Las Vegas Sun

October 31, 2014

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Little Church of the West prepared to move south

It was the chapel where Harry James and Betty Grable exchanged vows in 1943, where Judy Garland said "I do" to Mark Herron in 1965, and where Elvis Presley slipped a ring on Ann-Margret's finger in the 1964 film, "Viva Las Vegas."

These celebrities were among more than 100,000 happy couples from all over the world who exchanged vows at the Little Church of the West, the oldest building on the Strip, and the first structure in Las Vegas built as a wedding chapel.

For more than a half century, the Little Church of the West has remained a fixture on the Strip -- originally on the grounds of the Last Frontier Hotel and for the past 17 years on the grounds of the Hacienda.

But on New Year's Eve, the Hacienda will be imploded to make way for a 4,000-room Circus Circus resort.

And what of the Little Church of the West?

On Wednesday it's moving south -- exactly two-tenths of a mile south to the east side of the Strip at Russell Road.

"We've hired a moving company to move the structure in one piece -- chapel and all," said Greg Smith, who has owned the Little Church since 1983.

"I've had 13 years of wonderful memories," Smith said, "but these days I'm so busy planning the move, you don't have time to get sentimental."

Circus Circus officials offered Smith a lease package to remain at the Hacienda site, which the owner declined.

"I just didn't feel that I could operate in the black under the terms of their proposed lease, and also we always would have been at the mercy of the landlord," said Smith, who explained that the chapel will be located on a one-acre parcel owned by his family.

The chapel, the only building on the Strip that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the brainchild of William Moore, one of the original operators of the Last Frontier.

"We refer to him as the original owner," Smith said. "It was Moore who came up with the concept for the Little Church of the West. The story goes that he and one of the beat photographers in Las Vegas thought the chapel would be a nice touch to add to the Strip."

With its redwood interior and cedar exterior, the Little Church, which has been photographed countless times over the years, has evolved into one of the most recognizable landmarks on the Strip.

Among the celebrities who have taken the plunge at the Little Church are Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mickey Rooney, Robert Goulet, Bob Geldof, Dudley Moore and Mel Torme.

"The chapel offers personalized service that you don't get everywhere," Smith said. "There is a homespun atmosphere to it that people look forward to."

And Smith promises the personalized service that made the Little Church famous will continue.

"Our new location is really something," he said. "The visibility is marvelous, and the landscaping will be beautiful."

The chapel plans to open again for business at its new location Dec. 11.

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