A Safe Place - Essay about BC

Here is a letter/essay written by an alumni from the Class of 1958.  Even though she moved to Utah early in her high school years, she offers this great remembrance.  Hope you enjoy.    JW


A Safe Place: Boulder City, Nevada

By: Karen Rosenbaum, November 2006


In the late 1940s and early 1950s, during my childhood, Boulder City, Nevada, was a family town.  It was planned and started in 1931 by the U.S. government to house those who worked on the Boulder Dam, which was dedicated by FDR in 1935.  (When the dam was renamed, in 1947, to honor Herbert Hoover, many of the townspeople, including my parents, refused to acknowledge the change.)


During my years of residence, Boulder City’s population was four or five thousand.  The major employers were the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation—all those folks still maintaining the dam—and the U.S. Bureau of Mines, where my metallurgist father worked.  Managed by the federal government, the town was the only place in Nevada where gambling, alcohol sales, and prostitution were illegal.  There wasn’t much cultural nor economic nor political diversity in Boulder City.  Most families lived in one-story wooden houses, with two or three bedrooms, one-car garages, and front yards with dry-looking lawns and spindly trees.  Most of the houses had been hauled across the desert, as ours had, on big trailers. There were a lot of white people and a lot of Democrats.


My mother was probably a typical Boulder City housewife. She drove her husband and his sack lunch to work some days so she could have the car—a navy blue Pontiac.  She was active in the PTA, the Mormon Church children’s auxiliary, and the Democratic Party.  She sewed my clothes and my two brothers’ shirts and pajamas.  She played a lot of bridge and had a lot of friends.

There was one grade school, with one class for each grade. I don’t remember anyone driving me to school, though I guess it must have happened—maybe on those rare occasions when it was raining or when I was newly recovered from measles or chickenpox.  Most mornings my best friend Susie Dexter and I sauntered or skipped up I Street together, then cut across on Utah Street to the school.  In the afternoons, we checked in with our mothers before setting off to play.


The biggest dangers we could imagine were skinned knees, sunburn, insect bites, and stickers from the ever-present weeds.  We were pretty much free-range kids, roller skating on the sidewalks, playing ball in the streets, seeking refuge from the heat in the library or the Rexall Drug Store where we could buy lime Coca Colas and three flavors of ice cream.  We were regulars at the only movie theater’s Saturday matinee, trying not to eat our whole package of Necco wafers during the newsreel, the cartoon, and the adventure serial, but saving at least a few for the feature film, often a western.  In the summers, most of the kids in town, no matter what the family’s religious persuasion, attended the Community Church Bible School (where we sang “Jonah, Jonah, Jonah, Jonah, Jonah, in the whale, whale, whale, whale” and made papier-mâché lemons) and the Mormon Primary (where my mother, once a week, taught us about American Indians and where we dressed up in fringed outfits she’d made from dyed-brown sheets). There was also a crafts class at a community center, where younger kids wove stretchy hot pads and older kids got to wood-burn and copper-mold interesting pictures.  Two or three days a week a bus took us to Lake Mead for swimming lessons.  There were talent shows and piano recitals and big potluck dinners in the basement at the Community Church and on the picnic benches at the lake.  There were fireworks and trike-bike parades for the 4th of July and a wonderful Halloween carnival with a scary spook alley sponsored by the PTA.

My favorite party activity was the scavenger hunt—which tells a lot about the kind of place Boulder City was.  We would set out from the party in teams of twos or threes with lists of items to bring back.  It never occurred to us that the adults who answered our knocks wouldn’t try their best to help.  Once, I remember, one of the items my team needed was Juicy Fruit.  The nice housewife at the door wondered—did this mean Juicy Fruit gum (my least favorite kind) or a piece of soft, ripe fruit?  She didn’t have any gum, but she obligingly gave us a peach.

When I was about 7, I did what most of my girlfriends did—I donned a brown beanie and a brown dress with a Peter Pan collar and a little gold pin with a dancing elf, and I became a Brownie Scout.  Twice a year the Brownies got to divide up the town and go door to door: on Veterans’ Day, we marched around offering paper poppies with pipe cleaner stems, and in the spring we lugged boxes of Girl Scout cookies.  We loved these sales jobs because we were so successful. Adults of all ages made a fuss over us and bought our wares.

Through the Brownies I was introduced to a book about the elf-like creatures that apparently inspired the naming of the original English Brownie Scouts.  Always excited by enchanted beings, I particularly liked the habits of the book Brownies to do good deeds in a secretive way. I began getting up early and sneaking quietly around the house looking for little tasks to do. Usually I set the breakfast table and left a note saying that the “Townie Brownies” had been there.  My parents were thrilled and bragged about me to their friends.  I never admitted being a Townie Brownie, however.  That would have spoiled the magic.

Boulder City was an idyllic place for young children—at least for children like my friends and my brothers and me.  It wasn’t such a good place for pre-adolescents though.  All the activities that worked so well for youngsters seemed inane as we grew older.  The glitter of good will vanished.  I remember my sixth-grade Halloween costume—a store-bought skeleton outfit.  I felt ugly and embarrassed.  The spook alley wasn’t as scary anymore.  The Fourth-of-July fireworks shrank too.  Instead of riding on a crepe-paper-decorated bicycle, I marched in the school band, sometimes squawking on my clarinet, most of the time just pretending to blow.

And one afternoon my friend Georgia Julian took me into a closet in her house and showed me a three-foot-high, framed painting of a naked woman.  Her father caught us whispering about it. “Some people will think I am a dirty old man,” he said, “because I keep that beautiful picture.  They don’t understand that it’s art, so I have to hide it here.”  I didn’t understand that it was art either.

I understood hiding though.  I replaced my secretive good deeds with pranks and tricks—much more challenging.  Once, a friend and I painted a garage purple with squashed iris blossoms.  Maybe, if my family hadn’t moved the summer I was eleven, I would have been one of the kids who got into more trouble.  When we relocated to the big city, Salt Lake, I felt rescued from boredom and from crime and punishment.

Nowadays Boulder City has about three times the population and twenty times the land area of the little town I knew.  I have seen pictures of spacious tile-roofed homes with views of Lake Mead.  In my day, only public buildings had those red tile roofs, and one had to drive several miles to see the lake.  Our house, at 701 Avenue I, is still there—my brother visited it last year and took pictures, and it is even kind of recognizable though the cinderblock back wall seems a lot shorter and the playhouse my grandfather built has disappeared.  And I’m sure the phone number there is no longer 378J.

In the grand scheme of things, Boulder City is still a small, safe town, but it’s not much like the town I left in 1952.  In 1958, the federal government surrendered municipal control, and in 1960, almost thirty years after its inception, Boulder City was officially incorporated.  Nine years later, the new political powers permitted the sale of alcohol.  Gambling, however, is still illegal.  I don’t know about prostitution.


My mother wrote down each person's name on the picture!  Top row: Mrs. Augustus, Linda Frook, Elizabeth Raab, Sandra Buzick, Kathryn (Susie) Dexter, Rita May Piro, Jane Hoppe, Karen Rosenbaum, Michael Phinny, Bobby Carter; bottom row: Bobby Werner, Wayne Stubbs, Sonny Woods, Byron Wallace, David Turner, Charles Smee, Jimmy Widner, David Stanley, Eddie Vic Euhling, Robert Riley. (Absent: Karvel Rose, Melville Rains, Joan LeBourne) I wonder where Jane's twin Joan Hoppe is in our class pix--maybe she was in the class below us?  Karen is in the top row...3rd from the right.   Our 4th grade pic, I think.