Thursday, August 11, 2022

HISTORIC BLACK VEGAS | Jackson Avenue Nightclubs in the 1940s

April 8, 2022 by  
Filed under Highlights

Claytee D. White

Jackson Avenue Nightclubs in the 1940s

BY CLAYTEE D. WHITE

The decade of the 1940s ended as two special business districts began in Las Vegas: the Las Vegas Strip and the Jackson Avenue business core.

The Strip boasted El Rancho Vegas, Hotel Last Frontier, Flamingo, and Thunderbird. The Jackson Avenue business corridor spilled onto D, E, F, and Monroe Streets — housing Smokey Joe’s Club Alabama, Club Ebony, Brown Derby, Cotton Club, El Morocco Club, Green Lantern, Harlem Club, and the Round-Up Casino. The downtown sector had begun back in 1905, but added impressive gaming facades in the 1940s as well. The El Cortez, Golden Nugget, and Nevada Biltmore added a more elegant component to the downtown skyline.

We know little about these early Historic Westside clubs. It appears that the first club was Smokey Joe’s Club Alabama, located at 1400-1402 F Street. I am almost sure that it is not a part of anyone’s current memory unless there are family and friends of the entrepreneurs who started it — and unfortunately we do not know how they were. The games of chance were Blackjack and slots. Why did the first gaming location close so quickly? Smokey Joe’s opened in May and closed in July, gone in two months.

The Brown Derby, Cotton Club, and Harlem Club all opened in 1944. The Derby was located at 320 Monroe and during its first year of operation hosted a fight between a group of Black soldiers and local men. One soldier was murdered. The Derby was open until 1974, maybe with a lapse in business between 1947 and 1950. It changed hands many times and reopened as the New Brown Derby Club in 1970 until 1983. Both iterations offered slots, blackjack, craps, and poker.

Both the Cotton Club at 500 Jackson Avenue and the Harlem Club at the end of F Street opened in January of 1944. The Cotton Club changed ownership three times before it closed in 1957 and provided slots, blackjack, craps, keno, and poker. The Harlem Club was not as long-lived — closing in about a year. What happened? Whose dreams died in that short span of time?

The Green Lantern, Round-Up Casino, and Club Ebony all shared the same address at 501 Jackson. The Green Lantern opened in January of 1945 and was operational until 1947. The Round-Up opened in January of 1947 and closed in 1948 — and was immediately reopened as Club Ebony, which lasted one year. The Green Lantern showcased just slots and craps but both the Round-Up and Club Ebony provided slots, blackjack, craps, and poker. According to Charlie Winder in an interview with Harvey Fuller, craps and blackjack games at the Club Ebony were called “round table” games meaning they were player-backed and the house would take a cut of each game.

Also in 1945, the El Morocco Club opened at 1322 N. E Street, serving up the same four games of chance. The first owner ran the establishment until 1951 — when it changed hands and operated under the second owner until 1955. The club closed for about two years and re-opened in 1957 until 1958 when it closed again. In 1959, the location reopened as the New El Morocco Club for one year and closed. Its final stage began with a reopening in 1963 but only lasted one additional year.

This business perseverance is seen over and over again. Why? I think there was never enough capital and that the funding sources in downtown and the Strip were never extended to the Historic Westside. Is that good or bad? Would the 1950s differ?

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