A Little Chapel in Vegas, 1940s
Casablanca opens in movie theaters, Bing Crosby is singing White Christmas, and the United States enters World War II, as servicemen are rushing to marry their sweethearts before heading to the Pacific. The year is 1942.
Just a few steps off the Las Vegas strip, a little wooden chapel stands waiting to transport you to the 1940s. Couples have been saying their vows in the Little Church of the West since 1942 and other than fresh paint and carpeting, the chapel remains exactly as it was – an unadulterated slice of history.
With a quick glance at the chapel - the dark cedar exterior, the quaint but towering steeple, the fragile painted glass - I could sense that I was quite far from present day Glitz Vegas. The chapel is said to be a miniaturized replica of church in a California mining town.
The inside of the church is dark and smooth, intimate and poised in its timelessness. It’s adorned with California redwood interior, stalwart pews with light white garnish, and four Victorian lamps that are said to be from a 19th-century railroad car. The chapel has such a presence, such a personality, that couples may feel they have an extra wedding guest.
Be careful, though. Not just anyone can stroll into the chapel. Guests need to be accompanied by personnel from the office and I would advise calling ahead. The Monday I came in to look around, the chapel was booked with weddings all day, leaving me only a few minutes to breathe in the experience before I was rushed away.
The chapel has been standing in this city since the Vegas Strip was just a dream. It was a part of the skyline while the very first casinos and resorts were under construction, almost all of which it has managed to outlive. It was originally built with the Last Frontier Hotel which also (case in point) no longer exists. The city has a terrible habit of getting rid of everything a little old to make room for something new and exciting – which creates a fun and perpetually changing environment, but makes great historic finds like this extremely hard to come by.
If you young couples plan on having your special day in this little piece of history, I would book ahead. Little Church of the West has been booked solid with weddings since 1942 when servicemen wanted to fit in a quick wedding before shipping off to WW II. Of course the easy Nevada marriage (and divorce) laws certainly help keep the couples lined up and ready to say their vows. The Little Church of the West has housed more celebrity marriages than any other chapel in the world (including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Angelina Jolie, and Richard Gere).
Next time you’re in Vegas, take a quick drive down Las Vegas Boulevard South. You may miss it the first time around due to shiny and glittery distraction (like I did), but once you find this 1940s treasure, the embrace from times past is worth your troubles.