Red Light District In Early Vegas
It’s not common knowledge, but our readers know that prostitution is not legal in Clark County. This includes the Strip and downtown Las Vegas. However, in Vegas’ earliest days, a red light district was established.
Unofficially, Las Vegas was born on May 15, 1905. This was the date when William Clark’s San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad auctioned off 1200 lots. This auction launched a wave of new buildings and businesses that eventually evolved into the city we know today.
The lots were within a 110 acre tract of land and consisted of town sites. The map pictured is of the original town sites as they were 1905. The boundaries of the town sites were Stewart Avenue on the north, Main Street on the west, 5th Street (Las Vegas Blvd) on the east, and Garces on the south.
The Railroad had, in 1902, purchased 1800 acres of land from Helen Stewart. Stewart was owner of the Las Vegas Ranch at the time. The sale included the water rights which were necessary to ensure the town’s survival and the railroad’s success.
This sale made Las Vegas the perfect midway stop for the railroad. The stage was then set for the 1905 auction and the birth of a town that by all logic should have never existed. Who would have thought that a watering hole in the middle of the Mojave Desert could survive, much less become an international city. A bookie probably wouldn’t have taken that bet.
There were two blocks in the new town that became notorious-Blocks 16 and 17. These were the red light district. Originally, these two blocks were set aside as places where liquor could be sold without a license. By 1910, Block 16 added to its charm. It became the home of open prostitution. There were hotels and saloons on the Block, but prostitution was a major draw and set it apart from its neighboring Block 17.
If you want to visit the original site of block 16 you may have already been there. It is the block between Stewart and Ogden Avenues and 1st and 2nd Streets (Casino Center Blvd).
One of the best known saloons in Block 16 was the Arizona Club (closed in in 1941). Originally, the establishment did not offer prostitution. However, in 1912 with new management, an additional story was added to the building and ladies began to ply their trade. The Sheriff at the time, Sam Gay was known for saying, “if you are not bothering people, go about your business.”
Today, Las Vegas markets itself as “Sin City,” but probably that moniker attached itself to Las Vegas in the city’s infant days. That first red light district set the tone. Let’s be honest, Las Vegas is not where most folks go for spiritual enlightenment and few churches plan their retreats in Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Sun has a good article about Block 16 here.