by Peter Field
This article is part of a research project by the author tracing the history of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District from its origins in the 1840s to the present.
Morton Alley in red on 1853 US Coastal Survey map. This map of the 1852 Coast Survey of San Francisco shows the two blocks east of the future Union Square before they were graded and St. Mark’s Place was cut through the middle of the blocks. Just one structure can be seen on the lower block along where the alley would be. The map showed actual streets, but these were actually dirt paths going up, down, and around the sand dunes. In particular, Market Street wouldn’t even exist until 1860. The only way to get these blocks was to hike, ride, or drive south on Kearny, and even this route was available only because it was the main path to Mission Dolores.
By this 1857 US Coastal Survey map, the area had urbanized substantially. Note the 80-foot sand dune blocking Market just west of Kearny/3rd. This map of the 1857 Coast Survey of San Francisco shows clearly that the two blocks east of the future Union Square had been graded and developed, including St. Mark’s Place, and that the alley was an actual street along the length of its two blocks, while Geary and Post Streets were cut and graded almost to what was then called the Public Square. But everything west of this was still sand dunes and dirt paths.
Maps courtesy David Rumsey
Several pages in Herbert Asbury’s and Oscar Lewis’ wonderful books The Barbary Coast(2) and Bay Window Bohemia(3) trace what they presented as the history of Morton Street, one of 19th century San Francisco’s notorious brothel alleys, now a chic shopping street called Maiden Lane that runs east two blocks from Union Square. But are Asbury’s and Lewis’ accounts, which were published respectively in 1933 and 1956, the actual history of Morton Street? Or are they another addition to the corpus of San Francisco urban legend? In particular, Asbury’s stories about this street have been repeated so often in books,(4) in articles,(5) on web sites,(6) and by tour guides(7) that his version of Morton Street’s past has achieved a life of its own, even among historians, and the dissemination of its story has been widespread. Who among the legions of San Francisco history enthusiasts hasn’t read Asbury’s and Lewis’ books?
Asbury wrote that Morton Street had the worst cribs (i.e., the cheapest and most disease ridden brothels)(8) in San Francisco, and that it was “thronged by a tumultuous mob” every night. He also said the prostitutes leaned from their open windows “naked to the waist, adding their shrill cries of invitation to the uproar, while their pimps haggled with passing men and tried to drag them inside the dens.” He went on to say, “If business was dull, the pimps sold the privilege of touching the breasts of the prostitutes.” In addition, he wrote that the Morton Street cribs were popular “partly because the police seldom entered the street unless compelled to do so by a murder or a serious shooting or stabbing affray. Ordinary fights and assaults were ignored.” Asbury also reported that Morton Street prostitution was diverse: “These dens were occupied by women of all colors and nationalities; there were even a few Chinese and Japanese girls.”
Moreover, he asserted that when “a respectable woman came through Morton Street on a slumming tour . . . the prostitutes greeted her with ribald jeers and curses, and cries of ‘Look out, girls, here comes some charity competition!’ and ‘Get some sense and quit giving it away for free!’ ” He indicated that their prices ranged from twenty-five cents to a dollar and he summarized the careers of two of the street’s more interesting inhabitants. One of them was a prostitute turned madam named Iodoform Kate who bought about a dozen brothels on Morton Street in “about 1895 . . . and after a few years she retired with a comfortable fortune.” The other one was Rotary Rosie, “an appellation which perhaps sufficiently described her,” who “fell in love with a student at the University of California” a year or so before the earthquake and fire of 1906. According to Asbury, she would service him and his fraternity brothers for free on the condition that they would read poetry to her for half an hour. Her ambition was to quit prostitution and get a college education. He ended his account by stating, “Except for a brief period in 1892, when they were closed as the result of a crusade by the Civic Federation, the unholy dens in Morton Street maintained a continuous existence for more than forty years. They were finally destroyed in the conflagration of 1906 and were not rebuilt, principally because the land on which they had stood was too valuable for business purposes.”(9)
This photo of the entrance to Morton Street from Dupont Street (later Grant Avenue) was probably taken in 1879, the same year Marchand's restaurant moved to the building on the lower right (note the sign at the top of the roof) or in 1880. The roof of Carrie Mackley's brothel at 205 Post can be just seen next to Marchand's. What makes the date of the photo likely is the new-looking Deppen's Embroidery Atelier sign on the side of the building at 213 Post, two lots to the left and above Macklay's. Deppen's was listed at that address in the San Francisco city directories only in those two years.
