It is said that those who don’t recall their history are condemned to repeat it. That might not be a bad thing in Boulder City. Everyone seems to be pining for the old days. The ’31ers built this town into what it is today, and the current residents want to keep it that way.
But history is a funny thing. It’s all relative. Last month, I was in Boston for a conference and had dinner with a group of people at an Italian restaurant. We were ushered downstairs into the basement the building, which has arched brick ceilings. The owner told us the building dated to 1764.
Now that’s pretty old. But not as old as places in England, where I visit annually to see my son and his family in London. It’s not unusual to walk through an edifice that was constructed in the 14th century. And on one trip I visited Stonehenge, which dates back millennia.
So when you think about little Boulder City and our fixation on buildings that were created in 1931 and later, it seems kind of silly that we value them so much. After all, our town is not even 100 years old yet.
But that’s exactly why we value them. They can live on and carry the meaning of the history that Boulder City represents. Down the hill in Las Vegas, history is fleeting. The Strip is completely different than when I first visited in 1985. All that history plowed under.
That can’t be our position in Boulder City. We have a precious few buildings that date to the dam-building era, and we must preserve them. But how do we do that? This is where some of us diverge in opinion.
Do you preserve them in their original shape with no updating for modern conveniences and purposes? If we decide to leave them as original as possible, how do we preserve that originality? And who pays for that since they probably won’t be producing any revenue to cover it?
Or do we repurpose the old buildings, either commercially as a business or as some sort of art gallery, museum or public function that may not have been its original purpose?
Let’s talk about the old pumping station. It’s very interesting to see how it once worked. But since it no longer is operational and no water gets to it, we can only hear its operations described, not actually see it working. And because some major pieces were removed, again, you have to use your imagination.
Some want to leave it as that — a historical artifact. We were lucky (and grateful) that a local roofing company came in to replace the rotting roof at no cost to the city (no matter what the ulterior motive). But there are certainly other parts of that building that are going to require some major maintenance in just a few years. And frankly, you’ve really got to be a major Boulder City history nerd to appreciate the purpose it once served. And once you see it, you really don’t need to see it again. Some will appreciate it for what it was and prefer to leave it a static piece of history.
But in this case, maybe the best course of action is to sell it with a deed stipulation that it remain standing with a reasonable reflection of its historic significance. That way the city no longer is responsible for maintaining it, and it goes on the tax rolls, reducing taxes for Boulder City property and business owners while ensuring that one of our historic buildings remains a vital part of the community.
Then we have to decide exactly what is historic. In a town less than 100 years old, are 50-year-old buildings historic? Everyone is excited about preserving the hanger at the old airport. But do you know it’s not the original airport hanger? How about the old motels in the middle of town? We just saw a nice refurbishment of the old Desert Inn into the Boulder City Inn. And the job done on the new Best Western (including the addition of The Tap) has been impressive and has really livened up the middle of town. But are they historic and worth preserving?
And how about the homes outside of the historic district? As Boulder City grew down the letter streets and the number streets, there are some homes that must be 60 years old or more. Does that qualify as historic in a town less than 100 years old?
Luckily, we have a historical commission to weigh these issues.
Since all candidates in the just completed election backed historical preservation, we have somewhat of a consensus. Let’s build on that and someday 100 years from now a visitor can descend into that cool basement in the hotel and imagine what it was like for the ’31ers who built our town.
Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business magazine, the principal trade publication for the casino industry, and is a 10-plus-year resident of Boulder City.