November 27, 2017

Photo Essay: Where Lovebirds Take the Biggest Gamble of All in Vegas

In my quest to discover and uncover traces of the "Old" Vegas, I usually come up short if I stay on the Strip, in that vast expanse between Mandalay Bay to the south and the Stratosphere to the north.

Until recently, I thought the only way to experience that Vegas of yore was to pay my respects at the Neon Boneyard or to walk along Fremont Street and try to imagine when it wasn't covered by an awning and I wouldn't be under the path of drunken zipliners.

But there's something else along Las Vegas Boulevard that's oh-so-Vegas and that's stood the test of time: wedding chapels.

When I was a kid, I was only aware of Vegas as a place people went to get married—or, more accurately, elope. I didn't really grasp the concepts of gambling, prostitution, or nightclubbing until much later.

But then when I started going to Vegas in the late '90s—and then more frequently for business in the late '00s—I never saw one wedding chapel, not one limo festooned with streamers, a "JUST MARRIED" banner, or the rattle of empty cans attached to the rear bumper by strings.

I never drove by any of them, or even passed them in a taxicab. I'd gotten to thinking that maybe they were a figment of Hollywood's imagination, or that maybe the'd all been imploded along with all the old casinos.

But once I finally decided to hunt them down—starting just last summer—I discovered a whole 'nother strip of a completely different sort in Vegas.

It's a strip of nuptials—and one that's not just littered with blackout proposals or shotgun weddings or sacraments soon to be annulled after a brief consummation.

These are the chapels of some people's wedding dreams—right out of a storybook fairytale.

After all, if it's good enough for Jon Bon Jovi or Joan Collins, why not forego spending your life savings on a palatial venue, ostentatious catering, and a dress you'll only wear once—especially if you're not a high roller?

Might as well put it into a slot machine or on the roulette wheel. At least then, you've got a chance of winning your money back.

Besides, the weddings at these chapels may be quickies, but they're just as much a part of the "show" culture in Vegas as Siegfried and Roy were or Penn and Teller still are.

And if you pick the right locale for your ceremony, you just might get a musical performance as part of the package deal.

And if you're in an even bigger hurry, you can choose one of the drive-thru services to become man and wife (or wife and wife, or husband and husband, as same-sex marriage was legalized in Nevada in 2014).

After all, anything goes at the Vegas wedding chapels—and whichever version of holy matrimony you're looking for, you'll probably be able to find it here.

And who wouldn't want to pledge their love and honor to their betrothed under the glittering flicker of neon lights and incandescent bulbs?

Who better to make you promise to love each other tender—and teach you how to be each other's teddy bear—than the King himself?

But, for a bit of class, and some history that goes even farther back in time, there's always the Little Church of the West—the oldest standing building on the Strip. It opened in 1942 as part of the now-defunct Hotel Last Frontier, but it's been moved a couple of times before landing in its current potion south of Mandalay Bay and walking distance from the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign (where the chapel can also host your ceremony).

Intended to replicate a typical "Old West" pioneer town church, it was built in the Late Gothic Revival style out of California redwood.

It's attracted such celebrities as Elvis himself (for his on-screen vows to Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas), Richard Gere (for his wedding to Cindy Crawford), and Angelina Jolie (for her wedding to Billy Bob Thornton).

And this charming chapel has been registered as a national landmark. It's a Vegas treasure, for sure.

I can certainly imagine far worse places to get married than Vegas.

But for those who've already gotten hitched elsewhere, I can't imagine anywhere better for vows to be renewed.

It is, after all, considered the "wedding Capital of the World."

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Storybook Wedding Chapel of Forest Lawn Cemetery
Photo Essay: Neon Boneyard, Vegas
Photo Essay: Elvis' Honeymoon History at The House of Tomorrow

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