Photo: courtesy Glenn Koch
Twenty-three years later, Lewis wrote another brief version of Morton Street’s history. He apparently agreed with Asbury that it sheltered “harlots of all nations—including French, Chinese, Negroes, Mexicans, and Americans,” and that the street “continued to boom until the entire area was laid waste by the fire of 1906.”
Lewis also listed several features of the alley not mentioned by Asbury, including that it was also called Iodoform Alley. “It was the hangout, too, of pickpockets, dope peddlers, and thugs of every description.” Moreover, “it was scrupulously avoided by the town’s respectable women, for to set foot within its confines was considered a serious breach of decorum. To guard against that possibility there was usually a policeman stationed at each end of the street charged with warning away the curious.” Lewis also described a real estate scheme hatched by political boss Abe Ruef after the turn of the century to buy all the Morton Street brothels. He was said to have done this by initiating a months-long cleanup campaign in which all the brothels were closed down, forcing the property owners to sell their holdings to Ruef’s agents, who then reopened the brothels under his ownership.(10)
But are these accounts credible? Asbury’s stories sound anecdotal because they were, as he was the first to admit when he prefaced his extensive bibliography by stating, “A great deal of the material in this book came from the personal recollections of old-time San Franciscans and has never before been published.”(11) None of these individuals were identified, but given The Barbary Coast’s 1933 publishing date, they would have been between 55 and 82 years old if they were presumed to be least 18 when they were witnessing or participating in the episodes they recounted. In other words, these memories would have been recollected from events occurring 37 to 64 years before the interviews.(12)
Moreover, some of these anecdotes are frankly questionable. One example is the reaction of Morton Street prostitutes to the presence of respectable women. Not only is it difficult to imagine a 19th century woman of any respectable class walking through Asbury’s version of Morton Street during its brothel years, but a review of several hundred newspaper articles (13) as well as other primary sources found only two incidents of this, and these reports said nothing about them being taunted.
One account was recorded by Harriet Lane Levy in her memoir, 920 O’Farrell Street,(14) in which she recalled her Saturday night walks with her father when they often went along Dupont where it crossed Morton Street.
“One side was completely occupied by one-storied cottages . . . each with a short flight of steps and a bay window. In each embrasure in back of the center pane a woman sat . . . her cheeks were painted, her eyes glazed; she wore a bright colored Mother Hubbard gown. (15) One sat in every window as far as the eye could see down the alley toward Kearny Street. They sat motionless, looking straight ahead . . . One night, a political procession was marching on Kearny Street. We were on Dupont Street when we heard the band. ‘Hurry, hurry,’ I begged, and Father rushed me through the alley . . . ‘You old fool, take that child away from this,’ I heard behind me and trembled.”(16)
This is the only account that has come down to us today of a prostitute yelling at a female walking down Morton Street. (17) But in this instance, she wasn’t yelling at Levy: she was trying to protect her by upbraiding Levy’s father for exposing her to a brothel alley.
While Lewis’ stories sound less anecdotal and implausible than Asbury’s, he didn’t cite any sources at all in Bay Window Bohemia, perhaps intending the book as another “informal history,” as Asbury subtitled his own work. But the lack of citations leaves a conundrum: are we to accept the account of an historian of Lewis’ stature ex cathedra?
Asbury’s and Lewis’ amusingly written anecdotes aside, a review of over four hundred newspaper articles and items, advertisements, census sheets, Sanborn fire insurance maps, and other primary sources (18) found evidence to support only the following assertions: prostitution proliferated on this street for a period of time, the prices ranged from twenty-five cents to a dollar, and the prostitutes sat in their windows to advertise their availability. And if Asbury’s description of the street being “thronged by a tumultuous mob” is interpreted to mean most of the brothels’ patrons had been drinking, then source materials also show that their customers were generally intoxicated. (19) In addition, evidence was found to support only one of Lewis’ assertions: “pickpockets, dope peddlers, and thugs of every description” did in fact populate Morton Street during its brothel years. So, how did Morton Street become a brothel alley, and what actually happened there?
