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Beth Schwindt

Stage Sets of Ritual and Desire: Nevada Wedding Chapels

       The early decades of Nevada weddings took place before most consider this chapter of Nevada history to have begun and established certain reputations that Nevada still carries today. Reno has been the quiet, discreet town of divorces, divorcees and quick marriages. Las Vegas has long attracted the Hollywood crowd and their wedding industry hallmark is the scores of celebrity weddings that take place there. The unique architecture of this industry, the wedding chapel, began to appear in noticeable quantity in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Vegas and Reno, with their different markets, developed similar chapel architecture.

         Wedding chapels, however, are much more complicated structures than their architecture implies. Nuances in their styles and their rise in popularity may be contributed to sources ranging from celebrity marriages to architecture inspired by the popular 1960s television program, Bonanza (that was filmed in Incline Village, Nevada). Although many famous people and Wall Street tycoons have been married under their roofs, the main audience of the wedding chapel has always been the common—and even poor—man. Chapels provide an economical setting for a wedding while still providing a sense of the wedding tradition. However, the rise of chapels in the resort casinos and hotels of Nevada are providing another easy option for the marrying couple that is quickly surpassing wedding chapels in popularity. Most of the wedding chapels are in their forties, when, historically, people tend to find architecture at its ugliest. The fate of one chapel, Love’s Wedding Chapel in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada, a fifty-year old structure with a delightful 1960s makeover into a chapel, is set to be demolished soon because local business owners rallied for its demolition, stating it was ugly and did not fit into the neighborhood. The loss of this chapel is a loss of an important piece of Nevada’s history and the history of the many who were married in its gardens and under its roof, as would be the destruction of anymore of these unique cultural treasures.



           Beth Schwindt graduated from Lawrence University in 2000 with an art history degree. She loves Byzantine art and reformation history. At SAIC, she has learned to stop being a culture snob and love Elvis. She blames her grandfather, who ended every good story with “then the Indians came.”  Ending stories about the Crusades that way doesn’t work.


Thesis Advisor: Rolf Achilles, Adjunct Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Historic Preservation

Thesis Reader: Vince Michael, Associate Professor, Chair, Historic Preservation






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