Boulder City: Nevada’s first planned community
With quaint brick homes, art deco commercial buildings and shaded quiet streets, Boulder City may be Southern Nevada’s most picture-perfect community and there’s a reason for that.
The town owes its existence to Hoover Dam. Work began on the dam in 1931 and shortly after, builders started constructing houses on the future site of the town.
While it’s difficult to attribute an exact birth date to Boulder City, several important “firsts” occurred in 1930-31, including the construction of the Boulder City train station and the opening of a post office.
Additionally, in March 1931, federal government surveyors began laying out the town, which is generally recognized as one of the country’s first completely planned communities.
An extremely detailed townsite map was completed on May 26, 1931, which is perhaps the closest thing to a birthday for Boulder City.
The federal government envisioned a community of 5,000 people and its comprehensive maps designated everything from the kinds of business to be allowed to the varieties of trees to be planted. And despite the fact that gambling and alcohol were legal in Nevada, the feds banned both in the planned community.
The map was thorough; buildings were arranged in a fan pattern that spread outward from the Reclamation Administration Building, the dam’s headquarters, which was located on a hill north of town. Residential neighborhoods were rectangular with sidewalks constructed around the perimeter and alleys down the center.
The town design also featured several parks, including Government Park in the center of the community. It is all this greenery that makes Boulder City so unique in dry Southern Nevada.
Considerable thought went into the development of the parks. The federal government brought in an accomplished landscaper named — no joke — Wilbur Weed.
Weed studied the desert soil and worked with landscape architects from other dry areas to determine which types of trees would thrive the harsh climate. His research showed that elms, poplars, cypresses, sycamores and evergreens had a good chance of survival. Other than a rose garden that never thrived and was removed in the first year, the results of Weed’s work still can be found throughout the city.
In addition to the beautiful landscaping, Boulder City has a number of well-preserved buildings and homes. One of the best examples of the city’s 1930s architecture is the Boulder City Hotel, constructed in 1933.
The hotel, located in the middle of the town, has long been one of the centerpieces of the community. Built to accommodate all the tourists watching construction of the dam, the two-story Dutch Colonial building originally included an elegant paneled lobby and 33 guest rooms with private tiled baths.
Early guests included a number of celebrities, including comedian/actor Harold Lloyd, actor Ronald Coleman and the Maharajah and Maharanee of Indore, India.
The hotel was expanded over the years, adding another 48 rooms and a large dining room. The tourism business began to decline during World War II, when gas became scarce, and the hotel entered a period of decline. In recent years, it has been lovingly restored and remains open for business.
A walk through the town’s tree-lined streets reveals other architectural gems, including the art deco movie theatre, the majestic red brick municipal building and a number of churches and homes.
In keeping with the historic, 1930s ambiance, the newer city office building incorporates a brick facade that allows it to blend with the rest of the town.
The town also maintains a busy schedule of special events each year, including several art shows. One of the oldest is the Art in the Park show, which has been held each October for more than a half-century.
A good book on the development of Boulder City, available at the museum and other local shops, is “In the Beginning,” a history of Boulder City by Dennis McBride.
For more information contact the Boulder City Chamber of Commerce, http://www.bouldercitychamberofcommerce.com/.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.