The street’s original name was St. Mark’s Place, though when and why the street was first named are obscure. (20) Its development occurred in the decade before the Civil War in a small valley just east of the big sand hill covering the block that later became Union Square. (21) The first hint of the street’s existence was found on a topographic map of San Francisco from the U.S. Coast Survey of 1852, which showed one structure along the line of the future street’s two-block length, standing about equidistant between Kearny and Dupont Streets, (22) though as yet there was no actual thoroughfare. Further development of the alley must have commenced within a year or two of the survey, for the earliest finds of mentions of this street were in real estate and rental listings in newspapers in 1853 (23) and 1854. (24) The first rooming house ad for the street appeared in March of 1855. (25) The first city directory listings for St. Mark’s Place were in 1856. There were only 24 and they were innocuously residential, with some listings showing prosperous sounding occupations such as physician and business owner. (26)
A map of an 1857 topographic survey of San Francisco shows St. Mark’s Place was graded, the lots were leveled, and much of its two blocks were developed. (27) The 1858 city directory showed the number of listings had almost doubled to 42. (28) During its first 20 years, both blocks seem to have been developed in tandem because the increasing number of addresses on each block remained roughly equal. (29) A tally of the resident’s occupational listings taken from the city directories of 1856 through 1869 showed that blue collar occupations tended to congregate on the block closest to Kearny Street, which was becoming a fashionable shopping district, while white collar occupations tended to congregate on the block closest to Stockton Street where a middle and upper class residential neighborhood was developing into what became Union Square during the Civil War. This mix of middle and working class families and single blue-collar workers on the two blocks of St. Mark’s Place continued undisturbed until the brothels moved in. (30)
St. Mark’s Place continued to grow. The 1859 directory listed 66 individuals living there, again with unremarkable occupations, with just one exception: Ephraim S. Tyler was listed as a “clairvoyant physician” at 47 St. Mark’s Place. The 1860 city directory showed almost the same number of listings as the year before, (31) distributed among approximately 34 addresses, including a German school that opened on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Stockton Street. (32) The year was chiefly memorable for the residents success in getting a street light installed on this corner, (33) and of the planking of the intersection of Dupont Street and St. Mark’s Place. (34) The U. S. Census of 1860 did not show any prostitution in the area. (35)
Until 1860, Market Street began at the Bay and ended a few blocks later at a giant sand hill just past its intersection with Kearny and Third Streets, a half-block from the beginning of St. Mark’s Place. In July, the building of the Market Street Railroad from the Bay all the way out to Valencia and then to 25th Street (36) opened Market Street and its surrounding neighborhoods to more accelerated development. Until then St. Mark’s Place had been a peaceful two-block residential alley with little to disturb its quiet. The following year, easier accessibility increased the street’s new city directory listings by almost a third. (37)
The earliest reports of crime on St. Mark’s Place were found in 1857. There were just two incidents, (38) and although they were relatively serious, no further mentions of criminal activity were found until April 1862 when Michael Hardigan, brother of a plasterer at number 28, was stabbed by a street contractor named Fitzpatrick in a St. Mark’s Place grocery store. (39) In August Manuel Garcia was arrested, probably in the same store, while trying to rob the till while the proprietor was dozing. (40) And Mrs. Mary Garvey was arrested for drugging and robbing Andrew Crotty, a fellow resident in their St. Mark’s Place lodging house. (41) This was also the year a Miss Buchanan appeared in the San Francisco city directory as having furnished rooms at 17 St. Mark’s Place. (42) But the listing was only a front, for the house had the distinction of being the street’s first brothel.
