Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories by historian Bob McCracken on the history of prostitution in Nevada and Nye County. A new feature in the series will come out each Friday for the subsequent several weeks.
Nevada became a state in 1864, largely as a result of financial activity triggered by the discovery of an enormous deposit of silver at Mount Davidson close to present-day Virginia City.
These who arrived also late to cash in on the Comstock, as the deposit was recognized, headed into the wilderness in their quest for valuable minerals. Other discoveries soon followed at such places as Austin, Aurora and Eureka. Boom towns primarily based on mining had been sprouting like flowers on the desert floor.
But right after about 1880, the fortunes of mining in Nevada went into decline.
Formerly vibrant Nye County communities such as Ione, Belmont, Tybo, and Reveille either disappeared or became shadows of what they had been.
Then in 1900, Belle and Jim Butler discovered a large deposit of silver at what became Tonopah.
As with the Comstock, the Butlers’ discovery was speedily followed by prospectors locating valuable minerals at Goldfield (1902), Rhyolite (1904), Manhattan (1905), and Round Mountain (1906), amongst other individuals.
The town of Johnnie in southern Nye County dates to 1905.
This boom period, with all its vibrant can-do spirit and optimism for the future, was the final complete flowering of the old West in America.
Prostitution was an crucial portion of life in all frontier mining communities.
Massive numbers of young unattached males in search of their fortunes assured the presence of considerable numbers of women who delighted in helping these males have a very good time and spend their income.
Hence came the bars and brothels exactly where the men and ladies could meet and get pleasure from what each and every other had to offer you. At very first, there were typically no restrictions on where such “meeting places” could be positioned in a expanding community.
Very soon, even so, it was realized that these establishments needed to be restricted to one or much more selected locations of town. The final issue a tired worker needed was to be kept awake all night with the goings-on at a brothel next door to where he was living or, as more households moved to the new town, getting wives and kids exposed to this raw aspect of neighborhood life.
Most people supported the existence of prostitution but believed it required to be confined to a red-light district. Early on, Tonopah had two red-light districts. A single was located on St. Patrick and Central streets in between Oddie and Brougher avenues, around behind exactly where the L&L Motel sits today. The other was along Corona Avenue north of exactly where the old Campbell &Kelly garage now sits.
The Large Casino
The Massive Casino, identified initially as the Casino, was the entertainment hot spot in Tonopah for more than 15 years. It was positioned on Main Street in the exact same block that fronted on St. Patrick Street, one particular of the two flourishing red-light districts. Business at the casino was so great that, in January 1909, it was incorporated as the Huge Casino Organization.
The Huge Casino opened in late 1904 or early 1905 as a restaurant, saloon, betting parlor, dance hall, and hurdy-gurdy residence. It claimed to be “the largest of its kind in the globe.”
By 1907, the establishment featured direct wires to all major racetracks in the country and provided patrons the chance to bet on all essential sporting events. It was involved in the promotion of sporting events and, with other groups and organizations, sponsored the Gans-Herman World Lightweight Championship fight on New Year’s Day 1907 held at the newly constructed Big Casino Athletic Club.
A rarity for a frontier mining town, the Big Casino employed a little orchestra. The music of Jules Goldsmith and his musicians could be heard there and the orchestra was often hired by “uptown residents” for their “respectable social events.”
The Large Casino was nicely recognized all through central Nevada men traveled there from miles around to drink, dance, gamble, and have a great time. The Big Casino did effectively financially until Oct. 1, 1910, when Nevada’s anti-gambling law went into effect.
Though enforcement of the law was sporadic in Tonopah as nicely as in Nevada usually, the Large Casino suffered economically. In 1913 it located itself in federal court as a litigant with financial troubles. On Aug. 20, Judge W. W. Morrow of the U.S. Circuit Court at Carson City appointed Frank P. Bonneau as receiver for the Huge Casino Company until monetary matters had been straightened out.
With rumors that the establishment would be shut down with the federal takeover, Bonneau quickly announced that enterprise would continue as usual.
Thus, the federal government identified itself in the odd position of operating a hurdy-gurdy residence in Tonopah.
