To preserve past, you must act


“You can’t have it both ways.” You’ve heard it. We say it time and again. The recent issue of the “old hospital” on Park Street being torn down presents the perfect opportunity to examine this quote.

Countless folks have moved to Boulder City for its historic charm. They purchased historical homes and spend money preserving, restoring and renovating. They maintain the historical character of their piece of Boulder City’s past.

Tourists visit our city for a look at the Historic Boulder Dam Hotel and the homes on Birch and Cherry streets. They are fascinated when you tell them City Hall was the original school and a library, among other services, set up shop in what is now the police station.

While I have lived in Boulder City only 20 years, I was fortunate to have known original dam workers Lee Tilman and Tommy Nelson, who shared countless stories with me about the early days of Boulder City. I can hear Tommy now talking about the American Legion and the Damboree parades and Lee chuckling when a youngster, during a class room presentation, would ask him where the bathrooms were at the dam site.

I remember Billie Bates, a close friend of Nelson and the first female secretary to the director at the Bureau of Reclamation, telling me about “dime a dip suppers” at The Church of Latter-day Saints on Fifth Street. I can hear her kind, gentle voice telling me of her adventures as a young woman.

As a writer for the Boulder City News, I was honored to have met Madeline Garrett and Mary Eaton whose husbands were generally on opposite sides of issues concerning Boulder City. Their charm and sweetness are feelings that won’t ever leave me.

I got to know Pat and Joe Lappin who lived across the street from the old hospital. I wish I could talk to them today and hear what they would say about tearing it down. Pat Lappin was the first curator of the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association and began work on building the museum’s collections.

There is more to the issue of razing the original Boulder City Hospital building than simply removing a “trashed” building that is too expensive to renovate. Does the community have the will to preserve and renovate historic buildings or not? If residents of Boulder City want to boast of the historical charm of their slice of paradise, then they should work with the current developer to determine how this particular piece of history might be renovated, restored or preserved instead of destroyed.

Perhaps if the city’s Historic Preservation Committee had any powers whatsoever, a serious discussion with the developer would have taken place in public long before the issue of demolishing the hospital building was simply brought before the committee to announce the fate of a structure where so much history happened during the construction of the dam.

This issue is not about telling a private owner what to do with his/her property. It is not about Boulder City acquiring the building. It is about what is important to the community and how the community wants to see Boulder City proceed into the future.

If the community wants to benefit from its historic character, then do something about it. If the community wants to attract tourists who spend money at local businesses, then do something about it. This issue is larger than one historic site.

The Colosseum in Rome is being restored with private funds, as is the Trevi Fountain. The Italian government is not spending taxpayer dollars to preserve history. Folks with money stepped up to restore these sites because they are significant.

If structures in Boulder City’s historic district are important enough to appear on a historic register are they not important enough to be preserved and restored by the community?

There are those who believe saving the old hospital is not worth the expense. No one has enough money to properly renovate or restore the structure. What will you do with the building? Better to tear it down and building something new.

If that’s what the community wants, that is what will happen. Just remember the next time you hear someone brag about the historic buildings in Boulder City and the old hospital is simply a photograph: “You can’t have it both ways.”

Rose Ann Miele is a journalist and was public information officer for Boulder City for nine years. She can be reached at roseannrab@hotmail.com or at 702-347-9924.