It has been nine years since the Boulder City Historic Preservation Committee was formed. And, by that time, it had been 32 years since the city was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
There had been many changes made to the city during that period of time, and most of them had been based on the growth of the city. The fire department was moved from Nevada Highway and Arizona Street to a larger location on Elm Street. A new post office was built just south of the original post office, and that new post office was replaced by a much larger, architecturally compatible facility on Colorado Street.
New junior and senior high schools were built and the old school repurposed as City Hall. The street corners along Nevada Way where filling stations had once stood are now home to small businesses, but the corners remained open to pedestrians and parking as before. A new library was built on Coronada Plaza, leaving only one of the three plazas that were in the original city plan. That building now houses the senior center, as an even larger library was required and built on Adams Boulevard outside the boundary of the historic district.
These were changes of necessity, required by the tripling of the population over the intervening decades. But there was an effort made, in most cases, to retain the architectural and historical integrity of the locations that were subject to the changes made.
However, there were also some near-misses in the preservation of the city’s historic assets because no one was paying attention until the work was ready to begin. The blue flagstone steps that lead up to the octagonal tower of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power were ready to be destroyed by jackhammers and replaced by poured concrete until the Historic Preservation Committee learned of the plan. The State Historic Preservation Office stepped in to halt the destruction and the existing steps were repaired and restored to meet the standards of the city’s building code.
There is a need, if Boulder City is to retain its identity, for the city, business owners, builders and residents to be made aware of proposed changes to the city landscape and architecture well in advance of implementation and, most importantly, for those parties to think about the ramifications of the proposals being advanced.
It should not be forgotten that Boulder City is a historic place; its landmarks are part of what make the city unique and most are visible from the roads that lead into the city: U.S. Highway 93, which becomes Nevada Way; Colorado Street at Highway 93; and Avenue I at Highway 93.
The Bureau of Reclamation building sits at the apex of the triangular arrangement of Nevada Way, Utah Street and Fifth Street, and Boulder City High School, built on Fifth Street, is at the base of California Avenue facing the reclamation building to the north, aesthetically reflecting the two vital components of the spirit of Boulder City.
The water treatment plant and Bureau of Mines buildings are to the west on Colorado and Railroad Avenue. St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church is at the corner of Utah and Arizona streets and the Six Cos. Hospital is to the east coming from Highway 93 to Avenue I. The Browder Building and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are situated along Nevada Way at Wyoming Street.
Of course, there are many historic buildings that lie within the defining triangle of the historic district and are landmarks in their own right.
A great loss was sustained when St. Andrews Catholic Church moved from Utah and Wyoming to build a new, much larger church in a historically compatible style beyond the boundaries of the historic district. The original St. Andrews Catholic Church was demolished and, unfortunately, a building that violates the architectural integrity of Historic Boulder City, but does not in any way violate the city’s building code, was built in its place. It is important that something like that is not allowed to happen in the future.
In this time of anticipated and inevitable change, Boulder City cannot afford to demolish or completely redesign historic buildings that have become important landmarks, most of which are at sites visible to visitors entering the city — visitors who are coming to enjoy the charm and experience the history of “The City that Built Hoover Dam.”
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.