Boulder City Magazine is a monthly publication full of information about Boulder City and Southern Nevada. Boulder City Magazine features the Boulder City Home Guide, a real estate guide to Boulder City and Southern Nevada.

Boulder City History
by Shirl Naegle, Manager
Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum

The Look of Hoover Dam
More than a decade before the Boulder Dam Project was approved, engineers such as Frank Crowe had already been sketching out ideas as to how the project could be accomplished. They were aware before the start that the task was monumental and the resulting structure would gain world attention. The personal accounts of those individuals that labored on the dam reflect that they knew they were contributing to a project of great importance.

The initial plans for the finished facade of the dam and adjoining structures was very plain, but adorned with a Gothic-inspired parapet on the dam’s crest incised with a strange decorative motif. The powerhouse was awkward and looked like an oversized mill; the outlet houses were heavy with an industrial appearance. A pair of massive spread-winged eagles set on the roadway towers violently clashed with the clean lines of the arching dam. The façade was unbalanced and criticized as being too plain and unremarkable for a project of such an immense scale.

The Bureau of Reclamation responded to these shortcomings and enlisted Gordon B. Kaufmann, an English born Los Angeles architect, to rework the appearance of the dam. Kaufmann had had a hand in the design of the Bureau of Reclamation Administration building in Boulder City and his design for the L.A. Times (1934) building would win him a gold medal at the 1937 Paris Exposition for its Streamline Modern style. By January 1933, he handed the Bureau a large portion of his vision for the dam’s final look, most of which was incorporated. He was responsible for the flowing lines of Modernism and Art Deco that would give Hoover Dam its iconic appearance.

Kaufmann integrated the power plant, dam crest, intake towers and spillways into a whole which played off each other and took advantage of the plain surfaces and shadows created by the structures. His design added elegance, with sculptured turrets rising seamlessly from the dam face. He added lights to the intake towers for nighttime effect and clocks to show the time in Nevada and Arizona. He treated the dam as a single entity with observation niches and towers that rise unimpeded and are continuations of the dam face rather than separate entities of the earlier facade design.

On behalf of the Boulder City Museum and Historical Association.

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