Historic preservation cannot be taken for granted

Last month, this column expressed the view that “it is time for Boulder City to take historic preservation seriously.” It has been 32 years since the historic district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. And it has been more than nine years since Boulder City’s City Council adopted a historic preservation ordinance and appointed a Historic Preservation Committee. Yet controversies regarding the rehabilitation and preservation of historic properties continue to arise.

There are more than 1 million properties, places and districts in the country that have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places since it was established in 1966 to be administered by the National Park Service.

Unfortunately, properties are not protected in any strict sense by the federal listing. And that is why state and local awareness and effort are so important for the preservation of important historic buildings and districts.

Although, in 1976, the IRS altered the tax code to provide incentives for income-producing properties, but only if rehabilitation preserved the historic character of a building. And, of course, besides economic advantages, which include tourism as well as tax incentives, there are environmental considerations in advocating for rehabilitation rather than demolishing and rebuilding. There also are educational advantages in keeping a community connected and knowledgeable about its history.

Boulder City’s history includes the story of Hoover Dam and its impact on the West and the states the Colorado River runs through, from Colorado south to California. Boulder City is, after all, “the city that built Hoover Dam,” one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

Of the more than 1 million historic sites on the National Register of Historic Places designated by the National Park Service, 370 are located in Nevada. Clark County alone has 58 sites, buildings, landmarks and districts, including the Huntridge Theater, Little Church of the West, two Las Vegas grammar schools, the Welcome to Las Vegas sign and the El Cortez Hotel. The only building on the list that has been demolished was The Green Shack on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. It was entered on the register in 1994 and destroyed in the 2000s.

And then there is the Boulder City Historic District entered on the register in 1983. Within the district, the Boulder Dam Hotel was listed in July 1982 and the old Boulder City Hospital was listed in April 1982; the Boulder Theatre displays a Historic Building plaque, but is not individually listed. Other sites within Boulder City, but outside the designated Historic District, are the Gold Strike Canyon-Sugarloaf Mountain Traditional Cultural Property and the landmark Hoover (Boulder) Dam, listed in April 1981. All properties within the Historic District are considered historic, although they may not be listed separately on the register.

The challenge for Boulder City should be finding a way to recognize its historic buildings that also protects them. There are commissions and committees in states and cities across the nation that are actively involved in the preservation of their historic assets: Atlanta; Charleston, N.C.; San Francisco; and even Cody, Wyo. It is not surprising; this nation’s history is short compared to other countries in the world and its history is only several generations old. Boulder City’s history is even shorter, considering the fact that so many of the first generation of the original city’s residents remain connected to the city.

The city’s historic assets cannot be taken for granted; the city cannot be so unconcerned that it allows forces with no interest in the preservation of those assets to find their way in and demolish important historic landmarks — landmarks that define the early years of historic Boulder City, a city that is still young at 84 years.

It will take the city, business owners, builders, homeowners and residents working together to secure the future of Boulder City’s Historic District and the buildings within it.

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.

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