Published May 14, 2003
LOS ANGELES – The Mustang Ranch is world famous -- or infamous at the very least. Until a few years ago, it was a working brothel.
The establishment closed down for good in 1999, when management was found guilty of crooked practices and the property was forfeited to the federal government. Now there's a fight over whether to preserve the building as a museum or scrap it entirely for a public campground.
The Bureau of Land Management, which owns the property along the Truckee River in Nevada, says the Mustang Ranch's time has come and gone.
"We're going to be taking the building down," said Mark Struble, public affairs officer for the BLM.
But a former madame there is leading the crusade to save the state's first legalized brothel as an important piece of history.
"I want to save it to prove to the closed mind that this is the oldest profession and it was the first house that made it respectful," said ex-madame Sharnel Silvey.
The establishment became the state's first legalized bordello back in 1971. It went on to become a successful business with a worldwide reputation that paved the way for legalized prostitution in 12 of Nevada's 17 counties.
It closed in 1999, because of back taxes and guilty verdicts that were lodged against its parent companies and manager in a federal fraud and racketeering trial.
Now, all that's left of the old bordello are a few beds, some clothing and artifacts from the secret dungeon room.
But the ladies who worked there say that's enough to start a museum about the history of brothels.
"I just would like it recognized as a monument for women's rights and to document the struggles of working girls," Silvey said.
And some of the former "working girls" have said the ranch saw all walks of life come through its doors.
"Cowboys, lawyers, doctors, politicians, pro football players -- you name it, they all came through there," Tia, a Mustang Ranch prostitute from 1996 to 1999, told The Associated Press. "It's not much to look at, but it's got history."
The BLM plans to auction the bordello off on eBay and convert the land into a fishing and recreation area.
The ladies of Mustang Ranch can buy the building if they're able to raise the money and wind up as the highest bidder. But even if they succeed, they’ll have to move the old brothel to another location.
That's because the feds own the land -- and want nothing to do with a bordello museum.
"It's owned by the taxpayers," Struble said. "Most of the people we have talked to have said, 'Hey, I don't want you using my tax dollars keeping an old brothel building preserved.'"
Fox News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans contributed to this report.