Historic Boulder City can be viewed from many different perspectives and whoever is looking at it may see many different things. To gain one perspective a person could take a drive and look at the city from the view of a traveler on his or her way to visit Lake Mead or the dam, that traveler being fully aware of the historic significance of Boulder City.
Of course, the city is much changed from the temporary status of its beginnings in 1931. But since it settled into a real city with Bureau of Reclamation buildings and homes, Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light and Southern California Edison buildings and homes, and the upgrading of the Six Cos. housing, it has changed little (except for the types of businesses that occupy much of the business district).
Realizing that, it is interesting to note that many historic districts in other cities are off the beaten path. A traveler interested in seeing historic districts in such a city usually must have a map and find the area of historic significance.
Not so with Boulder City — what a traveler sees driving from Fifth Street to Denver Street though town on Nevada Way (formerly Nevada Highway) is the historic district. There are no maps to follow, no stopping to ask directions, although stopping for breakfast, a cup of coffee or lunch would be to experience the city from a different perspective and would certainly be encouraged.
Nearly all the features of the district can be seen from the windows of a moving car or motorhome or bus as it moves at 25 miles per hour along Nevada Way.
Passing Date and Fifth streets, which meet each other at Nevada Way, you come to Cherry Street, with a view of the shingled, red-tiled homes of the Edison company operators; Frank T. Crowe Park and the memorials to him and his innovation, the hard hat; Birch Street, with its stuccoed, red barrel-tiled homes of the L.A. Bureau of Power and Light operators and their families — all on the left.
On the right is the El Rancho Boulder Motel built by the Franklin brothers; Albert Franklin was a prominent businessman in Southern Nevada and an important civic leader in Boulder City for many years.
Continuing on the right are the Cherry Lynn Apartments, which provided housing for workers in the World War II metals industry in Henderson. On the left is the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light headquarters in Boulder City, with a view to the right of businesses and homes on Wyoming Street; then it’s into the business district, which has kept its historic architectural features.
At Arizona Street there is a view of the Boulder Dam Hotel and more businesses on the right. Continuing to Colorado Street, the homes of Bureau of Reclamation employees can be seen to the left and Wilbur Square Park (once known as Government Park), with the bureau’s administration building at the top, on the right.
Homes situated along Nevada Way between Colorado and Denver are to the left (the view of additional bureau administrator homes to the right past the park on Utah Street are hidden by trees, but are preserved to the standards of other bureau homes on Colorado, Nevada Way and Denver.
And to be seen high above the town on the left are the original water tank and the guest lodge, which provided lodging for important bureau visitors.
The perfection with which the city is laid out (a perfect triangle) makes it possible for any traveler to take a right hand turn from Nevada Way on Fifth Street, New Mexico Street, Wyoming, Colorado or Denver streets to see more historic buildings and more of the historic district, ending at Utah Street, which will take them back to Wilbur Square, going north, or one of the cross streets, going southeast, and then making a right turn back onto the highway toward Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and/or across the border into Arizona.
Boulder City’s historic district is compact, artfully designed and unique among historic towns in the West. It has a bustling downtown, beautifully maintained and landscaped residential areas, and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. And all of this is visible to the traveler who simply drives through the city and looks around.
How can there be any doubt that historic Boulder City can withstand the distraction of Interstate 11, the Boulder City bypass?
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.