Have you ever wondered what happened to those famous Nevada Brothels of days gone by?
Nevada has the distinction of being the only state in in the U.S. where prostitution is fully regulated and legalised. Over the years, the state has issued licenses to dozens of bawdy houses, some of which gained notoriety, not just on the domestic stage but internationally. Sadly, many made hay whilst the sun shone but with the recent news that Lyon County is considering a ban on legalised bordellos, the sun may be about to set for Nevada prostitution as we know it.
As of September 2018, there are 21 licensed and operational brothels in Nevada but, with the future of some of these in the balance, we wanted to take a look at (and pay homage to) some of the big-name bordellos that have closed down.
Current Prostitution Legislation in Nevada
The State legislation in Nevada stipulates that:
- Prostitution is legal in licensed brothels.
- Brothels may only be permitted in counties with less than 700,000 inhabitants.
- Prostitutes must be tested for STIs weekly/monthly.
- The use of condoms by prostitutes is mandatory.
Prostitution is current legalised in 10 of Nevada’s 16 counties (and one independent city) with four of these permitting brothels in certain incorporated communities. However, in 3 of these counties, no brothel licences have been issued.
The situation can be summarised as follows:
|County||Legality of Prostitution||Licensed Brothels|
|Carson City||Not legal||None|
|Churchill County||Legal||None since 2004|
|Clark County||Not legal||None|
|Douglas County||Not legal||None|
|Elko County||Legal in Elko, Carlin, Wendover & Wells||2 in Carlin, 4 in Elko and 2 in Wells|
|Eureka County||Not legal||None|
|Humboldt County||Legal only in Winnemucca||None|
|Lander County||Legal||1 in Battle Mountain|
|Lincoln County||Not legal||None|
|Lyon County||Legal only in Mound House||4 in Mound House|
|Mineral County||Legal||1 in Mina|
|Nye County||Legal||1 in Amargosa Valley, 1 in Crystal and 2 in Pahrump|
|Pershing County||Not legal||None|
|Storey County||Legal||1 near Sparks|
|Washoe County||Not legal||None|
|White Pine County||Legal only in Ely||2 in Ely|
Famous Historic Nevada Brothels
Beatty, Nye County
Opened in 1958 when licenses for brothels were legally issued, this was one of the first three clubs in Nye County. Originally run by Betty Anderson by owned by Joe Conforte who subsequently ran the Mustang Ranch, the brothel was originally called the Jolly Dolly. Conforte sold the brothel to Vickie Starr in 1960 who changed its name to Vickie’s Star Ranch. After flood damage in 1970, Starr sold it to Fran York whereupon it was re-branded again as Fran’s Star Ranch. The brothel changed hands in 1997 when it was bought by Mack Moore who named the club after his wife, Angel.
A 5,000 sq. ft brothel situated on a 70-acre ranch, it was known for its airstrip and huge swimming pool; the former was also one of the reasons for its fame when in 1978, during a promotional stunt, a twin-engine aircraft resulted in a crash. The plane’s wreckage was located next to the brothel’s signage to attract customers.
Before Angel’s Ladies was finally closed for good in August 2014, the brothel was featured in an eponymously named documentary film, Angel’s Ladies. It has also appeared in a photography book by Marc McAndrews titled the Desert Rose as well as being the inspiration behind the Nevada band, Disappointment #1’s album, Live at Brothel Angel Ladies.
Betty’s Coyote Springs Ranch
Coyote Springs. Lincoln County
Prostitution was banned in Lincoln County in 1978 but this brothel was one of the best known whore houses around. It enjoyed a brief period of popularity between 1970 and 1978 and was also called Sally’s and Judy’s Ranch.
The brothel had a slogan, ‘Where you have to COME before you can GO!’ and was popular for its swimming pool and waterbed room
Former owner, William “Bill” Roberts hit the headlines in 1976 when a warrant was issued for his arrest over the shooting of a Las Vegas businessman, Richard Timson. Roberts was already serving two 25-year terms for unrelated killings.
Betty’s Coyote Springs Ranch closed down in 1978 after prostitution was made illegal in the county.
Tonopah, Nye County
Originally opening in 1904, the Big Casino in Tonopah, mid-way between Las Vegas and Reno, claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world at the time. Incorporating a dance hall, orchestra, restaurant and saloon as well as a gambling parlor and brothel , the Big Casino positioned itself as an entertainment emporium.
