Chapel to be museum fixture

Las Vegas was dotted 20 years ago with stand-alone wedding chapels such as the Candlelight Wedding Chapel near the Riviera.

Then came the megaresort era. Wedding chapels were incorporated into the new, mammoth hotels, and the gorgeous chapels became a dying breed.

Rather than see his business leveled by a wrecking ball, Candlelight owner Gordon Gust in 2006 gave his 40-year-old chapel to the Clark County Parks and Recreation Department.

Several weeks ago, the state Cultural Affairs Commission awarded the county $128,000 to renovate the chapel. The building, which already has been moved to the Clark County Museum, is expected open in the fall of 2009 as one of the museum's attractions.

"It is an important part of our history," said Mark Hall-Patton, administrator of the museum at 1830 S. Boulder Highway in Henderson. "The wedding chapel is uniquely Nevada."

The museum already is home to a Las Vegas railroad cottage, the old Boulder City railroad depot, bars, barns and other buildings that offer its 45,000 annual visitors a real chance to see yesterday.

Earlier the museum received a grant from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to put in a foundation and do site work for the chapel. The state grant is expected to cover the rest of the renovation costs.

Hall-Patton readily admits the Candlelight was not Las Vegas' most famous chapel, but it is a "clone" of the best known and still functioning Little Church of the West near Mandalay Bay. And a share of the rich and famous did exchange their marital vows in the Candlelight, including Tony Curtis, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Caine and Clayton Moore.

Bette Midler is still married to the man she wed at the Candlelight, Martin von Haselberg, who worked as a performance artist under the name Harry Kipper.

They were married at 2 a.m. Dec. 16, 1984, after the couple drove in from Los Angeles. A tape of "Juliet of the Spirits" was played as the couple exchanged vows in front of a minister posing as Elvis.

With Midler now performing at Caesars Palace, Hall-Patton hopes she can be persuaded to show up at the Candlelight's reopening ceremonies.

He said everyone has a story about someone they know who married at a wedding chapel, so the Candlelight should be a popular addition.

"We get offered a lot of buildings," he added. "This one was perfect."

The wedding chapel business initially flourished in Reno after Nevada legalized gaming in 1931, Hall-Patton said.

Nevada earlier had approved laws to allow people to wed without a waiting period and a blood test.

That appealed to a nation that began moving West in droves in the late 1940s. Las Vegas soon supplanted Reno as the gaming capital and as the place to get married.

"Las Vegas spent a lot more advertising itself," Hall-Patton said. "It was 'Fun in the Sun' and 'Play by Day, Play by Night.' Now it is 'What Happens Here, Stays Here.' We are still doing it."

Of course, he added they already are receiving requests from people who want to be married at the renovated Candlelight. Hall-Patton said some of those requests probably will be accommodated.

The museum will have to develop a schedule of appropriate times for weddings because he doubts newlyweds will want to tie the knot in front of the hundreds of schoolchildren who tour the museum most weekday mornings.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or (775) 687-3901.