Prostitution came to St. Mark’s Place much the same as other businesses as they followed San Francisco’s southwestern growth. Before the 1860s, San Francisco brothels were mostly located in the streets and especially the alleys north of California Street around Portsmouth Square and Chinatown, and in the Barbary Coast. After Market Street was opened beyond Kearny and Third Streets, they expanded south across California Street along Kearny and Dupont into the area east of Union Square. There was even a house of assignation on the east side of Stockton between Sutter and Bush. (43) Most brothels were located in alleys instead of regular thoroughfares, primarily because of a quasi-official municipal policy of containment and concealment. This policy was continued south of California Street in alleys like St. Mary’s Place, Belden Place, and St. Mark’s Place. (44)
The earliest mention of Miss Buchanan’s brothel to be found in the press was an 1863 Sacramento Daily Union article reporting that Nellie Jones, a 25 year old woman living on St. Mark’s Place, died from burns received on January 16th when she fell asleep reading a newspaper which caught fire from a nearby candle and ignited her dress. (45) The more sedate Alta discovered two of her aliases, and corrected an earlier story by reporting her real name as Ellen Rowland. It also stated she was a prostitute, published the address of the house, and described the incident in greater detail than the Union article. (46)
In June there was a report of a man named Gorman, arrested in a St. Mark’s Place brothel for threatening the madam with a pistol. (47) The following year the Union reported the kidnapping of a prostitute from St. Mark’s Place. She was taken in a carriage to the then outlying neighborhood of Mission Dolores and raped before managing to escape. (48)
The brothel closed down after around two years, as shown by a May 8th, 1864 Alta advertisement for an auction of mirrors and elegant rosewood furniture at that address. (49)The luxurious furnishings suggest that St. Mark’s Place’s first brothel was a parlor house rather than one of the cribs (50) Asbury said was located on this street. Number 17 then became a legitimate rooming house. (51)
The next reports of prostitution on St. Mark’s Place were found in several March, 1869 newspaper articles five years after Kate Buchanan’s parlor house closed, when a hack driver was shot trying to collect a fare from “a party of demi mondes” after he drove them from their brothel on St. Mark’s Place to the Cliff House and back. (But the hack driver, a tough breed in those days, took the gun from the man who shot him – probably their pimp, beat him over the head with it, and hauled him off to the police station, where he pressed an assault charge against him . . . and did this with a gunshot wound to his own head.) (52)
This marked the start of a transition from residences to brothels that occurred on St. Mark’s Place between 1869 and 1881. Some of its residents had lived there since the mid-1850s, but 1869 was when they began to move away. The transition was seen in an advertisement that year announcing the auctioning of the contents of the family home at number 117, (53) the first of a series of similar ads to appear over the next decade. The Franklin brothers, two pawnbrokers who moved to number 109 with their families around 1859, (54) were another example of residents who began to leave. John Franklin’s wife and son both died within a month of each other in 1870, (55) and the brothers sold the house for $5,000 in 1872, (56) probably alarmed by the increasing numbers of brothels on the street. By 1876, Frederick Raue of number 35 was the last of the old time St. Mark’s Place residents still listed there, but he, too, moved away after that year. (57)
The Mechanics Pavilion was built on Union Square in 1864, just across from the entrance to St. Mark’s Place. In 1870, a young boy living with his family on the alley was killed in front of the Pavilion when a cannon across the street in front of the armory fired prematurely and impaled the boy with the ramrod. The cannon was one of a battery providing sound effects for a musical festival in the Pavilion. By the late 1860s, the residents around Union Square, which was then a toney residential neighborhood, were demanding that the Pavilion be moved elsewhere. But this didn’t happen until after 1871.
