Monday, March 16, 2015

The Mustang Ranch

By Courtney Sheets

I love history, especially the sexy side of history, and nothing is more fun than the crazy history of my home state. I thought I would share some of that history with you today. Nevada is a state with sweeping mountain ranges of blazing reds and startling browns and tans. It’s a state of wide open spaces and long stretches of desert plains. We have neon and glitter. We have coyotes and mountain lions. We have lakes and amazing blue vistas. We have sunsets that will knock you down on your ass with the sheer beauty of them. We also have legalized prostitution.
The Mustang Ranch, subject of the loosely based movie Love Ranch, is the oldest brothel in America as well as Nevada. It was opened in 1951 and called The Mustang Bridge Ranch. Prostitution was illegal in Storey County at the time but infractions were not always enforced. Most of Storey County, and sections of the state of Nevada for that matter, were and still are empty wide open spaces.
When I was on my way to college in Reno, My father and I passed a large double-wide in the middle of the desert painted pink with an enormous yellow chicken on its side. I asked my father, who was driving, what it was. He gave me an “are you kidding me” look and informed me it was a brothel. I was 18 at the time and despite living in Las Vegas for eight years I had never seen one before. I thought all brothels looked like Dolly Parton’s house in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. My education had begun.
In 1967, Joe Conforte and his wife Sally took over the Mustang Bridge, renamed it simply The Mustang Ranch, and an infamous Nevada legend was born. Storey County legalized prostitution in 1971, some say because of the influence of Conforte. Conforte owned a trailer park not far from the Ranch and kept the rents low as long as the tenants back any initiatives he might want support for. Also it was believed, but not proven, that he kept the local sheriff in his back pocket.
In 1975, The Mustang burned to the ground. Most people believe it was arson. This did not deter Conforte at all who went ahead and rebuilt the ranch immediately. This time the building was not made up of double-wides and Conforte took this rebuild as a chance to introduce “theme rooms.” A safari room complete with Jacuzzi and its own sauna was one as well as the Italian room, homage to Conforte himself, which was equipped with a $40,000 mirror. A princess room and a Jungle room were also available for parties. Elvis would have been proud.
In early ’76 the Washoe County grand jury investigate good old Joe and his madam wife Sally for unlawful influence but couldn’t find enough evidence to make any charges stick.
1976 proved to be an eventful year for the Confortes as boxer Oscar Bonavena was shot and killed outside the Ranch. The official report is that Joe’s bodyguard offed him, but general local consensus is that Joe himself shot the boxer in a rage for sleeping with Sally. Fun times at the Mustang.
After a series of court cases for tax evasion, bribery and extortion, Joe skipped the country and left the Mustang in the capable hands of Sally. Or so he thought. Sally filed for Bankruptcy in 1990. The Ranch was taken from the Confortes by the IRS, its doors padlocked and memorabilia sold off to pay the debt.
It was opened once again at the end of 1990 but was padlocked once more in 1999.  Contrary to popular urban legend and strange email chain letter that was circulated at the time the Mustang was never run by the U.S. Government.
The Mustang Ranch is once again open for business in just outside Sparks, Nevada about 15 minutes from the Reno-Tahoe airport. It was bought by the current owners on eBay. No, I did not make that up and yes, you did read it right. They bought what is the possibly the most famous brothel in history on eBay.
Nothing is more scandalous, at least to some people, then a brothel.  So for fun let’s look at some of the rules the working girls had to adhere to back in the heyday of the brothel:

4. Girls are not allowed to read, knit, crochet, etc at any time in the parlor.
10. A man can have a 69 for $15.
11. No kissing and no butt.
18. No fidgeting in line.

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