Hotel’s romance spans decades

I was looking for a new start when I came to Boulder City six years ago. I had a successful career within the publicity and events industry, and I wanted some downtime, which is why I identify with today’s Throwback Thursday subject so much.

Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, a fellow Taurus, stood at our very own Boulder Dam Hotel during his honeymoon. His then-bride was Helen Varner. They were an unlikely match with a 10-year age difference between them, but they tried to make it work. Vanderbilt was disinherited by his parents when he became a newspaper publisher.

The great-great-grandson of the railroad and steamship tycoon, Vanderbilt IV wanted to work, and he loved the print industry. His very famous parents, Cornelius Vanderbilt III and Grace Graham Wilson, often were the subject of newspaper and tabloid gossip, and they couldn’t stand the thought of their son being someone who profited from such stories.

For Vanderbilt IV, publishing wasn’t enough. While he owned the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, the San Francisco Illustrated Daily Herald and the Miami (Florida) Tab newspapers, he wanted to do more. Vanderbilt IV had a well-vested interest in movies and dabbled in writing for the motion picture industry.

According to, he wrote the 1930 novel-turned-movie “Reno” staring Ruth Roland. The plot deals with a condescending man who must always have his way and who is also a serial cheater, something the writer may or may not have had experience with. I will say Vanderbilt IV was married seven times during his lifetime, and writers often compose from the heart!

The time Vanderbilt IV and Varner spent at the Boulder Dam Hotel was limited but enjoyable. The couple had taken a real liking to the Southwest and divided their time between California, Nevada and New York City. Besides staying at the Boulder Dam Hotel, they were often seen at the Grand Hotel at Santa Monica, which was another destination resort where celebrities and dignitaries stayed.

Varner stayed married to Vanderbilt IV for three years. She later married Jack Frye, founder of TWA, before dying at age 71 in December 1979. Her ashes are scattered around Red Rock State Park near Sedona, Arizona, a place she adored. Vanderbilt IV died at age 76 in Reno after meeting and falling in love with his final wife, Mary Lou Gardiner Bristol, in the city he once wrote a movie about.

The Boulder Dam Hotel hosted many celebrated guests throughout its time. The Vanderbilts happen to be one of the more memorable and photographed couples to have stayed there for their honeymoon. The hotel, itself, is also listed as one of the Top 10 Romantic Hotels to honeymoon at, according to

Vanderbilt IV was an outcast to his family. He was a man who sought adventure and enjoyed the limelight. Often the center of scandal and love triangles, he was also a hard worker who loved his native East Coast but equally enjoyed the many beautiful landmarks of the West Coast. He partied with celebrities, wrote for print and film and — like anyone — had his personal ups and downs.

My Throwback Thursday movie recommendation is “Reno.” The original novel and movie can be found on I also am taking a side throwback moment to revisit why I love living here as I celebrate my seventh anniversary as a Boulder City resident this Saturday and will toast to the Vanderbilts — as well as the other stars — during my usual Sunday morning breakfast at the Boulder Dam Hotel.

Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.

Add Event