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VIDEO VAULT: The Harrison House was the only place for black entertainers to stay in Vegas

Aerial View of Harrison House.jpg

As Black History Month draws to a close, it's worth taking a look at a house just north of the downtown area, where the Black History of Las Vegas is available for examination throughout the year.

"Harrison House" on F Street at Adams is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Back in the day, it was the place to be for well-to-do African-American visitors—and particularly entertainers—for a couple of decades.

"This was a pretty big house for 1942," says current owner Katherine Duncan from the Harrison House living room. "It's over 1,700 feet in the main house. There were three cottages. The house next door was one of the cottages. One of the cottages burned down and there's one in the back."

Duncan is also President of the Ward Five Chamber of Commerce representing the area, and a tireless advocate for economic as well as social equality.

"We want to help with race relations. Which have deteriorated in America for the past—I would say—ten years," she observes.

Right now, Duncan is overseeing renovations which she thinks will bring it to a condition comparable to what original owner Genevieve Harrison had achieved in the middle of the last century before passing away in 1957.

"Miss Harrison's guest house was the upscale guest house. She had white marble tile floors and Persian rugs. You had to have money to stay here."

A marker in front as part of the City of Las Vegas' Pioneer Trail describes Harrison House's importance in the years when segregation was a part of Southern Nevada life.

"This is the place--one of the places--that was listed in the Negro Motorists Travelers Guide," says Duncan, referring to the so-called 'Green Book' published annually from 1936 to 1966. "So this is where people like Sammy Davis Junior, Pearl Baily and Nat King Cole lived. Because they could not live on the Strip."

The suite in the back is still referred to as the Pearl Baily Cottage. A front room and piano are dedicated to frequent lodger Sammy Davis Junior.

This particular piece of institutionalized racism finally ended with the so-called "Moulin Rouge Agreement".

"The practice of denying accommodations to negroes must cease, period" quotes Duncan. "This was March 26, 1960."

Full employment equality did not arrive until the "Consent Decree" of 1971, however.

"There was a lawsuit filed against the Nevada Resort Association where they agreed to hire 12½ percent of all employees."

Paradoxically though, the civil rights gains meant the end of Harrison House as a viable business.

"Where are you going to stay," asks Duncan rhetorically. "The Dunes hotel or Harrison House? The Sands Hotel or Harrison House?"

Current renovations on the Harrison House are aimed at both the past and the future, with a goal of creating a perfect picture of sustainability in the areas of energy, conservation, communications and more.

"Because while we are learning and engaging with each one another because of history, the challenge for us is to figure out how to both live on the planet, black and white live on the planet," sums up Duncan with a smile. "You might come in here black or you might come in here white. But when you leave, you're going to be green."

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