VIDEO VAULT | Historic theater in Boulder City still a main attraction

May 14 1994.jpg

The 14th annual Dam Short Film Festival runs February 8-11.

The state's largest such event features more than 100 entries, each 40 minutes or less.

It's not just what's on screen worth looking at. The movie house itself is the oldest such still operating in Southern Nevada. It's not in Las Vegas. but neither is it far away.

"Clean, green and small Boulder City," described reporter Rob McCoy on a beautiful June day in 1980. "Folks out here like it that way."

The cozy community was built as a government town to house workers at the Boulder Dam project, now known as Hoover Dam. And in May of 1932 after months of preparations, Boulder City had a movie theater.*

"The dam workers would pay their 25-cents or whatever the cost was and go in and see a movie," says Festival board member Tsvetelina Stefanova. "And they would just take a nap in there because it was the only place that had air conditioning."

A newspaper article the day before the grand opening boasts "summer mountain comfort all year" with state-of-the-art cooling facilities.

Hollywood blockbusters from the 1930s into the 1990s were shown there. When the facility was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, it included a re-creation of opening night with search lights, period automobiles and a showing of the 1932 blockbuster "Grand Hotel".

Still, the one-screen facility had trouble competing in the era of google-plexes and shut down for a few years, until a celebrity resident got involved.

"It was restored by Desi Arnez Jr and his wife Miss Amy in 1997," says Stefanova. "They bought it then. It's a 400-seat theater. It's beautiful."

The benefactors turned the theater into a multi-use performance venue, including dance and stage acting. Since 2008, it has also been home for the Dam Short Film Festival.

"There are a lot of historical mementos from Desi's parents in terms of the furniture of the show or from the state, describes Festival founder Lee Lanier. "Also, there's a lot of memorabilia from his wife Miss Amy. Which—being a professional dancer—she has photos of her dancing and all of the people she's taught over the years."

Lanier is familiar with the more recent decorations and renovations, but News-3 also examined relics from the past in a 1994 Halloween story.

"This is believed to be the original piano that's been in the theater since the theater opened back in the early 1930s," reported News-3's Sue Tripathi, sitting down and striking one of the keys. "Many people say that while they'd be watching a movie, all of a sudden by itself, a note would play."

"There was a gentleman in 1941 who died of a heart attack in his seat in the theater," said historian Dennis McBride at the time. "And it's possible that it could be him."

"This is the back of the screen right here," former theater worker Evan Curry told Tripathi. "And I felt—I was doing a little work here—and all of a sudden I felt this shadow and felt somebody around me. And I just seen this former person and just flashed right away from me."

The tongue-in-cheek look at the past also seems like a good set-up for some of the productions about to be shown.

We do look for films sometimes that are old-fashioned melodramas," muses Lanier. "So in terms of stories, I think they sometimes fit the town. But then again, I think we have a lot of modern type of filmmaking also."

Tickets are available for single events, one-day ticket bundles and four-day passes. The Boulder Theatre is located on Arizona Street in downtown Boulder City.

For more information, click here.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off