Water Filtration Plant
The Boulder City Water Filtration Plant was built in 1931 as part of the water supply system from Boulder Dam to the new community of Boulder City, created by the Boulder Dam project. Adjacent to the brick Italianate-style filtration plant is a community garden and a small park, the Teddy Fenton Memorial Park Reflections Center, featuring sculptures by local artists.
Backstory and Context
The Boulder City Water Filtration Plant was built in 1931 as part of the water supply system
from the Colorado River to the brand new town of Boulder City. The federal government created a reservation in the Mojave Desert for the town of Boulder City under the Boulder Canyon Project Act, specifically to house the Boulder Dam workers and their families.
In addition to supplying clean water for residents, the water system supported greenbelts, community parks, and green lawns for the small but growing collection of homes. The town became a showplace for the federal government as the country recovered from the Great Depression.
Federal administrators established strict rules for residents to prohibit gambling, alcohol, and prostitution within the government reservation. The community motto of "clean, green Boulder City" referred to both the code of behavior and also the dramatic spot of green created in the desert due to the availability of clean, fresh water.
Water filtration was an important public health project for Boulder City, due to the turbidity of the Colorado River. Water from the silty river was pumped 1800-feet in elevation through a six-mile line to the filtration plant, then softened with soda ash and hydrated lime before being filtered through sand beds. The filtered water was then chlorinated and pumped another 200-feet to a two-million gallon reservoir above Boulder City on what is known as "tank hill".
Major rain storms in September 1932 flooded the muddy Colorado River and clogged the water filtration system. Newspapers of the day reported that "layers of the painted desert" had made "silt soup for Boulder". Water was hauled to Boulder City from Las Vegas until the water filtration plant was cleared and returned to operation. The plant continued to operate for half a century.
In 1982, the Bureau of Reclamation water system was discontinued and the General Services Administration negotiated with Boulder City for the transfer to the town of the approximately two-acre triangular shaped water filtration plant parcel. The Department of Health and Human Services granted the deed of ownership to Boulder City in 1985.
The brick Italianate-style architecture is unique for Boulder City for which the predominant style of the first commercial and residential buildings in the 1930s was Spanish Revival. In addition to the original water filtration plant structure which includes a two-story tower, the property included a parking area, equipment yard, and a weather reporting station. The water filtration plant was adjacent to a railroad spur for equipment and supplies delivery, hence the historically significant name, Railroad Avenue.
Since taking ownership of the property, residents of Boulder City have created a sculpture garden, known as Reflections, and a community garden where residents grow fresh fruits and vegetables. In April 2019, the water filtration plant became the outdoor stage for the community theater production, “Gun Crazy,” a murder mystery based on a real-life event in Boulder City's early history. The water filtration plant also was a featured stop on Boulder City's second Historic Preservation Day in May 2019.
Community historians and preservationists want to continue restoring the water filtration plant structure and property for adaptive reuse, saving a key element in the City's history and an iconic representation of Boulder City's role in transformative water development in the West.
Historic Boulder City Water Filtration Plant, Preliminary Report Facility Reuse Plan, City of Boulder City Community Development Department, January 31, 2006.
Saylor, Hali Bernstein. "Historic preservation on parade." Boulder City Review(Boulder City)May 01, 2019. . https://bouldercityreview.com/news/historic-preservation-on-parade-52106/
Goodyear, Celia Shortt. "City ponders fate of historic water filtration plant." Boulder City Review(Boulder City)April 04, 2018. . https://bouldercityreview.com/news/city-ponders-fate-of-historic-water-filtration-plant/
Saylor, Hali Bernstein. "Seen on Scene: At ‘Gun Crazy’." Boulder City Review(Boulder City)May 01, 2019. . https://bouldercityreview.com/community/seen-on-scene-at-gun-crazy-52032/
"Boulder City Water Plant Clogged by Heavy Deposit of Silt Following Storms." Reno Gazette Journal(Reno)September 10, 1932. .
"Boulder City is now settling down; Planned desert town is expected to have stable population of over 2000." Reno Evening Gazette(Reno)May 30, 1936. .