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Historic theater provided comfort then, culture now

The Boulder Theatre opened in 1932 with 550 seats and the only air conditioning in Boulder City. Earl Brothers, who owned and operated the theater, ran movies 24 hours a day to accommodate all shifts of the hot and exhausted workers building Boulder Dam.

The theater continued to show movies and host special community and school events until 1997, when it was purchased and then restored by Amy and Desi Arnaz Jr.

The theater has a long and varied history in its mission to bring entertainment to the city. It has come a long way since the 24-hour-a-day movies during the building of the dam.

For decades it was the place for weekend matinees and evenings of newsreels, serialized Westerns starring Roy Rogers or Gene Autry and others, and the movies. And it was date night where a boy could casually drape his arm across the back of the seat next to him and then, naturally, around the shoulder of the girl beside him, much to her delight or chagrin (and who knew what was going on in the seats in the very, very back row!). It was a time when everyone could afford a ticket and stay through two showings if they wanted to.

However, when cineplex theaters began to appear over the hill in Henderson and Las Vegas, Boulder Theatre was unable to compete as a commercial movie theater and it became dark.

Fortunately, in 1997 Amy and Desi Arnaz Jr. came to Boulder City. Desi purchased Boulder Theatre and Amy founded Dance Etc. Together, they restored the theater and Amy created the Boulder City Ballet Company. So, the third phase of its history began for the theater.

Each phase: the 24-hour movie showings in the beginning; the scheduled movies and social center for the city’s teenagers (the first generation of 31ers and those who followed); and now a venue for numerous and varied staged events, including: Dance Etc. recitals, Boulder City Ballet Company performances, special performances produced by Desi Arnaz Jr., such as Chautauqua; the play “Love Letters,” first with Linda Pearl and then with Mary Crosby; an evening with Lucille Ball; a tribute to Dean Martin; and most recently, the 11th annual Dam Short Film Festival, hosted by the Dam Short Film Society.

The film festival was founded in 2005 by Lee and Anita Lanier and for the first few years was held in the Boulder City American Legion Hall. In 2008, because it had so rapidly outgrown that space, it moved to the Boulder Theatre — appropriately, the city’s historic venue for film.

In its Feb. 12 edition, this paper reported: “A packed theater brought the 11th annual Dam Short Film Festival to a close … with rave reviews from filmmakers and festivalgoers alike.”

Amy and Desi Arnaz Jr., as a team, restored and brought back to life the theater that had for decades held a special place in the cultural life of Boulder City. Miss Amy is no longer with us and the city mourned her loss and rejoiced in her life and legacy March 6 with a presentation held in her honor at Boulder Theatre.

Miss Amy’s spirit will continue to grace the space that is Boulder Theatre and Arnaz will continue to have the enthusiastic support of the community and all who love theater in Southern Nevada and beyond.

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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