Hosting events like the Gans-Herman World Lightweight Boxing Championship fight and having wires to all the major racetracks of the day, the Big Casino was very popular. However, its liquor license was revoked in 1912 following a change in the gambling laws and the brothels financial affairs were also called into question. What followed was a strange turn of events when, in 1913, the, U.S. Circuit Court at Carson City were appointed as receivers for the Big Casino Company. Effectively, the federal government were now running a whorehouse. As a result, the Big Casino became known as “Woodrow Wilson’s Dancing Academy”.
The dance hall closed down shortly after and, in 1920, the casino was converted into the Big Casino Hotel in 1920. Continuing to operate as a brothel, the Big Casino was destroyed by fire in 1922.
Lida Junction, Esmerelda County
Opened in 1967, the Cottontail Ranch was most infamous for being a regular haunt of the business magnate, Howard Hughes whilst he lived in Las Vegas.
The brothel also made news headlines in the 1970s when the madam, Beverly Harrell not only ran for the Nevada Assembly but also battled the United States Bureau of Land Management. The government was trying to have the brothel removed from federal land. She won the case but failed to be elected to the house.
The Cottontail Ranch was the subject of a book written by Harrell in 1975 called An Orderly House and stories told by the women who worked there were also recorded for an LP entitled Coming My Way.
The brothel was closed down in 2004 when Harrell retired but is still for sale.
Sparks, Storey County
The Mustang Ranch, famously owned by Joe Conforte was originally opened in 1967 but was Nevada’s first legally licensed brothel in 1971. The original building was burned down in 1975 in a suspected arson attack but was rebuilt.
In 1982, a second brothel was added to the estate and called ‘Mustang II’ with the original bawdy house being rebranded as the ‘World Famous Mustang Ranch’. The second site was smaller and not as luxurious as the original and it was said that new working women would learn the ropes here or that some women were demoted to Mustang II if they weren’t ‘up-to scratch’.
At one time, the Mustang Ranch was the largest brothel in Nevada covering nearly 166 acres and was certainly the most profitable. The Mustang attracted working women from across the country and Conforte famously claimed that he could provide women or any age, race or size on request.
Following a high-profile tax-fraud case in 1990, Conforte fled to Brazil and, though the Mustang continued to operate under a holding company, the brothel was eventually closed down in 1999.
Winnemucca, Humboldt County
Originally built as a saloon in 1839 and transformed into a brothel in the 1860s, the Pussycat Ranch (aka Pussycat Saloon & Brothel) was located in an area of Winnemucca known as ‘The Line’. The red-light district was given this nickname in the 1970s when restrictions were introduced as to the number of guests allowed on the premises. This led to long queues forming outside the city’s numerous brothels.
Until its closure and subsequent demolition in 2008 the Pussycat Ranch was one of Nevada’s last authentic brothels. Featuring an original ornate bar which transported customers to the days of the dusty Old West, it was the last of the remaining brothels in Winnemucca and survived for almost 150 years.
Shady Lady Ranch
Scotty’s Junction, Nye County
The Shady Lady Ranch was not the biggest, the best or most notorious brothel in Nevada’s history of prostitution but it did have a reputation for pushing the boundaries.
In 2006, the owner, Bobbi Davis, challenged the state law which prohibited brothels from advertising. Though the case was successful in the Federal courts, the decision was then overturned by an appeals court leaving the ban in place. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Shady Lady Ranch tried to take the matter to the Supreme Court who refused to hear the case.
A few years later, Davis was again making waves as they hired a male prostitute to work at the ranch. State laws until this point legally defined that a prostitute be a woman with the specifics stating that sex workers must submit to a weekly cervical exam. Though unsupported by the Nevada Brothel Owners Association, Davis was successful in having this law rewritten so that male prostitutes may now also legally work in Nevada’s bordellos.
The publicity (and the male prostitute) did little to boost the brothel’s waning popularity and the Shady Lady Ranch closed in 2014.
Wild Horse Ranch
Sparks, Storey County
The Wild Horse Ranch was opened in 2002 and was originally a temporary eight-room facility. A purpose built house was constructed in 2003, the same year that the ranch became the subject of a BBC documentary featuring Louis Theroux. The film, Louis and the Brothel was an eye-opening, access-all-areas account of life in a licensed brothel.