Photo: Jesse Brown Cook collection, online archive of California I0051221A
The Board of Supervisors voted to change St. Mark’s Place’s name to Morton Street on May 24, 1869, (58) the same year the brothels began to move there to stay, which is why Morton Street’s name was always associated with prostitution in the minds of San Franciscans. The renaming was probably in honor of, if not petitioned for by the founders of R. & J. Morton, one of San Francisco’s largest drayage firms, (59) who built the Morton Building, a swank hotel on Post Street between Kearny and Dupont with its rear on St. Mark’s Place. (60) Parts of the building were also leased to government agencies, particularly those in the legal professions. Thus for a time in the 1870s one of the city’s deputy sheriffs offices, located on Morton Street in the rear of the building on the first floor, looked across the street at several brothels, with the women in their windows. (61)
Morton Street started attracting other marginal and disreputable businesses in 1870, the year after the brothels return. For example, an astrologist named Madam Buck moved to number 105, announcing office hours from 10 in the morning to 9 in the evening. (62) A concert saloon at the corner of Kearny and Morton Streets was reported on June 15th as having just been closed. (63) It was called the Tammany and its patrons loitered outside the door while making lewd remarks to passing women and otherwise disturbing the peace. (64)
The 1870 census listings (65) showed the 2nd precinct of the Eighth Ward (which included Morton Street and the area east of Union Square along with most of what would later be known as the Tenderloin) as having ten brothels – two of them on Morton Street, seven of them on nearby blocks, and one about three blocks away on O’Farrell. (66) Data from this census don’t support Asbury’s and Lewis’ assertions concerning the diversity of age and race they claimed characterized the prostitutes of Morton Street. A tabulation of the census entries showed there were 19 prostitutes and five madams distributed among nine dwellings on or near Morton Street. Two-thirds of the prostitutes were between the ages of 18 and 24 with just two getting on in years at ages 36 and 40. This meant that the odds were about 9 ½ to 1 against the two older prostitutes being located in either of the Morton Street brothels. Hence, the women in those two houses were probably too young for them to have become “the worst cribs in San Francisco.” (67) As for race, 17 were white and two were black. Ten were born in the United States and the other nine were born in Western European countries. This also made the odds about 9 ½ to 1 against the two Morton Street brothels housing the two black women. Thus, the prostitutes’ ages and races listed in the 1870 census records showed that the two brothels on Morton Street probably hadn’t achieved the diversity described by Asbury in The Barbary Coast or by Lewis in Bay Window Bohemia, or at least not at that time.
The time frame of the movement of brothels onto Morton Street can be inferred with greater precision by looking at the 1886 Sanborn map(68) addresses labeled “Female Boarding” (69) and noting the years in which each address stopped appearing in the city directories. (70) If we assume that the years in which these addresses stopped being listed represent the years they became brothels, a startlingly clear picture emerges: number 117 opened as a brothel on the upper block of Morton Street next to Union Square in 1869, and number 33 opened the following year on the lower block. Beginning three years later in 1872, more brothels opened on upper Morton Street with increasing frequency, the openings peaking in 1875, and then declining until 1877, when all the residential addresses of that block had become brothels. In 1870, lower Morton Street had only the one brothel at number 33 until five years later when two more opened at numbers 17 (Kate Buchanan’s former parlor house) and 23. These establishments shared the block with the remaining residences until the rest of the residential addresses became brothels between 1879 and 1881.
1886 Sanborn Insurance map. The Sanborn fire insurance maps showed the footprint of every building in San Francisco, along with its height, some architectural features, and its use. This latter feature is how we know exactly which buildings along Morton Street were brothels, for they were marked “Female Boarding”.
In other words, upper Morton Street’s residences were replaced by brothels between 1869 and 1877, while lower Morton Street was partially occupied by brothels beginning in 1870 until the remaining residences were replaced by brothels between 1879 and 1881 when there was no longer any room in upper Morton Street. Thus, roughly speaking, in the 13 year period from 1869 through 1881,(71) prostitution returned to Morton Street and took over its two blocks. The actual frequency distribution looks like this:
The transition of Morton Street and other thoroughfares in this area into brothel alleys eventually caused the Board of Supervisors to adopt an ordinance “prohibiting messenger boys from answering calls from houses of bad character.” (72) Business firms wanted to keep their employees, especially younger ones, away from temptations likely to impair their efficiency, or likely to damage the companies’ reputations, and some had standing orders forbidding their employees from doing business at certain addresses on streets such as St. Mary’s Place, Berry Street, Belden Place, Quincy Place, and Morton Street, which were well known as brothel alleys. (73) Another likely reason for these prohibitions was a frequent ruse of the prostitutes during Morton Street’s later years: they would lean out of their windows and snatch the hats of male passersby to lure them inside. (74)
A feature of Morton Street during those years was described by newspapers when they reported that the prostitutes advertised themselves in a special way. Each of the houses had windows on the first floor (75) at the same level of the wooden sidewalks that ran up and down the alley. (76) The prostitutes sat inside the windows with the shutters open to display their availability to customers, (77) the same method used by their sisters in San Francisco’s other brothel alleys as well as by prostitutes in European cities (where this is still done today). Many of the women were in fact from Europe – usually from English or French speaking countries.
