderful decor at the popular Yuma eatery.
No one can just walk into Lutes and look at the menu, not with a ceiling and walls covered with every sort of wooden, plastic, metallic and paper thingy imaginable.
The Lutes Casino decor might make Martha Stewart scream, but how it's delighted locals and tourists for years now sort of overrules all those professional opinions.
Folks certainly have questions about where all these treasures came from - and how they clean it all - so The Sun posed 14 questions to manager Matt Lutes Weber. The answers he cooked up are just as about as tasty as Lutes' hot dog-hamburger combo, the especial.
-How did this impressive collection of things get started?
Originally my uncles Bobby and Billy Lutes started the collection mainly as a means of just covering up many of the cracks in the walls and some of the finishing imperfections back in 1962.
-How many pieces are there?
To be honest, it'd be pretty hard to tell. We have a warehouse full of items and old pinball machines in storage so that we can switch items around. If I had to guess, I'd put the number in the hundreds if not thousands, depending on what constitutes an item.
-Are there any original pieces still gracing the ceiling and walls?
Probably the old movie posters are among the most original pieces. They are valuable, too, considering that practically every one has personally been signed for Billy or Bobby, including Clark Gable thanking Bobby for the dove hunt, Mae West asking him to come on up and see her sometime, and Marilyn Monroe's "thanks big boy." Bobby even somehow managed to find himself in an old group photo of all the major MGM film stars of the '40s.
-What's the most valuable piece in the collection?
The original art hanging in Lutes is probably the most valuable. There are several paintings from Donald Bradford, Jens Johannsen and others which would be considered very valuable to the right buyer. They are considered especially valuable to Billy, who knows all the artists personally. Lutes Casino still displays pieces from the original Leave It at Lutes Art Exhibition from 1975 that Billy helped to organize.
-This is going to be a toughie, but what's the most admittedly strange piece?
It's hard to say. We have an old operating-room light fixture hanging above a table that's pretty bizarre. It was from the original county hospital and was designed for dentistry, and uses a variety of intricate mirrors to reflect light from different angles to avoid shadows.
-So how do you clean all the decorations?
We usually do a massive cleaning in the summertime when business has slowed. Obviously this requires a very big - and very heavy - ladder, so we do touchups throughout the year whenever a light bulb goes out. As far as the items reachable by hand, let's just say that Bobby has a saying we've all become familiar with: "You've got time to lean, you've got time to clean!"
-Have any ever fallen from the ceiling or walls?
I don't think anything heavy or dangerous has ever fallen. It's all been very carefully secured. That said, we have had several customers unfortunate enough to be sitting at the bar only to find that Bobby has lowered a big hairy plastic spider on a string and pulley in front of their food while they're about to take a bite, especially around Halloween.
-How often do people offer to buy a certain decorative goodie?
Fairly often. Usually when the snowbird season begins, we seem to get more interest from customers in purchasing items. We seem to have a lot of customers who are interested in purchasing some of our old Brunswick pool tables, which originally came from the University of Arizona, Bobby's alma mater.
-Which piece do people pine for most?
We probably get the most requests from customers about where they can purchase the prints of the naked bicycle races or the cartoons of the naked skiers. As far as the most adamant request we have ever had for an individual item, we had a customer who was an interior decorator redecorating a building somewhere on the Marine base who tried forever to purchase the wooden propeller we have hanging across our kitchen. It was originally on a multi-engine seaplane that went down somewhere off the coast of El Golfo in Baja Mexico.
-Ever get complaints about the "naked bicyclists" pictures being a bit too spicy for some folks?
Very rarely do we get any complaints, and we keep those pictures close together in one area. We get more complaints from customers who want to sit at the table where those pictures are hung when it's occupied. But if anyone ever does have a problem, we are always happy to move them to another table without any nude cyclists in their line of sight.
-What's the one thing that seems to be the favorite of most employees?
I think everyone has their favorite. My personal favorite is still probably the boot through the ceiling. As a small child, it fascinated me that someone could still be up there, stuck in a hole through the ceiling. Now I have a 3-year-old daughter who seems to be just as concerned as I was then about that boot. Of course, around this time of the year, she's worried that Santa Claus is stuck up in our ceiling and wants me to get up there and free Santa to make sure he'll be able to deliver everyone's presents (especially her presents).
-How often does someone try to leave with something tucked under their arm?
Every once in awhile something disappears, but it's pretty rare. I like to think that people appreciate the collection too much to tarnish it with theft. Or perhaps they think it's mostly just a bunch of kitschy junk.
-How often does something new join the melee?
We have people who come in offering to sell us something pretty often. But a lot of it is donated, however. It's not uncommon for someone to bequeath an item to us on their passing, so that some small piece of them will live on in Lutes Casino for future generations to look at. Can you imagine what some future archaeologist would make of Lutes Casino, digging it up centuries from now?
-What's the newest addition?
My uncle Billy just purchased an old 1920 Straub player piano. It needs a little work with the bellows and is so far out of tune that cats and dogs start howling whenever we play it, but it will soon be a great-sounding addition to the Lutes decor.
Darin Fenger can be reached at
email@example.com or 539-6860.