In 2005, a second brothel was opened on the site using the buildings that were purchased from the sale of the Mustang Ranch (see above). Branded the ‘old bordello at a new site’ the new facility briefly traded as the Mustang but, due to legal issues over the use of the name, this was changed to ‘World Famous Brothel’ instead. In 2006, however, a federal judge ruled that the brothel could continue to be called the ‘Mustang’.
The Wild Horse Ranch lost its license in 2011 after the owners were found to have mishandled their financial affairs but the ‘World Famous Mustang Ranch’ continues to operate.
Other Closed Brothels from Nevada’s Past
Nevada has played host to many other historical brothels which have since closed their doors, so we wanted to do a quick roll call of those whore houses who have fallen by the wayside….lest we forget!
- Adobe Dance Hall, Rhyolite, Nye County – Early 20th century brothel
- Alberta Dent’s Rhyolite, Nye County – Early 20th century brothel
- Arizona Club, Las Vegas, Clark County – Closed in 1942
- Ash Meadows Sky Ranch, Ash Meadows, Nye County – Closed in the 1970s
- J.’s, Schurz, Mineral County – Closed in 1981
- Bikini’s Gentlemen’s Club, Beatty, Nye County – Closed in 2012
- Billie’s Day & Night, Mina, Mineral County
- Blue Fox Brothel, Wells, Elko County
- Bobbie’s Buckeye Bar, Tonopah, Nye County
- Calico Club, Battle Mountain, Lander County
- Cosmopolitan Saloon, Belmont, Nye County – Late 19th century brothel
- Cozy Corner Brothel, Winnemucca, Humboldt County
- Crook Shop, Belmont, Nye County – Late 19th century brothel
- Desert Dollhouse (aka The Green Front), Hawthorne, Mineral County
- Francine’s Lucky House, Mina, Mineral County
- Green Lantern, Yerrington, Lyon County – Closed in 1950s
- Green Lantern, Ely, White Pine County – Closed in 1999
- Harem, Goldfield, Esmerelda County
- Janie’s Ranch, Montgomery Pass, Nye County – Closed in the 1990s
- Jewel Consolidated, Rhyolite, Nye County – Destroyed by fire in 1908
- Julia’s Place, Virgina City, Storey County – 19th Century brothel owned by Julia Bulette
- La Belle, Lovelock, Pershing County
- Lazy B Ranch, Fallon, Churchill County – Closed in 1999
- Monterey Bar, Lovelock, Pershing County
- My Place Bar and Brothel (aka Irene’s Combination Bar), Winnemucca, Humboldt County.
- 1 Geisha, Elko, Elko County – Closed in 2011
- Nugget Bar, Tonopah, Nye County – Closed in the 1950s
- Old Bridge Ranch, Sparks, Storey County – Closed in 2008
- Old Hospital, Yerrington, Lyon County – Closed in 1940s
- Paradise Café, Winnemucca, Humboldt County]
- Pat’s Country Club, Eureka, Eureka County
- PJ’s Lucky Strike, Elko, Elko County – Closed in early 2000s
- Red Rooster, Beatty, Nye County – Closed in the 1960s
- Roadhouse, Lovelock, Pershing County – Closed in 1970
- Roxie’s, Las Vegas, Clark County – Closed in 1954
- Salt Wells Villa, Fallon, Churchill County – Collection of trailer brothels – closed in 2004
- Simones de Paris, Winnemucca, Humboldt County – closed in 2008
- Starlight Ranch, Mound House, Lyon County – Closed in 1980s
- Taxscine’s (aka ‘The Little Desert Mother’), Tonopah, Nye County – Air Force brothel closed in the 1950s
- The Cottage, Reno, Washoe County
- The Den, Goldfield, Esmerelda County
- The Trees, Tonopah, Nye County – Closed in 1953
- The Willows, Reno, Washoe County – Closed in 1949
- Town House Guest Brothel, Wabuska, Lyon County – Closed in 1970s
- Triangle River Branch, Wadsworth, Storey County – a community of travelling brothel trailers until they disappeared from the scene in 1959.
- Villa Joy Brothel, Winnemucca, Humboldt County
- Willow Trees (aka Weeping Willows), Beatty, Nye County – Closed in the 1960s
Featured image via Pexels.