Boulder City, as is well-known, was built by the Federal Government and the Six Companies to house the 5,000 workers who built Hoover (Boulder) Dam. It was a city that made history. However, when the celebrations and the jubilations at the dedication of the dam were over, the city settled down to being a city of people who went about their daily lives, but took a special pride in the strength and courage of its people and the accomplishment represented by the enormous dam and, by extension, Lake Mead, the largest man-made lake in the country.
Even though the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation continued to control the city and the federal reservation on which is was built, it was a city much like any other, one exception being the federal marshals who served as law enforcement rather than a local police department.
And there were the U.S. Post Office, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Mines; but there were also educators, a school superintendent, principal, teachers and custodians; there were small business people who owned a market, a movie theater, restaurants, a men’s store, a department store, dress shops, filling stations, a hotel — all necessary to meet the needs of the small town.
For many years the government continued to maintain the city. The parks were kept green, the trees along the avenues were watered, the housing of federal workers was kept in excellent condition, the streets were clean, gambling and hard liquor were prohibited.
Then, in 1959, the federal government relinquished control of the city and Boulder City became incorporated on Jan. 4, 1960. A City Council was elected and Robert Broadbent became the first mayor.
During the following decades the city was responsible for itself; with no guidelines to follow, property owners were free to make alterations to their properties as they wished, or leave them to benign neglect, often with no regard to maintaining the historic architectural integrity of the downtown businesses and the residential neighborhoods.
Several Boulder City residents and the Nevada State Historical Preservation Office decided something should be done to officially recognize and preserve the historic city. Janus Associates Inc. was retained to prepare the report required for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. It was partly financed through a historic preservation survey and planning grant-in-aid from the National Park Service under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1956.
The report consists of the identification of the boundaries of the historic area of the city, a narrative description of the conceptualization and ultimate realization of the city plan, and detailed descriptions, background information and photos of all of the buildings and structures within those boundaries.
Fortunately, for the retention of the historic residential areas along Nevada Highway, ownership was retained by the Bureau of Reclamation, and the power companies that built neighborhood housing for their operators once the dam was operating. The last to be turned over to private ownership were the Birch Street homes, which were finally auctioned by the city of Los Angeles in 1988.
The push for a Boulder City Historic Preservation plan began in earnest during the following decade. But, as in most small towns, there is often tension between proponents and opponents over thoughts of change. Regardless, the result of an enormous effort by a committee of residents intent on preserving the historic integrity of city, was that a historic preservation ordinance was adopted by the City Council in 2000. But opposition to the idea precluded the appointment of a committee to implement the terms of the ordinance.
It was not until June of 2006 that the city council again took a historic preservation ordinance under review. This time not only was the ordinance adopted, it was implemented by the appointment of the Boulder City Historic Preservation Committee — five people who took their appointment very seriously. Immediately after their first meeting in August 2006, they began walking the streets, identifying the prominent historic features of homes and buildings, and working on guidelines to best preserve the historic appearance of the “City that Built Hoover Dam.”
After all, Boulder City was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and all of its residents deserve to live in a city that lives up to that designation.
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.