Pahrump Valley Brothel Proposal, 1955
By the mid-1950s, it became evident to some observers there was money to be made in legal prostitution in Nye County just as close to the Clark County line and Las Vegas as possible.
In summer 1955, word got around that a man named Jack Jones, who had operated a “house of ill fame” in Searchlight, an old mining camp located south of Las Vegas in Clark County before county officials closed it, planned to open a brothel in Pahrump Valley (Tonopah Times-Bonanza, Sept. 16, 1955). Talk was that Las Vegas taxi drivers had established a fare of $60 to transport clients to and from the proposed Pahrump brothel, though it was not immediately known whether the fare was per trip or per passenger.
It was even rumored that an unidentified Nye County deputy had demanded a payoff before the venture could go forward.
Opposition to the idea quickly mounted among some Pahrump Valley landowners. They were not keen on the idea of, as a newspaper put it, “importing members of the oldest profession” into the valley. Yet, opposition was not universal. An anti-prostitution petition was circulated in the valley. One prominent resident refused to sign it, noting, “Why not have sex in Pahrump? Every other place has it.”
Though there were rumors Nye County District Attorney William P. Beko had given the okay for a brothel in Pahrump, he was quick to scotch these reports. It was all “a figment of somebody’s imagination,” he said. “If anyone tries to open a brothel there, it will be padlocked within 24 hours.”
He said he would act immediately upon receipt of a written protest from a Pahrump resident. One resident indicated he would file such a protest if necessary. Beko also questioned reports that a Nye County deputy had demanded a payoff. All this seemed to suggest that such a project was doomed before it started.
Two weeks later, the District Attorney’s office announced that following a complete and thorough investigation, the rumor that a Nye County deputy had asked for a bribe to permit a brothel in Pahrump was “just one of those unfounded and malicious rumors that crop up every now and then” (Tonopah Times-Bonanza, Sept. 23, 1955).
Pahrump’s First Brothel
Prior to his passing in 2011, Harry Ford had resided in the Pahrump Valley longer than any other white man or woman. He moved to Pahrump with his family as a child in 1944 and lived in the valley continuously throughout his life. Blessed with a superb memory, he was a natural-born historian and knew more about Pahrump Valley history than anybody.
Most of the material in this section was related to me by him. I interviewed him in 1988 as part of the Nye County Town History Project and intermittently in the years following. He and his wife, Mary, founded the Pahrump Valley Museum.
Ford said the first brothel opened in Pahrump Valley in about 1955. It was located on what became the Shoshone Highway, then a dirt road, just on the Nevada side of the California border.
There was a bar at the site that had been opened earlier by a man named Dan Murphy. A fellow named Jim Cruise purchased it from Murphy and called it “Jim Cruise’s Bar.”
A man whose name Ford couldn’t recall, but who had been a bartender at the old McCarran airport in Las Vegas, managed the bar. One day somebody suggested to him, “Why don’t you open a little brothel in Pahrump?” Paving of the road between Pahrump and Las Vegas over Mountain Springs had been completed in 1954.
Harry thought the presence of the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear testing had begun a few years earlier, had nothing to do with the small brothel’s opening since the road between Pahrump and U.S. Highway 95 was not paved until the mid-1960s.
The brothel was short-lived, lasting only about a month. Harry thought there was somebody who was not happy with its presence, because one night “some thugs” broke the windows and “beat the place up,” as he put it. It never reopened.
Harry Ford indicated that some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s the idea of establishing brothels “sort of took off.” Fortunately, he said, they hadn’t yet come to Pahrump and he decided to become proactive.
He was very proud of the fact that at this time he was “personally responsible for the ordinance that does not allow brothels in the unincorporated town of Pahrump. I hope history will record that,” he said.
He first brought up the idea of an ordinance against brothels in the community at a Pahrump Town Board meeting in the mid-1960s. He told me with pride, “I knew Robert’s Rules of Order and I knew the proper way to approach it,” he said. “We brought it up as a motion, and our form of government at that time was a town-hall sort of thing.”
When he did, one good friend said, “Do you think we need something like that? Do you really think that?” Harry’s answer was, “Well, now is the time to enact an ordinance. Because once they’re [brothels] in here, it’s too late.”
Though the ordinance was passed by the town board, that body acted only in an advisory capacity to the Nye County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners had to act on it before it became law. Following passage, the Pahrump Town Board took it to the county commissioners, who then drew up and adopted the ordinance, though it did take some time to happen.
Harry said for years Town Ordinance no. 3 kept brothels out of the unincorporated part of Pahrump. There were those in the community who questioned the need for such action.
“Why are you doing this?” they asked. Harry always explained the action was proactive.