Las Vegas Sun - History

August 24, 2019

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Boulder City: A gateway to the past

Town home to Hoover Dam, but not casinos

Boulder City

Signs in Boulder City at the intersection of U.S. 93 and Buchanan Boulevard welcome guests to the town. The city prohibited gambling at its inception and is one of two cities in Nevada where gambling is illegal. In 1969, Boulder City legalized the sale of alcohol. Launch slideshow »

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  • Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler on preserving the city's old buildings.

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  • Tobler on living in Boulder City.

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  • Tobler on how residents feel about growth.

Located half an hour outside of the bright lights of Las Vegas lies a quiet town that some might consider to be the Mayberry of Southern Nevada. Although the town has grown, it still displays parts of its beginning.

During the Great Depression, times were hard and jobs were scarce. But when the government announced their plan to construct a massive dam now known as Hoover Dam, thousands saw a glimmer of hope in the desert and made the trip to Southern Nevada.

When they arrived, people created squatters camps while waiting for word of work. The project would require that houses be provided for workers by Six Companies, Inc., the joint venture of the six construction companies building what was then known as the Boulder Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation built the housing compound that would become Boulder City in 1932, using a design by architect Saco Rink DeBoer. Six Companies also opened up a company store so workers could get goods without traveling.

Today the layout of Boulder City hasn't changed much thanks to residents holding on to their city's roots, grounded in the dam project. "The downtown area and the tree streets, those types of areas were built at the time of the dam and a lot of people still hold on to that original design," said Mayor Roger Tobler.

A historic preservation committee was also set up recently to help residents keep their homes historically aesthetic when making repairs, Tobler said. And Boulder City's original parks are still in tact.

In 1933, the Boulder Dam hotel was built to accommodate visiting government officials and project managers. It's still the central hub of Boulder City's historic district. The hotel houses the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 19, 1982.

One thing that made the labor camp unique was that rather than men leaving their families behind, some brought them along. The presence of children meant that a school was needed so, after residents petitioned Six Companies and the federal government, the Boulder City School was built in 1932 and advised by the Las Vegas School Board.

The sense of community continued to grow and a year later, in 1933, residents of different religious denominations came together to build the Grace Community Church.

During construction of the dam, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation wanted to keep workers under federal control and avoid the vices popular in Las Vegas. Gambling and the sale of alcohol were prohibited in the city, so workers often came to Las Vegas where such activities were strongly promoted.

In 1969, alcohol sales in Boulder City were permitted, but today gambling continues to be prohibited within city limits so residents who want to gamble still make the trip.

Boulder City didn't become an independent municipal government until 1958, when the federal government approved the Boulder City Act. Robert N. Broadbent, a pharmacist, was elected as the city's first mayor after the town was officially incorporated on Jan. 4, 1960.

The city operates under the council-manager form of government. There are five members of the city council, including the mayor. The mayor acts as presiding officer at council meetings and the council appoints a city manager to execute the policies of the city council.

In the late 1970s, Boulder City instituted a controlled growth ordinance which limits the number of residential and commercial building permits issued annually. According to City Code Title 11, Chapter 41, Section 6, only 120 permits for homes can be given each construction year and hotels can have no more than 35 rooms.

In 1995 the city purchased over 150 square miles of adjoining land, making Boulder City the largest city geographically in Nevada at almost 203 square miles, which allows the city to maintain control over growth. Much of the land is currently held for conservation and all land sales over an acre must be approved by voters.

Residents are determined to preserve the small town atmosphere that makes Boulder City so charming.

"We don't want rampant uncontrolled growth like we've seen in the (Las Vegas) valley," said City Council Member Andrea Anderson. "We want to stay a small community."

One benefit of limiting growth is not overtaxing the system, Anderson said. The city has two municipal golf courses, a city pool, lighted tennis courts, a racquetball complex and a BMX bicycle track. With such a small number of residents, the facilities are easily maintained.

Limiting growth also has the benefit of keeping crime rates low, which contributes to a greater sense of community. "If something unusual happens here, your neighbor will call the police," Anderson said.

That sense of community, many people feel, is what makes Boulder City so special. "We still have that small town lifestyle," Mayor Tobler said. "We're very proud of that. I don't see that being changed. I think the residents, a lot of people who've moved here even recently, that's one of the reasons why they moved into Boulder City."

The Fourth of July parade is a tradition that dates back to 1948. People who have moved away from Boulder City often return to enjoy it, according to Mayor Tobler. In addition, an annual Christmas parade also brings back familiar faces to the city.

The Boulder City Fine Arts Festival also takes place every year, as well as the outdoor festival Art in the Park. Established on Aug. 31, 1963, Art in the Park started out as a fund-raiser for the Boulder City Hospital Auxiliary. Over 1,000 people showed up to the first festival, which raised $3,000 for the hospital.

Despite being a small town, tourism has been a part of Boulder City from the beginning. Many of its first businesses were in the Boulder City Auto Court, which was originally a tourist camp.

Its close proximity, as well as historical ties, to the Hoover Dam and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area ensure that tourists will continue to pass through. But today Boulder City also encourages people to visit for a different reason -- to escape the hustle and bustle of big-city life.

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