The Old Town
On our second day in Boulder City, we needed to ride to the outskirts of Las Vegas, only about 27 miles away. When Todd had sorted out the exhaust gasket he had told Jan he needed to check the bolts as, once split, the joint had a tendency to work loose. To do this, he needed a ball head Allen key so he could reach in behind the engine protection bars and the closest place to buy this was in Henderson.
The hardware store had the right size, so Jan was happy. On our way back, we noticed signs for ‘Historic Boulder, Old Town’ and we took the turn.
Immediately we rode through the entrance, we both felt right at home in this clean and pretty town. We stopped at a motel to ask if they had a vacancy because we really wanted to stay there.
The very friendly ladies in reception apologised that, no, no vacancies and probably every motel in town would be fully booked as there was a big biker meet there that weekend.
A bit downhearted, we decided to go for lunch – incredible, there was a bar that brewed their own beers.
Jan chose a small, low alcohol beer and we ordered a lunch of bratwurst and coleslaw.
As we came out from the beer garden we noticed a hotel just across the road and thought it was worth giving it a try – although it didn’t look like our normal sort of place; it looked rather refined. It was the Historic Boulder Dam Hotel and Museum.
From the hotel’s own website;
Built in 1933 to accommodate dignitaries visiting the construction of Boulder Dam (later named Hoover Dam), the historic Boulder Dam Hotel preserves the classic style of the era. Located in the center of Boulder City, the hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If the walls of the Boulder Dam Hotel could talk they would tell a story of Jim Webb, who in 1932 had a vision of what Boulder City needed: a grand-dame hotel with unprecedented private baths, air conditioning, and a gumwood paneled lobby that would welcome world dignitaries visiting the Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam). Webb’s vision became a reality and during the 1930s the Boulder Dam Hotel became a huge draw for people visiting Boulder Dam. The hotel also quickly became popular with movie stars who needed to establish Nevada residency so they could obtain a “quickie” divorce.
Some of the famous guests during 1934 included A.P. Gianni, founder of Bank of America; Bette Davis, who stayed at the hotel while on vacation following the filming of “Of Human Bondage;” and the cast and crew of RKO films, who stayed while they produced “Silver Streak.” Famous 1935 guests included honeymooners Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr.; Will Rogers, who was performing on stage at the Boulder Theatre; the Maharajah and Maharani of Indore, India; and Cardinal Pascelli, who later became Pope Pius XII. The remainder of the 1930s welcomed the Duchess of Westminster; George Pepperdine, founder of Pepperdine University; Henry Fonda; Boris Karloff; Senator Robert Taft; Shirley Temple; and Howard Hughes, who recuperated at the hotel after wrecking his airplane on Lake Mead.
With the onset of World War II, the dam was shut down to visitors and the hotel suffered from a lack of occupancy. As a result, the hotel has had many owners over the past seven decades. In 1993, the Friends of the Hotel began renovations, and in 2005, the hotel was acquired by with the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum to preserve its role in the important histories of Hoover Dam and Boulder City.
The receptionists checked the bookings and, yes, they had a vacancy for the following night. We asked if we could have two nights. She checked again. Yes, but we would have to move rooms – from a room with a queen bed to a room with a king bed. No problem. We gave card details and set off back to the Hoover Dam Lodge – which was a heck of a lot different place. Gaudy signs and lots of neon; it was, however, still a very nice place and our room was HUGE with two of the widest beds I’ve ever seen.
The spots aren’t dust on the sensor but spots on the Windows.
Next morning, we packed up, put all our gear on a trolley and down 9 floors to load up the bike at the entrance.
It was only seven miles back to Boulder City so we went for lunch while waiting for the 3pm check-in time.
On entering our room, we both thought, ‘Oh no!’. The room was very small and poky – what a contrast to the Hoover Dam Lodge; total opposite ends of the spectrum. Swinging a cat in this room would not be an easy thing. It was immaculately clean though. Oh well, it was historic, it had a lot of charm and it was old; what could we expect? I did doubt that the Vanderbilts or the Maharajah and Maharini had stayed in this room. More likely, the chambermaid.
Once unpacked, I took off with my camera to search out the lovely artwork spread around the town.
No fewer than 36 officially recognized pieces of public art, most sculptures but also a few murals, line Boulder City’s two main thoroughfares, Nevada Way and Arizona Street. Hewn over the years by human toil, just like Hoover Dam, but on a less grand, more personal scale, these pieces range from wrought iron and bronze historic representations from the dam’s construction to whimsical pieces celebrating daily life in this cozy town of a population of 15,023.
In a way, it’s best to approach Boulder City unaware of its artistic bent, as I did. You get a nice jolt of amusement as you reach the intersection of Nevada Way and Wyoming Street.
There, standing proudly with the late-afternoon sun glinting off its surface, is a large statue; not of President Franklin D. Roosevelt nor Hoover Dam architect Gordon B. Kaufmann, but of a lowly worker named “Alabam.” He is wearing a fedora and overalls, has a bandolier of toilet-paper rolls draped across his chest and has slung a straw broom with a few more rolls of toilet paper on the handle. Depending on your interpretation, his facial expression is either a tight-lipped smile or a muted grimace for the job to which he’s been assigned.
Yes, the first work of art in town, a bronze and copper work by local sculptor Steven Liguori, commemorates a man who cleans the scores of outhouses at the dam construction site, an essential if, er, crappy, job. A plaque honors those who held such thankless jobs at the dam: “There were muckers who shoveled mud out of the tunnels, truck drivers who hauled rock up and down the river or, like the man you see here, those who swept the outhouses and kept them well supplied with paper.”
Fortunately, “Alabam” does not set the tone for the 35 other pieces that line the streets. You can’t dismiss the collection as mere kitsch. Some pieces, granted, are equally as whimsical, but others take a more serious approach to the town’s Depression-era roots and still others celebrate the quotidian charms of small-town life: children at play, dogs straining to fetch a ball, a couple in their Sunday best embracing, a biker astride his chopper, two construction workers kicking back with their lunch pails.
Here’s a selection of them:
Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of all the titles and I didn’t locate all of the sculptures.
To be continued ….. More on bikes and things.