|Famed photographer William “Bill” Belknap, Jr., had owned a photo studio in Boulder City for many years. His first, known as the Kiva, was in the basement of the Boulder Dam Hotel where Belknap had worked since the late 1930s. In the late 1940s Harry Won leased the hotel restaurant and kept his pantry in the basement next to Belknap’s studio; whenever Bill ran his print washers, the water backed into Harry’s pantry and flooded his vegetables. Enough angry complaints from Harry and it was time for Bill to move.
The small, oddly shaped lot at what became 415 Nevada Way was never meant to be built upon. But juice counted just as much in Boulder City then as it does today, and the government gave Belknap a lease. By this time, two other famous photographers had joined Bill: Cliff Segerblom and Mark Swain. Segerblom designed the new building in what news articles called Western Modern, but with its rough wood, plate glass, native stone, and sharp angles it plainly resembled buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It also had a full basement where Bill, Cliff, and Mark kept their production equipment. On the long wall facing Nevada Way Segerblom painted a road map of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area which still exists. There was a shelf along the bottom of the map and sawn-off tree stumps served as chairs where tourists could sit to write their postcards. Even more unusual was the bigger-than-life-sized cast iron Seneca Indian chief and wolf which stood in front of the shop. This had been a lawn ornament from the Belknap family home in upstate New York; Bill paid $125 to have it shipped by rail to Boulder City where he set it at the store and filled it with concrete to prevent its theft. In 1971, however, vandals pulled the chief over and destroyed him.
Belknap Photographic Services held its grand opening on September 17, 1950 and was in business 15 years. In 1965 Ted Whitmoyer, chief naturalist for the Park Service at Lake Mead and a future city councilman, bought the photo business from Belknap and called it Southwest Camera. Whitmoyer sold the building in 1972 to the Marinaville Corporation who were developing Hemenway Valley. Ramon and Petra Gomez, whose Little Mexico gift shop stood just across the street where Liz and Kae Pohe’s Six Company Visitor’s Bureau is now, leased 415 and moved their business there, finally buying the building in 1976. The Gomez family have been careful to preserve this unique and important little building; we’re fortunate it still stands in almost the same condition as when it opened 57 years ago.
Sponsored by the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum.