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City’s historic past holds key to its future

Boulder City booster and town scribe Elton Garrett’s sense of the dramatic didn’t fail him.

In a column published in the March 11, 1932, special edition of the Boulder Review commemorating the town’s first anniversary, Garrett pronounced, “Boulder City is destined to live.”

Sound the trumpets throughout the land.

“The first year has been remarkable in the extreme,” he continued. “What of the next four or five? And what of the period beyond that? No one can tell.”

Built and then owned by the federal government, Boulder City was one of America’s great boom towns. But, of course, Garrett thought that was too crass a term for a place with such potential for controlled growth.

“Boulder City is not in any sense a boom town — should not and will not be a boom town,” he wrote. “The government officials in charge are guarding against overcrowding and booming. … Boulder City, however, will make a strong bid for the attention of the world and for her tourist travel.”

If he sounded of two minds on the subject, as if he wanted it both ways, he had much in common with future Boulder City residents. They want to keep their town’s “clean, green” charm and still enjoy the modern conveniences and benefits of growth.

I was recently reminded of Garrett’s breathless speculation, long since yellowed but hanging in a place of honor in the Boulder City post office, after overhearing a conversation about the many challenges the town currently faces. From development growing pains and awful traffic tie-ups to the smoke of scandal inside the animal control office and elsewhere in city government, the challenges hide in plain sight.

As a resident here for the past year or so, I’ve listened to longtimers and newcomers extol the town’s virtues, lament its ongoing maladies, and wonder aloud if its quality of life is weathering as well as its historic dam-era homes and commercial buildings. I’ve come away believing locals really care deeply about the direction the place is heading.

Their worries and themes aren’t unique to Boulder City, of course. Small towns everywhere face the same dilemma. But in growth-obsessed Southern Nevada, Boulder City is a special place, almost a time capsule.

In his column many years ago, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s A.E. Cahlan enthused, “Congratulations, Boulder City. You’re quite a husky young chap for being just a scant year old. In fact, one would hardly have believed you could have blossomed forth as such an adult community as you have in the short space of twelve months.”

He, too, then speculated on the future of the best town by a dam site. That was 84 years ago.

Back then, construction workers brought commerce and coarseness to Boulder City during the dam’s construction, and they’re back again in the presence of many dozens of workers employed in the Interstate 11 highway project.

Of course, neither the cheering Garrett nor the thoughtful Cahlan could have predicted Boulder City would become known almost as much for its parks, historic homes and the fact it’s the Nevada town that doesn’t allow gambling as for its geographical perch next to the great Hoover Dam. Armies of annual dam visitors continue to generate business for Boulder.

Call it the speculation by yet another drive-by observer, but there’s a public perception that city government is essentially a closed shop, more a fraternity of insiders than a group focused on the entire community. That holds the potential for trouble. A split in a community so small (just over 15,000 population, according to the 2013 census) could open the door to those who don’t have the town’s long-term best interests in mind.

As old Elton would have said, Boulder City is destined to live.

But these are pivotal years and times. If Boulder City ever loses its historic character and small-town sensibility, its best years will be reduced to yellowed news clippings and memories.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.

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