Another classic Nevada oddity is this abandoned brothel, just off U.S. 95 at the Lida Junction. It’s been shuttered for probably at least 10 years, but at the time of my visits (2014 and 2015) the interior was still in decent shape, and made for a GREAT photo shoot location.
Although this location is super remote (about 2.5 hours northwest of Vegas), it’s fenced-in private property, and technically trespassing to go in here… so be careful. The place is also full of broken glass and mouse/rat shit, so Hantavirus and Tetanus are real concerns. But you know me….I still got naked to make Art!
Come to find out, this was the old Cottontail Ranch brothel…notable as being opened and run by the fabulously colorful Miss Beverly Harrell, madame (and aspiring politician) extraordinaire. Originally a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn, Ms. Harrell started her career as an aspiring Hollywood starlet…then descended into pimping, and eventually ended up at this desolate location while on the lam from the Hollywood cops. She opened up the Cottontail Ranch brothel on land leased from the BLM in 1967, and the place was an immediate success.
Ms. Harrell was basically Dolly Parton’s character from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas…only real. She built the brothel out of mobile home trailers linked by a “catwalk” (haha), and catered not only to customers from the nearby mining towns, but to high-rollers from Vegas and further destinations as well, thanks to an adjacent airplane landing strip.
In fact, one of her most famous customers was none other than Howard Hughes, who used to fly up from Vegas to spend time with a special gal by the name of Sunny. Allegedly, after one of his visits with Sunny, Hughes’s pilot took off without him, and he was left laying face-down in the desert on a backroad between the brothel and Vegas…where he was discovered by an off-roading Mormon named Melvin Dummar. Dummar gave Hughes a ride back into Vegas, and the story goes that Hughes never forgot that act of kindness….so much so that that nine years later, he ended up leaving Dummer 1/16th of his $2.5 billion estate!!
Whether or not you believe Dummar’s claims of having picked up a destitute Hughes in the desert outside a lonely brothel (and they are highly disputed, pending confirmation from the long-gone and much-sought-after Sunny)…….what IS known to be true is that Ms. Harrell’s BLM lease was soon after revoked, once word leaked to the press that the government was acting as landlord to a whorehouse. OUTRAGE!!!
Now, Ms. Harrell had leased the land legally, with an option to buy after 5 years — and she wasn’t about to let the gov’ment take advantage of her without a fight!! She wasn’t just Dolly Parton’s character in The Best Little Whorehouse — she was also Cliven motherfucking Bundy, 50 years before he ever raised his hackles! She fought the BLM tooth and nail, but they wouldn’t give.
So, she decided to fight them on their own turf — by running for the Nevada State Assembly, in 1974! “It takes the madam of an honest bordello to show them how to run an honest system,” she said. This boss bitch ran her own campaign, complete with her own bumper stickers, posters and stickers, and refused to accept any donation over $25 — yet still (allegedly) managed win to based on the popular vote. Alas for her, she lost in a hotly-contested runoff….and she ended up living out her years managing this lonely roadside brothel., just outside the BLM boundary.
Ms. Beverly Harrell died in 1996, and was buried in the equally fantastic Goldfield Cemetery, just 15 minutes up the 95…in the same graveyard as the legendary pioneer who died from eating library paste (it says so on on his gravestone…for reals). So if you’re driving up U.S. 95, you can not only stop and visit the ruins of her old empire…you can also pay respects at the grave of this bad-ass groundbreaking powerhouse.
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