And ends up at church. Two churches to be exact and they both have deep and interesting ties to the history of Las Vegas.
The first church I visited was The Little Church of the West listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places. It is the oldest building on the Strip and has had to move three times to stay out of the way the developer’s wrecking ball, more on that later. Right now, its location just south of the Mandalay Bay Resort.
The history of The Little Church of the West begins with an interesting character named Captain Guy McAfee. He was a vice squad captain with the Los Angeles Police Department and the alleged boss of underground gambling in the LA area. He turned his attention to Las Vegas in the 1930’s and bought the Pair-O-Dice club on a dusty strip of Highway 91, south of town. He renovated it and renamed it the 91 Club. He would jokingly compare this stretch of the highway to the busy Sunset Strip in LA and the name “The Strip” stuck and is still used today.
Enter another man named Thomas Hull. He started the whole trend of themed resorts in Las Vegas. He built a Spanish themed resort called “El Rancho” in the south end of town. It was a big success and attracted cinema magnate R.E. Griffith to the area. Griffith bought the 91 Club from Captain McAfee and hired his nephew and architect William J. Moore to develop an authentic western themed resort called “The Last Frontier.” It was to have an inviting pool built in the front of the resort to attract hot dusty tourists and a western village complete with a wedding chapel, called “The Little Church of the West.”
Moore’s inspiration for the church was taken from trips he took to mining towns in Nevada and Northern California. He would document their churches with photos and finally decided on the one he would model his church after. The style of the church is Gothic Revival and features cedar board-and-batten walls, a tall steeple clad with shakes, and shallow non-functional buttresses. The interior is paneled with stained and varnished California redwood and features a non-denominational altar. Four converted gas lamps from nineteenth century railroad cars hang over the center aisle.
Materials for the church were in short supply due to World War II due to everything being devoted to the war effort. Not to be denied, Moore came up with a secret resource, deserted mines. There is no doubt that if the government had discovered his resource, the materials would have been confiscated. Despite the hurdles Moore had to jump, the church opened on October 30, 1942.
As with many structures in Las Vegas, it has moved three times to stay out of the way of development. It was moved from the north side of the Last Frontier Hotel to the south side in 1954. In 1974 to make way for the Fashion Show Mall, it was moved the grounds of the Hacienda Hotel and in 1996 when the Hacienda was demolished it was moved to its current location.
The actress Betty Grable and big band leader Harry James were one of the first celebrities to be married in the church and well as many others including Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting this church and would highly recommend taking a little break from the hustle and bustle of the Strip to enjoy this piece of Las Vegas history. Who knows, maybe you too will take a walk down its aisle!
My next post will be about the Guardian Angel Cathedral and its interesting story of how it came to be. Till then!