Little Church of the West

The Little Church of the West pays homage to Nevada's mining heritage while cashing in on one of the state's major commercial enterprises, the wedding industry. The church that now sits at 4617 Las Vegas Boulevard South, on the "Strip," was built in 1942 as part of the Last Frontier Resort. Architect and builder William J. Moore, acting for his uncle investor R. E. Griffith, conceived the Last Frontier as a full-service destination, with hotel, casino, and wedding chapel. Moore capitalized on Nevada's Old West image, giving the entire complex a western theme. To design the chapel, Moore visited mining towns in Nevada and northern California, photographing early churches and finally choosing one as the model.

More elaborate than many real pioneer churches, the replica Gothic Revival chapel has cedar board-and-batten walls, a tall, shake-clad steeple, and shallow non-functional buttresses. The interior, paneled with stained and varnished California redwood, features a non-denominational altar. Four converted gas lamps from nineteenth century railroad cars hang over the center aisle.

Easy divorces and speedy marriages had been a mainstay of Nevada commerce for forty years when the Little Church opened. With no waiting period, no medical tests, and a county clerk's office open twenty-four hours a day, couples with little time or patience, or with a big sense of adventure, flocked to Las Vegas. A few wedding chapels already operated in 1942, in converted buildings on the edge of town, but a chapel on the main thoroughfare, looking like a tiny respectable church, attracted much business. The timing was perfect. World War II raged, and couples fearing separation due to military service rushed to get married. The recently oiled highway to Los Angeles made access from that major population center fast and easy. After the war many who married in haste returned to Las Vegas for a divorce, some eventually returning to marry yet again; weddings peaked in 1941-42 and again in 1946-47.

In the 1940s and again in the 1990s the Little Church of the West advertised itself as "the wedding place of the stars," touting names like Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and more recently, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford, and Bob Geldoff. The building, now a privately-owned independent enterprise, has been moved three times. With each move, care was taken to maintain the original appearance of the chapel, now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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