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Over a century, Four Mile has gone from trailside oasis to brothel to bar

People stopping at the 4 Mile Bar for a cold beer or a night of karaoke might not know that the name is one of the oldest place names in the Las Vegas Valley. It’s a name that is both historic and infamous.

The little community of Formyle has been in the valley as long as the city of Las Vegas, and the name Four Mile has been associated with the area for longer than that. It predates the Boulder Highway and U.S. Highway 95 that flank it. Originally, the area was called Four Mile Spring for the natural spring there, approximately four miles from the center of town.

Mark Hall-Patton, administrator for the Clark County Museums, said it’s possible that the springs were named before Las Vegas was here, as it’s also approximately four miles from the Old Mormon Fort, which later became the Stewart Ranch.

“A lot of the older names in town are named for actual features,” Hall-Patton said. “That’s how we end up with things like Grapevine Spring.”

Old maps show a meandering dirt road leading from Charleston Boulevard toward Searchlight. The tiny communities are strung out nearly evenly along the road, around two miles apart. Beyond Four Mile Spring were Whitney and Pittman. On a 1932 map, they’re all about the same size, a small grid of three or four streets in each direction. The road crosses the northeast corner of Four Mile Spring. Later maps show the proposed Boulder Highway crossing the southwest corner of the community that was known as Four Mile Park. Then that was later shortened to Four Mile, and by the 1950s it was called Formyle.

The community has always been outside of the boundaries of the city of Las Vegas, and for much of its history, it was outside of the city’s laws, too.

When the U.S. government was planning to bring in federal workers to build Boulder Dam, it insisted that the city clean up Block 16 and other well-known areas of ill repute. The brothels moved to Formyle and similar places. For more than a decade, a joint owned and operated by Eddie and Roxie Clippinger was the place to go to drink, gamble and rent women by the quarter-hour.

The property was called the Roxie Club, Roxie Motel and Roxie’s Resort, but more commonly, in the many articles written about it in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun, it was simply called Roxie’s.

The book “Green Felt Jungle,” co-written by Ovid Demaris and Las Vegas Sun reporter Ed Reid, lays out the downfall of Roxie’s in great detail and with hyperbolic language. Although the papers ran numerous stories over the years announcing the imminent closing of Roxie’s, It was a thriving business bringing in around $1 million a year by Roxie’s estimate.

On April 28, 1954, the FBI raided Roxie’s, making it a federal case by citing the Mann act, which made it illegal to transport women across state lines for immoral purposes. That was the beginning of the end for the brothel and the politicians, most notably Clark County Sheriff Glen Jones.

In an April 30, 1954, editorial, Hank Greenspun, editor of the Las Vegas Sun, attacked the corruption that had allowed the brothel to operate as an open secret.

” After a brief stakeout of only 10 years, the sheriff’s office amassed sufficient evidence to suspect that Roxie’s was not on the list of the Automobile Association of America as one of the approved motels,” Greenspun wrote.

Greenspun later accused Jones of having a financial stake in the brothel, and in the subsequent election, Jones finished last out of five candidates for sheriff. Jones filed a million-dollar libel suit against Greenspun.

The subsequent legal mess exposed corrupt politicians and sent several people to jail, including the Clippingers. It also transformed Formyle from a hidden den of inequity into a quiet rural community.

Don Loughlin’s parents bought the property in 1955 when he was 13, and he has lived there ever since, which makes him one of the longest residents of Formyle. For several years his parents used the building that had been the prostitutes’ dormitory as a boarding house.

“It was a rooming house for 15 years, $10 a week. Some of the guys stayed for years,” Loughlin said. “We had plumbers, carpenters, dealers, cooks … I still remember some of them.”

Loughlin had a second dormitory building torn down when vandals and curiosity seekers made the structure a liability.

“After the freeway (U.S. Highway 95) opened up, people could look straight into our yard and knew we were here and we had beaucoup trouble,” Loughlin said. “Teenagers came out at night and broke things and busted into the buildings. They shot three of my dogs.”

Loughlin said things have been fairly quiet in the last few years, but civilization has spread and enveloped Formyle, which is a far cry from the bucolic days of his youth.

“It was nice here when I was a kid,” Loughlin said. “There was nothing from here to Nellis (Boulevard) and Charleston (Boulevard) except sand dunes and mesquite trees.”

He remembers the spring, which was a little thing trickling in the wash. The spring was probably a long-established watering hole as he recalls tales of archaeologists digging for Native American artifacts.

“A guy named Rathbone who surveyed this place for my parents said that when he was a kid, they used to get arrowheads down here,” Loughlin said. “I heard that in the ’30s or ’40s an archaeologist found ovens on the bank near where the cathouse was later. Of course, that’s all been bulldozed now.”

A May 1956 Review-Journal article said that Roxie’s was in ruins. A 1966 map noted the location of Roxie’s but said it was abandoned. Today, it’s a dirt lot behind an apartment complex.

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 380-4532.

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