Why the Boulder Dam Hotel Is Still the Heart of Boulder City

Bette Davis, Shirley Temple and Boris Karloff were among the famous residents at the Boulder Dam Hotel
Bette Davis, Shirley Temple and Boris Karloff were among the famous residents at the Boulder Dam Hotel | © Witold Skrypczak / Alamy Stock Photo
Lissa Townsend Rodgers

With a backstory encompassing the Hoover Dam and Hollywood, the historic Boulder Dam Hotel has been at the centre of Boulder City, Nevada, since it threw open its doors in 1933. Culture Trip discovers its secrets.

The construction of the Hoover Dam (as the Boulder Dam was renamed in 1947) created the town of Boulder City and paved the way for the Boulder Dam Hotel. The hotel was designed in the colonial revival style, which may seem an unlikely choice for the desert, but the pillared porch offers a welcome respite from the sun.

The Boulder Dam Hotel’s opening was a major event in southern Nevada – at the time, Las Vegas had nothing as luxurious. The hotel had air-conditioning and central heat, both rarities at the time. An elegantly paneled lobby with a grand piano, a shopping arcade adorned with Gatsby-esque murals and a restaurant with $2 steak dinners were among the guest amenities.

Bette Davis was among the celebrities who stayed at the Boulder Dam Hotel

The hotel was created as a home-away-from-home for visiting dignitaries and high-level government officials, as well as the many tourists who came to marvel at what was then called the Boulder Dam. Among the latter group were a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Bette Davis, Shirley Temple and Boris Karloff – the horror star spent six weeks there establishing residency for a Nevada divorce. Will Rogers was among the stars who stayed there while appearing at the Boulder Theatre next door.

However, when the el Rancho, New Frontier and other resorts opened along the Las Vegas Strip, the Boulder Dam Hotel began to lose a bit of its luster. Over the following decades, it changed hands several times, became a rest home and a rooming house, and was even shut down twice. Despite being on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel seemed destined for demolition.

The Boulder City and Hoover Dam Museum

In 1993, a group of local residents and businesspeople formed a group to purchase and renovate the Boulder Dam Hotel. The nonprofit Boulder Dam Hotel Association restored the hotel, expanding the public spaces and putting in the Boulder City and Boulder Dam Museum. A number of the rooms have been redone in honor of some of the famous guests from the hotel’s heyday. There are rumors that the hotel is haunted, but no confirmed specters or sightings have been reported.

Today, the Boulder Dam Hotel is the center of Boulder City’s Old Town neighborhood. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, and a series of offices and shops fill the building with activity. Guests from around the world enjoy spending the night where Boris and Bette once did.

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