I spent the better part of my Saturday exploring the artist enclave that is Boulder City, Nevada. While I’d driven through it a number of times in the past, I’d only ever stopped briefly for gas or coffee. This time around, I arrived by bus and explored on foot. And I was very pleasantly surprised.
Boulder City lay in the hills just outside Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. The town sprouted up in the 1930’s as a result of the construction of the dam. Housing was needed for the workers and so a village was erected by the government and a number of corporations. To keep the men clean and honest, gambling and booze were kept illegal. Not that that really meant much, with Las Vegas only a short 30 miles away. But gambling remains illegal still, while alcohol was permitted in 1969. To maintain the sober integrity of the village in the early 30’s, visitors to the town had to pass through a gatehouse and were allowed in only with a permit. BC ceased to be a company town when it became incorporated in 1959.
I disembarked on Arizona Street in the heart of the historic downtown. Across from me I
spied the Boulder Theater. Opened in 1932 and bought and renovated by Desi “Little Ricky” Arnaz, Jr., the theater regularly hosts ballet troupes and theater companies.
I meandered past bustling, funky cafes and antique shops, enjoying the breeze up there at 2500 feet. The narrow, leafy lanes of the village were packed with Memorial Day weekend revelers. Classic cars rumbled down the streets, on their way to the vintage car show at a nearby park.
What really impressed me was the obvious efforts to maintain the character and integrity of the village. There was nary a Starbucks or McDonald’s in site. The majority of the businesses were clearly home-grown. And it’s also a testament to Boulder City’s management that even while retaining its history it has maintained a sense of humor. You don’t always see the two together, as oftentimes humor gets lost in a quest for dignity. Whimsical sidewalk sculptures and vintage neon signs, along with shops such as the alien-themed “Flying Saucer,” help keep a sense of joy intact.
Crazy, life-size mannequins of the Blues Brothers and a thrumming, happy-looking crowd helped lure me inside a corner building. Part antique shop, part thrift store, it was teeming with bric-a-brac – every inch seemed to be taken up. And it went on for miles, just a maze of corridors that lead
to tiny nooks and rooms, each with a theme, like “old Hollywood films,” or “antique kitchen.” I gasped and quickly averted my eyes when I spied the vinyl record room, since I’m on a budget and have a weakness for LPs. Jukeboxes, vintage slot machines, framed pictures of Lucille Ball-no doubt the result of her son living in town-vintage coats, leather boots, guitars, Coca-cola bottles….it just went on and on. You could spend years rifling around in there and not see everything. What fun!
I popped into the old-timey candy shop for a snack, a thick and yummy, homemade chocolate milkshake. The best part about it was that it wasn’t too sweet. I sipped as I
strolled past the shops and through a promenade strewn with wooden benches. I was in love.
I headed up Nevada Way and veered down Colorado Street, where the car show was happening in beautiful green Wilbur Square. Full of massive, towering trees, the park was packed silly with folks gawking at gleaming cars, so lovingly cared for. 1950’s rockabilly blared from speakers and I stood at the top of the park’s stairs and drank in the scene, wishing my dad were alive to see this. He’d have been in heaven.
Across from Wilbur Square, resting atop a hill, is the lovely historic parks and recreation building. I climbed the steps up past the vast lawn where at the top it was lined on either side by a well-tended garden. I walked around to the back of the building where I noticed a pagoda by a cliff. Of course I had to inspect it and was rewarded with a sweeping, breathtaking view of Lake Mead, the water pure blue under a sky teeming with pillowy clouds and thunderheads.
I walked back down the hill and stopped into the historic Boulder Dam Hotel and Museum, attractive with its white colonnade and Southern appeal. The tasteful, Western appointment of the lobby was inviting-I could’ve hung out there all day, reading my book I’d brought with me, poems by Philip Levine. Instead I made my way upstairs to the gallery, where I quickly surmised that my own mosaic art would
fit right in with their colorful and contemporary aesthetic. I made a pitch for my art to Rosemary, who was manning the gallery on that day and she gave me an application to have my work juried. Keep your fingers crossed!
What a wonderful day. Thanks, Boulder City! I’ll be seeing you again soon…