Las Vegas wedding history celebrated in new exhibit

Brides and grooms often pose for a photo in front of the historic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. Now, years of romantic getaways to the wedding capital of the world have led at least one chapel to recreate its own sign, like the half-sized version, “Married in Fabulous Las Vegas,” unveiled this week at Chapel of the Flowers.

The downtown Las Vegas chapel had the stylized vintage sign created as a tribute to the 5 million couples who tied the knot in Las Vegas, according to a release from the downtown wedding chapel.

“Our new “Married in Las Vegas” sign is a symbol of love,” Donne Kerestic, CEO at Chapel of the Flowers, said in a release. “We hope our photo location will be a popular destination for all locals and tourists visiting Downtown Las Vegas.”

The chapel’s sign is just the latest addition to Las Vegas’ legacy as a wedding destination. It took decades for Southern Nevada to earn its global notoriety in the wedding industry. Now that history is being celebrated in a new exhibit, sponsored by the Office of the Clark County Clerk, that highlights the wedding industry.

The first known reference to Las Vegas as “the wedding capital of the world” came in a 1953 London Daily Herald article, spotlighting the unique industry and cementing its global reach.

It even mentioned a trend that still exists today: all-inclusive wedding planning.

“For £9 they will provide not only organ music and witnesses but orchids for the bride and a photographer who will send snaps to your ‘home town paper’ with a society note,” the article states.

Clark County Clerk Lynn Marie Goya worked with Cynthia Ammerman, a historian and preservationist, and Bridal Spectacular’s Laura Covington, to set up the exhibit in the Clark County Government Center’s rotunda. Visitors can peruse posters set up around the lobby showing original family homes-turned-chapels from the 1930s, facts about each decade, a celebrity wedding slideshow and sample vintage wedding dresses from the past century.

‘Really helped create Las Vegas’

The free exhibit, which opened Tuesday, runs through May 4. It’s available from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.

“It’s a legacy industry that really helped create Las Vegas,” Goya said. “Gaming, which was illegal in many states, easy divorce and easy marriage are really the core services that made Las Vegas, Las Vegas.”

Nevada’s quick weddings and divorces began in the 1930s when the state nixed requirements for a blood test and waiting period, enticing Californians and others to the desert for their nuptials.

The popularity continued into the 1940s, when World War II spurred more young couples to marry before being drafted. About 20,000 weddings took place in 1942 in Clark County, a 145 increase over the previous year, according to the county.

Nowadays, the annual rate is significantly higher. The Marriage License Bureau issued more than 77,000 licenses in 2021, according to the clerk’s office. Goya said the department is on track to license 80,000 couples this year.

Clark County issued its 5 millionth wedding license in February, the same week of 2-22-22, or “Twosday,” a popular wedding date and the fourth-highest number of couples wed on a special date with 2,341 couples tying the knot, it said.

‘New vibrancy’

The exhibit is part of a county and Las Vegas Wedding Chamber of Commerce yearlong campaign to highlight the industry’s impact on Nevada and the millions of couples who brought their love story to Vegas.

The industry hopes to capitalize on the resurging popularity in Vegas weddings with more innovations, like better technology and live-streaming, personalized cocktails and trendy decor.

“Las Vegas has an incredibly innovative industry,” Goya said. “What’s been really fun is to see the community get really excited about weddings again. There’s a new surge, a new vibrancy to it.”

Curmudgeons may say 50 percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce — another quickie service offered that was key to Nevada’s early history. But Goya argued that it’s more important to celebrate the memories made out of love and encouraged couples to share their story online.

“Not every story ends happily,” she said. “Obviously, you either get divorced or you die eventually. But it’s not about the ending, it’s still a love story. You have kids from it. You have generations from it. Vegas is just really happy to be a part of that story because it’s life.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.