There's a heart behind the home of quickie weddings

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Let's face it: Las Vegas weddings have often been saddled with a not-altogether-positive connotation. Long known for quickie weddings and even faster divorces, Sin City has left its imprint on some of the most efficient, if not effective, unions in history. 

Commoners get married here every day, but it's celebrity newlyweds who have made Vegas weddings synonymous with instant gratification. Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Wayne Newton, Richard Gere, Michael Jordan and Elvis Presley have all tied the knot here. Mickey Rooney liked it so much he did it eight times. 

From the flashy salons at the high-end hotels to the scores of mom-and-pop chapels lining Las Vegas Boulevard between the Sahara and downtown, there is something for everyone. And despite the popular notion, some establishments really do offer bliss along with the bling. 

The Little White Chapel, for example, holds up as an oasis of genuine warmth and caring in a sea of largely cookie-cutter competition.

This is Las Vegas, however, so tacky fun also plays a big role. The huge marquee out front, the drive-through wedding window and the Tribute to Elvis Pink Cadillac package are all examples of Vegas-style kitsch.

But scratch just under the surface and you'll find that there is actually someone here who cares. Her name is Charolette Richards, and she has been running, and living, this business with tender care and devotion since 1958. 

Richards, who lived on the property until recent years, insists that her goal is "to ensure that a couple's day of commitment is meaningful."

Fulfilling that goal is the practical extension of her motto: Take time and care; never rush.

Some of her more popular packages include: the Tribute to Elvis (priced at $275), which includes the King -- actually, a reasonable facsimile thereof -- serenading the couple while cruising the Strip in a pink Cadillac; the Michael Jordan package ($419), which includes professional photographs, a large bouquet and a DVD of the ceremony; and the Drive Thru Wedding Ceremony ($40), especially popular on Sunday mornings when lovebirds are heading home without much time or cash.   

The ultimate in high-level nuptials is the $1,500 Little White Chapel in the Sky hot-air balloon ceremony, which includes the services of a minister and, of course, a pilot and crew.

Able to host seven simultaneous ceremonies in separate on-site locations, the Little White Chapel is a model of efficiency as well as a self-contained wedding superstore. 

Show up in jeans and a T-shirt? No problem; they'll rent you a gown, tuxedo or Elvis jacket in the adjoining outfit store. No time to order flowers? The chapel floral shop handles that easily. A courtesy limo, from a fleet of 14, provides transportation to and from a couple's hotel.  

Short on witnesses? They're provided at no extra charge, too. (No, they don't haul in homeless people.)

Recorded music to suit almost any need and theme is available, in addition to a live organist and violinist. Professional photographers are at the ready to document the special occasion, and ministers (donation suggested) conduct the ceremony in English, Spanish, German, French or Japanese.

The classic Las Vegas touch, however, is the drive-through Tunnel of Love, a semi-circular drive featuring a ceiling painted with cherubs in a heavenly setting. The basic drive-through service -- delivered via the drive-in window, of course -- costs just 40 bucks. 

Those without time, money or, for that matter, clothing find this option preferable to the indoor ceremony.

Originally designed by Richards to accommodate handicapped patrons, this venue has been used by couples in convertibles and pickup trucks as well as on motorcycles and bicycles.

The chapel's hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. on weekends. Although the city's marriage license bureau, once open 24 hours, now closes at midnight on weekends, Richards stays open until 4 a.m. to accommodate those who may have received their license earlier in the evening. Couples who show up at 3:55 a.m. will be wed, with no exceptions.

Richards is currently constructing an eighth chapel, the Palapa, where couples will be wed in a Hawaiian/Polynesian theme.

Asked what makes her establishment unique in Las Vegas, Richards said the Little White Chapel "is, always has been and always will be my life until the day I leave this earth."

That affirmation may be the most honest assessment in all of Las Vegas.

For more information, call (800) 545-8111 or go to www.alittlewhitechapel.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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