"Bronc Alley - Red light District" at the west end of High Street, Ely, Nevada


Sadie's Ladies (Madam Sadie Leonard Wright from Riepetown, NV) White Pine Public Museum Photo.

Nevada law limits brothels but has never made them illegal. Storey County passed the first brothel licensing ordinance in the state in 1970. In 1971, the State of Nevada banned brothels in counties with a population of more than 200,000, later raising that figure to under 400,000. Brothels are not legal in Washoe, Douglas, Clark, Lincoln, Pershing, Eureka counties, or in Carson City.  In 1978, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the 1971 law implies brothels can be legal in counties under the population limit. Nevada has about to 30 brothels in 10 counties, three of which are in White Pine County, Nevada.

The City of Ely has ordinances that a brothel may not operate within 1000 feet of a school or church and must be surrounded by a high, solid fence. The owners and inmates are closely monitored by local law enforcement and health officers and they must adhere to strict rules and regulations in order to continue doing business. The women work three weeks then must take time off and leave the county during their time off. They must see a doctor on a frequent basis for testing of communicable diseases.

The west end of High Street has been an active location of brothels since Ely first became a real community in 1887 when the county seat was moved to Ely from Hamilton.  By 1906, several brothels were built in the west end of town with cribs, dance halls, and saloons stretching three blocks on either side of  High Street.  Tom O'Neil's early day brothel was located where the present Armory building is situated at the end of Broadbent Park. The individual crib was just big enough for a "Dutch" door and a tiny window. Each tiny crib barely had enough room for a bed and a stove for warmth and heating water for washing.  Remnants of some of the cribs may be seen today at this end of the street.

In about 1920, a fire started in the rear of Reinhart's Dance Hall and spread until almost all of the buildings in the block between High Street and the alley were destroyed. Only three or four small rooms fronting High and Second were left standing and they were damaged. Owners of the destroyed property were: Hugh Wilson, Walter, Robert Brady and Charles Aubry. The Chinese Restaurant was lost to fire too.

These are early day cribs that once existed next to the Big 4. White Pine Public Museum Photo

 

Shaputis Photo 1998 The small houses that have been remodeled from cribs.

Three brothels are located in the notorious old "Bronc Alley - red light District" at the west end of High Street in Ely. These are the Big Four, the Green Lantern established in 1959, and the Stardust Ranch established in 1965.

The oldest brothel in Ely is the Big 4 and the part of the building where the bar is located is thought to have been built in the early 1880's. This establishment was once called "Rainey's" in 1880. It was owned by Tom O'Neil for many years during the early 1900's. This business has had several names until around the 1930's when it gained the name Big 4 because four prominent businessmen purchased it and ran it. The proceeding owners have continued to call it by that name. Tony Asena was one of those owners during the 1970's. By 1959, the Big Four had enjoyed a decade or more of being the only brothel allowed to operate in Ely but was forced to close its doors for a time before parties who were fighting town hall managed to open a competing brothel, the Green Lantern. 

In July 1959, Ida Miller brought complaint against Mrs. Mary Josephine Hurst, a local club operator for assault and battery. Mrs. Hurst was released under a $500 property bond signed by Milton Wassenberg and Tony Asena.

The Big 4 was recently purchased by Tom Reid, the owner of the Green Lantern who has not reopened it in 1999.


The Big Four is closed in 1999 Shaputis Photo

Attorney E. R. "Boots" Miller had represented several individuals who had applied to the City of Ely Council members to establish more than one brothel in Ely.   In Early December of  1958, Helen Smalley was denied permission to open a competing house of prostitution near the Big Four.  Eddie O'Terry's application for the same purpose was also denied on June 19, 1959.  Both applications would have built the proposed new brothel on land owned by Charles Fields.

At the end of June 1959, a complaint was filed and made to the County Commissioners by Charles "Babe" Fields charging that the Big Four Club should be shut down at once as it was a public nuisance. The complaint stated the Big Four was being operated as a house of prostitution and additional rooms were being built for the purpose of "catering to business and professional people who do not wish to be seen publicly."   Boots Miller stated at the City Hall Meeting in June that "Ely needs more of these places." The City fathers maintained "While houses of prostitution may be necessary and proper in a community such as Ely, this is not a business which should be expanded or built up."  The City asked the Attorney General for a decision on the issue of closing down the only operating brothel on just one complaint and were advised they must shut the Big Four Club down even though it was brought forth by a potential competitors single complaint and had not had any problems in the past. Thus, the Big Four closed its doors. But, only temporarily.

The Green Lantern was built in the late fall of 1959 during the Mine Strike by Attorney E. R. "Boots" Miller and Eddie O'Terry after the City changed its mind about allowing more than one brothel to operate. Whispers persist that the spirit of a prostitute named "Betty" who was killed by a customer in the 1960's haunts the Green Lantern in a benevolent manner.

Original art painted by Boots Miller decorated the walls and he stated that Frank Sinatra would often fly in to visit the establishment for privacy and to get away from the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas. On Wednesday, July 13, 1971 a fire was reported at 2:45 a. m. The firefighters gave their best efforts, but the original building was totally gutted. The establishment was closed down at the time. The origination of the fire was never determined but was believed to have started from a possible arson caused fire. The building was replaced by trailers put together. The lease was purchased by Kay Wade who sold to Johnny Forman who had married Kay's daughter Barbara.

The Green Lantern was closed down for a time in 1995 because the present management had kept prescription drugs prescribed to employees who had left the establishment and were dispensing them to present employees. Tom Reid now owns the establishment and he purchased the Big Four in 1998. The Green Lantern is not open at the present time.

