Taking a walk through downtown Boulder City today can mean anything to anyone — perhaps getting cash at the bank or credit union for purchasing a colorful blouse or tunic at a small dress shop; maybe stopping in at the hardware store to pick up a tool needed for the maintenance of a historic home; strolling through myriad antique shops in the hopes of finding “the perfect gift” for yourself or a friend; or just doing business with your insurance agent or the Chamber of Commerce.
The list of reasons to be in downtown Boulder City goes on and on. And, as much as the city has changed since the 1930s and ’40s, much has remained recognizable and historically preserved.
It would be interesting to know what Saco Reink DeBoer would think of the downtown for which he proposed an architectural style of commercial “super blocks” (think Boulder Theatre or the Browder building). A short bio of DeBoer, appearing on The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s website, describes him as a “crusader for beauty and quality of life in the urban experience.”
He began his career as Denver’s landscape architect and was commissioned in 1930 to plan a city for the workers who built Hoover Dam and their families. It was to be the first federally sponsored model city in the country. Is DeBoer’s vision for Boulder City still apparent?
DeBoer’s vision is still obvious in two major features on Arizona Street: the Boulder Theatre building and the adjoining Uptown Hardware and Apartments, built in May 1932, which constitute a block of commercial businesses, and which retain their original architectural integrity; and the off-street parking available around three central plazas, contributing to the idea of a pedestrian-oriented commercial center.
Two of the original park-like plazas have been built upon. First, the Boulder Dam Hotel was built in 1933 on Cardenas Plaza, restored in the early 1980s, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Second, a new Boulder City Library was built much later on Coronado Plaza to house the library that had outgrown its original location in the basement of the municipal building. However, the parking is still in place to serve its original purpose.
The third plaza, Escalante, remains in the center of the district beginning just south of Colorado Street, across Arizona Street to a point just north of Wyoming Street. The plaza is part of the visual continuity that exists beginning with the Bureau of Reclamation building at the north and ending where Boulder City High School’s American flag reflects back to the Bureau of Reclamation building.
The original uncompromised buildings on Wyoming Street also reflect the DeBoer plan: the two buildings at 1320 and 1340 Wyoming St. at the northeast corner of Wyoming and Avenue B, including the second-story apartment over the rear of 1340, where the arched, arcaded walkways continue to encourage pedestrian traffic.
Nevada Way retains much of the look of the 1930s. The Janus Associates Report, undertaken in 1983 as part of the nomination of Boulder City to the National Register of Historic Places, includes a photo taken in 1933 of Nevada Way looking north from Wyoming Street. The photo shows a street lined with arcaded commercial businesses punctuated at the center top by a view of the Bureau of Reclamation building.
If Saco DeBoer were able to take a walk through Boulder City’s historic downtown, he would probably be quite pleased. And if he followed California Avenue from Wilbur Square Park (originally named Government Park), at Denver Street, south to Boulder City High School on Fifth Street, he would pass by every feature that gives this city its character: the green tree-shaded parks, the local government, the commercial district, the church, the residential neighborhoods, and the schools.
It all follows, from north to south in the very center of the city, the design of the community that DeBoer envisioned: community of “beauty and quality of life in the urban experience.”
— Susan Stice McIntyre is a native of Boulder City, a first-generation 31er, and former member and chairman of the Boulder City Historic Preservation Committee.