Morton Street also changed in other ways. During the 13 years it was being colonized by brothel madams and prostitutes, its remaining legitimate residences were being remodeled into rooming and lodging houses. The street’s one hostelry, the St Mark’s Hotel, was enlarged from a four room hotel to a twelve room lodging house and renamed the Germania. (78) In 1869, reports of fights, muggings, and pickpocketings along the alley began to appear with increasing regularity. Crime was especially frequent in the mid-1870s when the brothels had taken over most of the houses on upper Morton Street. (79) So it’s not surprising that the number of respectable residents fell precipitously between 1872 and 1884, leaving only one residential listing for all of Morton Street, a man named Costello at number 3. Another example of how Morton Street was changing was seen when Tomas Redondo, also known as Procopio, Red Dick, Dick of the Red Hand, Red–Handed Dick, and Tomas Murietta, a well-known killer, cattle rustler, horse thief, and stage coach robber who claimed he was a nephew of the legendary Californio bandit Joaquin Murietta, was arrested in a Morton Street restaurant in 1872. (80)
In the meantime, Morton Street’s respectable residents tried several times to get the city to close down the brothels. The first reported attempt was in 1872, when the number of these houses tripled. The Board of Supervisors was petitioned to “suppress the houses of ill-fame on that street,” because “there are more respectable houses there than others.” (81) The petitioners’ efforts were apparently only partially successful, because the newspapers continued to report incidents involving the prostitutes, albeit fewer of them. (82)
Meanwhile, saloons opened on Morton Street in that same year, like Charlie’s Hot Scotch at number 15. (83) Sarah Jane West and brothel madam Emily Edwards were arrested on Morton Street for fighting, (84) while a Spanish woman named Juan or Juana, who also called herself Lizzie Hall, shot a young man in the shin at her brothel at number 128 after he hit her. The case was continued several times until it was dismissed five weeks later when the shooting victim – one Henry Milton – disappeared. (85) Then there was a report of a Police Commission investigation of Special Officer Lawlor, “accused of levying blackmail on those women along his beat.” (86) However, several prostitutes, including Cummasse Densue and Juana Sobrero (possibly the same woman reported at number 128), both of Morton Street, testified in Lawlor’s defense about his
“uniform attention to business and courtesy towards them; he was paid by each of them from fifty cents to a dollar a week; he never demanded it, but invariably awaited their financial circumstances and pleasure; they paid him freely and voluntarily; he was always on hand when they were in trouble from loafers.” (87)
This last story is significant because Asbury wrote that one of the reasons for the street’s popularity was because police officers seldom ventured there except in the event of a major felony. (88) However, newspaper accounts, such as the one about Officer Lawlor, show that the police – special and regular officers as well as detectives and plainclothesmen – were on or around the two blocks of Morton Street often enough for arrests to be regularly reported, and after 1880 they were reported at least monthly and frequently even more often. There were also times when officers were stationed on the street itself. This was so even though at that time San Francisco had just 104 officers for a population of over 150,000 residents, or one officer for every 1,445 citizens – the lowest of any city in the world according to one report. (89)
Not only was there was a significant police presence, but the most frequent arrests reported by the newspapers weren’t the major felonies listed by Asbury. Instead, they were generally misdemeanors like fighting, soliciting, drunkenness, and vagrancy. More serious crimes were usually minor felonies, such as prostitutes picking the pockets of inebriated customers. (90) Morton Street must have been regularly patrolled by the police for the obvious reason that it was a brothel alley, that is, a potential high crime area, bordered on the east by Kearny Street, which was developing into San Francisco’s main shopping district, and on the west by the middle and upper class residential district around Union Square.
Another reason Morton Street and others like it were regularly patrolled was because of the San Francisco Police Department’s quasi-official policy of containment. For example, on March 2, 1895, Arthur McEwen’s Letter reported “Chief Crowley has been careful to prevent the spread of the residences of the Magdalens throughout the city . . . [but] the Chief of Police is given no credit [by the moral crusaders] for that watchfulness which has preserved the city in general from pollution.” (91) If the police couldn’t eliminate prostitution, which many 19th century thinkers believed to be the case, then they could at least keep the brothels, especially the cribs and the cow yards, out of sight in the alleys of Chinatown, the Barbary Coast, South of the Slot, and the Dupont–Kearny area east and northeast of Union Square. In spite of Oscar Lewis’ claim that police officers were usually stationed at each end of Morton Street’s two blocks to keep respectable ladies from blundering into these alleys, (92) the only time this level of official supervision was actually reported was during several unsuccessful campaigns to close down the brothels altogether.
