After convincing friends Raymond Spilsbury and Austin Clark to financially back his dream, Paul Stewart “Jim” Webb broke ground on Cardenas Plaza on September 1, 1933 for the Boulder Dam Hotel. The grand opening was celebrated December 15th and 16th, 1933, followed by the restaurant opening November 5, 1935. During this time, Webb expanded the hotel twice to include over eighty rooms, in which some of the world’s most famous celebrities and political leaders stayed throughout the 1930s and 1940s. The hotel also became a spot for wealthy couples to “vacation” (establish Nevada residency) before filing for divorce.
Artist's conception, November 15, 1933
After losing Grand Canyon-Boulder Dam Tours as its most invested partnership, Webb sold the Boulder Dam Hotel to Spilsbury’s brother, Chauncey and his wife, Dolly. Unfortunately, shortly after purchasing the hotel, Las Vegas opened its first hotel-casino, which became a luxury tourist destination in comparison to the Boulder Dam Hotel, and Hualapai Lodge was built on Lake Mead. Both of these new businesses had the privilege of holding something the hotel couldn’t a liquor license. Permission to serve alcohol wasn’t granted to Boulder City businesses until 1969, which would be a detriment to the hotel’s success for several decades.
Many familiar with the hotel’s famous guests will remember that Howard Hughes covertly recovered at the hotel for several months after crashing his plane on Lake Mead in 1943, but may not know about more important guests around the same time. In early 1943, the Boulder Dam Hotel became home for dozens of military families based in Boulder City at Camp Williston, Basic Magnesium families working just outside town at the processing plant, and Bureau of Reclamation employees, all working tirelessly for victory in World War II.
Arizona Street streetscape, view east from Nevada Highway, c. 1940-1941
After Raymond Spilsbury’s death in 1945 and a year of trying to make the hotel profitable, Spilsbury’s widow Vona and his brother Chauncey put the hotel on the market. Las Vegas Judge Cliff Jones, Marion Hicks, Lou Weiner Jr., and Harvey Dickerson purchased the Boulder Dam Hotel as a joint venture without actually visiting the property. After four short years, the hotel’s manager Barney Curto, who had obtained 75 percent of the hotel, and Dickerson, the sole original investor, leased the hotel to the Nevada Southwest Corporation. Fortunately, the hotel found some success during this time. Photographers Bill Belknap, Cliff Segerblom, and Mark Swain rented out basement space for a darkroom and the hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant, which was known to often close with and without the hotel, was successful for a twelve year streak under manager Harry Won.
Boulder Dam Hotel, April 20, 1954
After several years of legal battles over permits, codes, stealing, and exuberant expenses, the hotel’s ownership passed not once, but two times through the hands of Boulder Cityite Clarence Watson and into those of his widow, Laura Watson, who in turn sold it to Hal Brown and Archie Groft with plans and government investment to turn it into a retirement home. Even though the deal fell through, the men decided to stick with their venture. Groft ran the restaurant and Brown the hotel. Tourism returned to the hotel when river runner Georgie Wright began operating her tours out of the lobby. Brown and Groft’s ownership also brought on the hotel’s first name change to the Colonial Inn.
Lobby, west view, 1961
Brown and Groft eventually gave up trying to run a business they knew nothing about, and the hotel passed in and out of Laura Watson’s hands two more times before settling with Robert Beaugureau in August 1963. Over the years, the Bureau of Reclamation rented rooms for displaced workers but under Beaugureau occupied over half the hotel. This soon came to an end when Beaugureau opened the hotel as the Boulder City Retirement Home in February 1969. Without success and legal troubles with a potential buyer, the hotel was sold to Frank and Ruby Adams, who then sold it to Senator Cliff McCorkle in 1980. McCorkle wanted to return the hotel to its original splendor without running it himself.
The front of the hotel on Arizona street, and the west walls, 1965
The front of the hotel on Arizona street, and the west walls, 2013
Throughout many ownerships over the next ten years, the hotel was condemned, renovated, and had a swimming pool installed. The hotel’s most recent singular owners, Ronald Mulder and Chris and Patricia Dycks purchased the Boulder Dam Hotel in September 1990 with the best intentions. But, after the death of Mulder four months later, they were unsuccessful. In November 1991, the hotel was shut down by the city and could not be reopened until serious repairs were made.
Boulder City Inn, July 1983
So how did the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association come to own this magnificent piece of Boulder City’s history, operating a successful hotel, restaurant, and museum combination? Find out at www.BCMHA.org.