There had been 25 to 30 women employed at the Huge Casino and the government paid them 40 % of all drinks they sold and 50 % of all receipts for dances and other activities.
At that time there was a powerful socialist movement in Tonopah.
In late October of 1913, a correspondent for the International Socialist Evaluation, a national publication of the Socialist Celebration, arrived in town to report on nearby Socialist activities.
The correspondent was also interested in taking a look at the strange connection that had evolved in between a hurdy-gurdy home and the federal government. By coincidence, the Socialist correspondent arrived in town on the exact same train as the receiver for the Big Casino and “three new chickens for the dance hall.”
In the meantime the Huge Casino was often referred to as “Woodrow Wilson’s Dancing Academy.”
Woodrow Wilson, of course, was president of the United States at that time. When the Socialist correspondent became aware of the identity of her fellow passengers she took it upon herself to interview the girls. When she asked a single of them how she liked her new boss, that is to say President Wilson, the dancer replied confidently, “I should be concerned! I’m operating for the government.”
As it turned out, she need to have worried. On Nov. 12, 1913, Nye County commissioners revoked the Huge Casino’s liquor license for violating the state’s anti-gambling act. It appears the state legislature had passed a law in the previous session that commissioners act as a liquor board.
Nye County commissioners ruled the operation of the Large Casino a “public nuisance” and “detrimental to the peace and morals of the community.”
The place in no way returned to its prior vigor. By 1920 the dancehall had been abandoned and the spot was converted into the Big Casino Hotel. (It was nevertheless a brothel.)
On Aug. 23, 1922, in what the Tonopah Day-to-day Bonanza stated was “the worst conflagration in the history of Tonopah,” much of the town’s reduced finish, such as the casino developing and most of the brothels in the red-light district, had been destroyed by a terrible fire (The Valley News, July 13, 1977).
Joe Andre and the Big Casino
Joe Andre worked as a musician at the Big Casino from April 1, 1921, till it burned down.
Years later, he recalled that the Big Casino “had the largest band in town.” He mentioned there have been 3 or four other dance halls in town but they had only a couple of musicians working in every single.
Joe described the Large Casino as “a gorgeous location.”
When you entered from the front, the initial issue you came to had been three gambling tables and a bar. There was a huge maple dance floor with an oak railing amongst the bar and the dance floor.
At the far end of the dance floor was the bandstand, built like a theater stage. One particular side of the dance floor was lined with booths, and each had a table and chairs inside and a door that could be closed. This is exactly where the girls took the fellows to have a drink.
About the top of the dance floor was a balcony with a row of rooms with beds, which made it the largest sporting residence in Tonopah. Joe said there had been a number of other “houses” in the neighborhood. He said some of these joints had one particular girl, other individuals two or three, but there had been a dozen girls working as prostitutes at the Massive Casino.
He said they usually hung around the bar. “A customer would come in and buy them a drink. They would either drink at the bar or go to a single of the boxes.”
Drinks were 50 cents and the girls got half. All the girls’ drinks consisted of “colored caramel water.”
The girls attempted to get the guys to dance with them just before acquiring a drink. A dance cost $ 1 to $ ten, Joe recalled, “depending on how significantly the fellow liked her and the much more he liked her, the far more she charged.”
In order to maximize income, Joe stated, “We played brief numbers… . Some of the girls couldn’t even dance. They would just wobble about the floor.”
He stated the women dressed in numerous types of attire. Some wore fancy clothes, other people “just typical clothing.”
Most, nevertheless, had been “nicely dressed,” he mentioned.
The band worked 5 hours, eight p.m. to 1 a.m. But when issues got lively, they could be on the job till sun-up.
Joe recalled that “respectable uptown women” did not often go to the Huge Casino. There was, however, a little location with a table close to the bandstand exactly where such patrons could sit, should they pick to enter.
Joe said he created excellent cash at the casino until it burned. After it burned, he and his wife returned to California.
Though the Big Casino was rebuilt, Joe declined to perform for the new owners (“Memories of the Huge Casino,” Joe Andre, Central Nevada’s Glorious Previous, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1998, pp. 23–24). Joe and his wife, Dorothy, at some point settled in Beatty, where they became owners of the popular Exchange Club.