 


The Green Lantern is closed in 1999 Shaputis Photo

 

The Stardust was built in 1965 and operated by Virginia Murphy. Eddie O'Terry added on to the building when he owned it for a short period.  Then, it was sold to Carol Asena who renamed the business the Stardust Ranch. Asena sold the establishment about a decade ago to Stephanie Pleasants. It was sold in 1998 to Jim Walker and "Crystal" Cathy (Mrs. John) Burns who lost the business early in 1999.  The property reverted back to Pleasants.

On August 1, 1999, the Stardust was the scene of a knifing murder when two non-English speaking Chilean national sheepherders working at local ranches and two Ely men had a confrontation. Joseph Bates, a construction worker was killed and John Christopher, 55, was seriously injured by multiple stab wounds. Patricio Osvaldo, 35, and Reginaldo Nestor (Tronoco), 41, were the attackers after being harassed by Bates and Christopher.

An interesting note: Much discussion of one of the Ely Council  members wanting to close the brothel over the killing took place in public and the newspapers over an extended period of time. The councilman was also trying to shut the business down because of his religious views. The heated debate that occurred over some of his public statements regarding his views on the lack of the entire community's and individual  moral values made state and national news and angered many people. The Bristlecone Convention Center became the scene of a crowd of people of around four hundred people who attended a public meeting to discuss the brothel's place in the community. Only thirty-three people spoke against letting the business to continue to operate. The vast majority were in favor of the brothel remaining open for many and varied reasons.

Many elderly people went up to the podium to speak about their positive memories of living in proximity to the brothels. One old  man remembered that the brothel ladies fed and clothed him and his younger sister when the father had to work long hours at the mine and their mother had died when they were very young. Some spoke of the lessened crime statistics because of having legal prostitution. Dr. Jones, who was responsible for caring for the ladies of the night and making sure they passed their physicals and tests defended the businesses as did others from all over Nevada. Nearby business people stated the brothels never caused problems that they were aware of and were good neighbors.

Ms. Pleasants extended her stunned appreciation to the community for the all the support she publicly and privately  received from so many people and the brothel remained open.

Shaputis photo


A little known fact: At Christmas time, vari-colored lights are strung diagonally across Aultman Street in Ely, Nevada. The last string of lights on the west end of the street is made up of all red bulbs and points to the brothel district. Because it is against the law to advertise brothels in Nevada, this is a subtle way that the businesses are acknowledged.


 

A second, smaller, brothel district once operated near the East Ely Depot on the corner of 13th and B Streets.

1907 Violence in the Tenderloin District

 

Ed Gilbert was born on 24 Jun 1870 at San Bernardino, CA and died 13 Oct 1907 in Ely, NV. Gilbert was the son of Joseph and Susan Artist Gilbert. A single man, he worked at various occupations:  freighter, road contractor, wood supplier, mustanger and Ely Constable. Gilbert was appointed Constable for Ely township in early Oct. 1905. His cabin was located at the corner of Canyon and Gilbert Streets.

Edwin M. Gilbert, Ely Constable, age 37,  was shot in the abdomen and back by F. M. Saunders, age 32, of Texas, and died a few hours later following surgery at the Dillon Hospital in Ely. Gilbert was fatally shot and injured Saturday night, October 12, 1907, in a 2-room crib adjoining the Club Dance Hall in the red light district on West High Street. Officer Gilbert was trying to arrest Saunders for beating and threatening to kill Ruth Deardorff, his paramour and Ely prostitute.

As Constable Gilbert fell to the floor near the stove, mortally wounded, he discharged his gun and killed Saunders. Saunders died instantly from a wound to the head and his body fell over a trunk at the back of the room. Constable Gilbert was carried to his cabin on Canon and Gilbert streets before being taken to the Dillon hospital where he died.

George McClure, owner of the Three Deuces dance hall told the coroner's jury that Saunders had broke jail at Ardmore, Oklahoma. Ruth Deardorff testified that Saunders had a record in the southwest, Texas, and Indian Territory of robbing banks and holding up trains. Saunders was a gambler and considered to be a "bad man."

Ed Gilbert's funeral procession was the largest ever known in Ely to that time with the funeral cortege extending almost a mile in length. A solemn send-off to a officer killed "in the faithful performance of his duties as constable."

Gilbert's log cabin was originally located at the corner of Canyon and Gilbert Streets but  is now located on the grounds of the White Pine Public Museum and is said to have been used as a Ely Post Office.

1909 property owners in this area. Compiled from the Ely Sewer Plat by A. B. Colwell, City Engineer.
    High Street & Aultman Street between 1st and 2nd Streets:
        Block W - lot 11, Thos. H. O'Neil; - lot 10, Ely Securities Co.
    High Street
        Block T  - lot 19, Chas Aubery,-  lot 18, Jos. Dugan, -  lot 16, Chas Aubery,  - lot 11, Eugene Giles and Rockhill and Rickard.
    Aultman Street
        Block T  - lots 1 - 4, Miss Ellen Hayes
    High Street between 2nd and Mill Streets
        Block R - lots 19 & 20, H. C. F. Brown and W. B. Graham; - lots 16, 17 & 18, Idaho Barn (or Born); - lots 14 & 15, Mrs. A. M. Gist;
         lots  11, 12, & 13, J. W. Delmore and Williams Plumbing.

 

 

 

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  Sources: Ely Daily Times articles June and July 1959, July and August 1999. Interview with Boots Miller (1997),  Expositor 17 Oct 1907.