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Building’s moniker traced to its slogan

As deadline approached, Amy reminded me that the two of us had frequently puzzled over that long, old, cream-colored building on the west side of U.S. Highway 93 just north of Buchanan Boulevard: the one with “Safety First” emblazoned in big white letters at the roof line. What was that all about?

First, I quizzed the wise dudes around the Romeo breakfast table. Several offered up something but no clear pattern was discernible. I did get the idea it was used by the Boy Scout Eagles and run by the city’s parks and recreation department.

Roger Hall, who heads that city agency, politely sat me down at his desk and informed me that the Safety First landlord was actually Lake Mead National Recreation Area. He gave me a couple of contact names.

Over the next few days I learned a fair amount. The ownership of the land has not been in contention since the United States won it from Spain in 1848. In 1928, the Bureau of Reclamation, part of the Interior Department, was given the reins in anticipation of the big project in Boulder Canyon. They then contracted with Six Companies Inc. to build the dam and the necessary accoutrements to it.

The core of the building was first erected in 1931 by that familiar entity and was captioned in an early photo of the open-sided structure as the “6 Companies Maintenance Building.” That name appears in differing form several times, captioned with the words maintenance, engineering, railroad or combinations thereof.

At some point siding was put up on the building and references emphasized the railroad. But I got different descriptions of that, as well. Photographs at the Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum identify it as for maintenance and repair of train engines and cars, but oral explanations called it a switching station for the delivery of steel and concrete, which was loaded by a big crane onto trains that ran out to the dam. The original crane and tracks are still in the building so I kind of think both versions were true.

The words “Safety First” were painted decades ago as a cautionary slogan, not the name of a building, but it is now commonly called by that name.

Six Companies left after completion of construction and its local assets reverted to the Bureau of Reclamation. That prestigious agency still has a major presence in Boulder City and Patti Aaron there made a gracious effort to round up some longtime employees who could clue me in on the midlife activities at Safety First. She was not successful since the two who knew much had already started their Christmas holiday.

The reclamation folks realized, as Lake Mead was filling, that the onrush of tourists and water sport enthusiasts was not anything they knew how to handle so the NPS created a new division named Boulder Dam Recreation Area, which was renamed Lake Mead National Recreation Area in 1947.

This agency, headquartered in Boulder City, has 1.5 million acres encompassing the land around Lake Mead and all the way south to Laughlin. Its public affairs officer, Christie Vanover, gave me background information and then met me at the building complex for a guided tour.

The street named Katzenbach Drive is a one-block driveway into the complex. There are newish cement-block buildings for the local firehouse to fight occasional fires in Lake Mead properties and a dispatch center for first responders throughout five national parks in Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

The midsection of the main building had a sizable, cement-block section added in the ’60s to house offices for engineers, carpenters and electricians. Scott Bell, the acting chief of engineering, is the head honcho at Safety First with about 20 full-time employees. The entire building runs to 32,000 square feet.

The high-ceilinged floor space in the main bay is sometimes lent out to good causes, hence the story about Eagle Scouts doing sign making, etc. It’s also used for the occasional all-employee meeting when 100 to 150 government workers gather for information and inspiration.

Dave Nelson retired to Boulder City in 2003 after a career with the FICO score company. He is vice president for the local Sons of Norway.

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