Las Vegas Sun

September 23, 2018

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Tuesday vote will help determine historic Boulder City hospital’s fate

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Boulder City / Hoover Dam Museum

This is a photo of the Boulder City hospital and doctors’ residence taken in 1932. The hospital was closed in 1935 after Six Companies Inc. finished Hoover Dam. It responded in 1943 to care for the war wounded.

There are few signs of life at the historic Six Companies Hospital in Boulder City. Boards cover the windows. Piles of dirt and weeds jut from the ground.

The empty building, once a vibrant place, now has a future in limbo.

A LONG HISTORY

The building that housed Six Companies Hospital in Boulder City has had many uses over the years.

• After the dam was completed, the hospital sat empty for three years before it became a museum for artifacts the Bureau of Reclamation rescued from the rising waters of Lake Mead.

• The bureau moved out in 1941, and the U.S. Public Health Service reopened the building in 1943 as a hospital for the war wounded. The Bureau of Reclamation managed the hospital until Boulder City took ownership of it in 1954. Twenty years later, Boulder City built a new hospital, and the former Six Companies Hospital building sat vacant for three years.

• In 1976, the Sisters of Charity renovated the building and turned it into a wellness center. In 2001, the Sisters of Charity sold the site to the Western diocese of the Orthodox Church. The church sold it to Schams in July after more than six years of waiting for a buyer.

Preservationists want to keep the former hospital intact. A developer wants to tear it down to build housing.

The Boulder City Council will decide Tuesday whether the developer — a city planning commissioner — will receive a permit to demolish the 83-year-old building at 701 Park Place.

“At City Hall, we all have our own opinions about what should and shouldn’t be happening,” City Manager David Fraser said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have authority to say what people can do with their private property.”

When it opened in 1931, the hospital treated sick and injured workers building what later became the Hoover Dam. Six Companies Inc., the dam’s general contractor, owned the building but sold it after completing the dam in 1936. From then on, the building served as government offices, a wellness center and a religious retreat.

Randolph Schams, a local developer and the city’s planning commissioner, bought the building in July for $550,000. On Oct. 21, the city planning commission awarded a demolition permit to Schams, who recused himself from the vote.

Not everyone agreed with the move. Shortly after Schams bought the hospital, a group of advocates formed the Historic Boulder City Foundation to try to keep the building standing. Keegan Strouse, a UNLV architecture graduate student and Boulder City native, helped start the charge and wants to turn the hospital into a museum exploring the Great Depression in Boulder City.

The group hired an attorney to appeal the planning commission’s decision to the City Council.

The debate has drummed up interest in Boulder City’s history, said Shirl Naegle, collections manager at the Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum. There’s rarely a lot of discussion until a site is threatened, “then there’s consciousness about the city’s past,” Naegle said.

Boulder City has lost many of its historically significant landmarks over the years. Gone are a World War II-era Army base, Depression-era government housing and former Bureau of Reclamation buildings, although the Historic Boulder Theater still projects movies and hosts ballets. The Boulder Dam Hotel, which once hosted Shirley Temple and Bette Davis, now serves as the city museum.

Schams, who said he donates to the museum, said advocates should focus on the assets the town already has. The city helps fund the existing museum and relies heavily on volunteers and donations to keep it going. Few grant opportunities are available and turning the hospital into another municipal-funded venture would cost millions, Schams said.

“If you look at the logical side, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Schams said. “When Hoover Dam was built, every building in Boulder City was meant to be torn down.”

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