Hidden History: Harrison House provided refuge for black entertainers

LAS VEGAS - It's Black History month and a link to Las Vegas' African-American history is on the federal register of historic places.

The Harrison House in historic west Las Vegas housed the city's black entertainers in the 1940s and 50s.

The 50s attracted big names, both black and white to the Las Vegas Strip transforming the times to an age of extravagance.

An era not too long ago.

"Blacks were not allowed to gamble and they weren't allowed to stay on what we lovingly call the Strip, we were staying on the Westside of the Strip," said Sammy David Jr.

Not even if you were headlining and not even if you were the legendary renowned jazz singer Sammy Davis Jr.

After his shows, Sammy would be shown the back door and make his way to the other side of town.

Nestled on the corner of F Street and West Adams is the place where Sammy and other African-Americans would experience a reminder, yet reprieve from segregation.

"It was an entertainers' place to just kind of unwind and just do what they loved but without the expectation of a show," said Ashanti McGee, president, Harrison House.

In the mid-21st century this was one of several boarding houses in west Las Vegas where black people were allowed to rest their heads for the night.

"If you were traveling, if you needed a place to stay, just trying to do your job, it was essential to find a place that, that would accept you, really," McGee said.

Since the 1940s, McGee says black businessmen, travelers, couples seeking divorce and other famous artists have graced the halls of Harrison House.

"There was a story I read about a woman who remembers that as a child, she, as well as other children, would see Nat King Cole on the porch in front of the house kind of minding his own business, McGee said. "Eventually the children would come up to him and talk to him and they would actually
show him their report cards so he would always congratulate them and. So, you definitely saw a
side of this entertainer being a person, being so involved with the community."

No matter what race you were, everyone was welcome at the Harrison House. Even a wily group of famous friends who would visit Davis and eventually pressure the Sands Casino into allowing African Americans to stay and work in the now defunct hotel.

An event part of a chain reaction eventually leading to the desegregation of the Las Vegas Strip.

"I saw it do this thanks to good people within the community," Davis said.

Tours of the Harrison House are free to the public Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It's located at 1001 F Street.

 


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