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Brief History of the World-Famous Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas

#byLizPublika


Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada
Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada

As of February 20th, 2022, the Clark County Clerk’s office (the busiest in the world) had issued 5-million marriage licenses since the county was founded in 1909. Makes sense, considering that to get married anywhere in Las Vegas, a couple needs $77 and photo IDs as proof of legal age. After that, a wedding can take place within a matter of hours. And a lot of them do, with couples opting for A Little White Wedding Chapel as the venue of choice.


Situated between a motel and a tattoo parlor on Las Vegas Boulevard, the chapel has been a staple of Las Vegas weddings since the early 1950s. It employs ten ministers, who are constantly rushing around the venue, assisting one couple after the next, while expertly putting out small fires that range from tending to ripped dresses to sourcing beautiful bouquets of flowers.


Different sources report different dates for when the chapel opened, with some listing the year as 1951 and others as 1955. Either way, Charolette Richards has been working there since the late 1950s, and has presided over more weddings than most people in history (probably). In numerous cases, her tenure with the Chapel has outlasted many of the marriages that she presided over across the decades, including the marriages of some very famous people.


Sin City
Sin City

Though Richards is a pioneer in an industry built on easing elopement, she nevertheless identifies as a hopeless romantic. Sure, the venue she’s been heading for close to seven decades is in the heart of Sin City, but Richards insists that A Little White Wedding Chapel is genuinely a place for romance, love, and commitment. Pop culture has made many of us skeptical of the integrity of a Las Vegas wedding, but Richards isn’t fazed.


One reason for this is her own story. It started with heartbreak in Las Vegas. After her first husband abandoned her in the city, she met a lovely man by the name of Merle Edwards, who not only rescued her from the street and gave her a new life, he also gave her another shot at love by becoming her second husband. Serendipitously, Edwards was already involved in the wedding chapel business at the time, and so bringing Richards onboard was a natural decision.


When the chapel first opened, Las Vegas didn’t have a booming wedding industry. As a matter of fact, the chapel she operated with her husband was the only one like it outside of a couple of casinos. Arguably, it was her entrepreneurial ingenuity that led to the creation of the famed one-stop-shop business model, which then became the standard on the Strip. To this day, no other chapel in Las Vegas has the same notoriety and draw.



Another reason has to do with Hollywood; A Little White Wedding Chapel has been featured in a lot of shows and movies. In Friends, for example, Rachel and Ross get drunk and married in Las Vegas. So do Stu and Jade in The Hangover. And so on. In reality, though, chapels are not in the business of marrying people when they’ve been drinking, or after12am, unless a wedding was scheduled ahead of time.


In the years since the single-room chapel first opened, it has grown into a legitimate wedding village. It now includes a gown-and-tuxedo store, a hairdresser, a floral shop, and several satellite chapels in an adjacent complex. There’s also a gazebo, music and entertainment available via Elvis impersonators, a limousine fleet, and even a drive-through chapel, the first of its kind, affectionately known as the “Tunnel of Love.”


Since 1991, Richards has had the honor of partaking in more than 50,000 weddings performed via the drive-through window alone. It was inspired by pragmatism above all else. “One day there was a lot of rain and the poor people had to go around the chapel and get wet,” revealed Richards. “I said I’m going to have a window put right here at this particular spot, looking outside, and I said ‘I’m going to marry people in their cars.'”


Ceremony
Ceremony

While the facility grew and evolved to the point of featuring five different chapels, the original chapel has remained virtually unchanged. A little room with a simple pulpit and just enough space for a few rows of white pews sporting worn down velvet cushions is a gem left over from a simpler time. Here, the energy, history, and the dreams of the couples who started their married lives, can be felt in a way that can only be summed up by one word: hope.


And a little bit of magic. A recipe for lasting love is included with every ceremony. It includes 2 hearts full of love, 2 heaping cups of kindness, 4 armfuls of gentleness, 2 cups of friendship, 2 cups of joy, 2 big hearts of forgiveness, 1 lifetime of togetherness, and 2 minds full of tenderness. Stir these daily with happiness, humor, and patience, and serve with warmth and compassion, as well as respect and loyalty.


“Everything I love is love,” shared Richards. Indeed it is, Las Vegas style.






Feature Stories

VOL. 22 

ART of LOVE

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