But even regular police patrols didn’t always keep Morton Street’s denizens under control. In 1873 and 1874, a rising number of violent incidents and other problems plaguing Morton Street (93) apparently provoked its second police crackdown. This was suggested by a Chronicle description of the prostitutes’ method of evading capture: “Within the past few days, in a number of the houses, doors have been made, leading to the adjoining houses through which the inmates pass when in danger of arrest.” (94)
By 1874 the class of prostitutes on Morton Street was deteriorating. In February, the trial testimony of two high class swindlers established that one of them, Naphthaly, often visited the brothel at number 131, operated by Ida Clark, in addition to brothels on Dupont Street. The witness, a police officer whose beat included this area, testified that all the houses visited by Naphthaly had “the lowest class of women who reside in such houses,” including several on Morton Street, such as number 110 which was run by a Frenchwoman named Clement, number 107 which was run by Bertha Cahn, and another which was run by Annie Blaine. (95)
Further evidence of decline was found in December 1874, when the police arrested two Morton Street prostitutes for stealing from their customers. This was the earliest instance of this type of misdeed to be found in reports of Morton Street crime, and it suggested that prostitutes of a lower class were establishing themselves there. One of them, known as the Tomboy, was detained for stealing $80 from a customer, but was discharged after the victim disappeared. (96) The other woman, an independent operator named Mary Daily, was arrested on the complaint of Robert L. Hockman, a recent arrival “from one of the interior counties,” when she lifted $60 from his pockets. (97) This kind of theft was reported on Morton Street with increasing frequency over the following decades.
By 1875, fractional house numbers (such as 112¾) began to show up in the San Francisco city directories as Morton Street addresses (98) when property owners subdivided these former family dwellings in order to maximize rental income. A former single family residence might be subdivided into two, three, or even four units, each of them housing a brothel or renting rooms nightly to prostitutes.
A decrease in crime on Morton Street resulting from the raids of 1874 and lasting into 1876 was suggested by the finding of only two newspaper items mentioning Morton Street during this period. One was a mysterious ad in the Chronicle: “JOSIE—MARY WANTS TO SEE YOU—105 Morton Street.” (99)
The other was a report of the arrest of a former Morton Street brothel owner for procuring underage girls. His name was Martin Mace, and he furnished an example of how the management side of the brothel business worked. He was indicted by a San Francisco Grand Jury in 1874 for grand larceny when he was known as John Martin Mace. (100) A former sailor, he apparently purchased one of the brothels on Morton Street (101) after being paid off for sinking a ship in an insurance swindle. He made money in his new venture, and learned to dress and act like a gentleman. He managed to marry a girl from a respectable family, but then moved her into the house and turned her out as a prostitute. Later on, she was rescued by a wealthy bachelor who “happened” into the brothel. After hearing her story, the gentleman arranged to help her escape and sent her back East. Mace filed a $10,000 lawsuit against the bachelor and his associates who helped him rescue the woman, and used this to extort a considerable amount of money in exchange for dropping the suit and its attendant notoriety. (102)
In 1877, the number of city directory listings indicating respectable addresses on Morton Street had shrunk to 38, with nearly all of them at the Germania Hotel at number 25. (103) This was where an unemployed German carpenter named William Shick committed suicide that year by shooting himself in the head while drinking heavily in his room. (104) In July, the police staged a wholesale raid of the Morton Street brothels for the first time in three years. This raid, according to the Sacramento Daily Union, “captured a large number of the inmates, who had been making themselves more conspicuous than the law allows.” (105) This statement suggested what many of the paper’s readers already knew or assumed, that the police had permitted the brothels on Morton Street and elsewhere to operate, but only if the they didn’t attract too much attention. (106)
But by 1878, there was little evidence to suggest that prostitution on Morton Street had been eliminated or even much diminished, in spite of the police crackdown the previous year. However, the police do seem to have reasserted their control of the prostitute’s behavior since the only prostitution-related arrest that year was when a man was taken into custody merely for tossing firecrackers into one of the Morton Street brothels. (107)
In 1879 the police began to once again lose their grip on the situation on Morton Street, as the press reported a growing catalogue of tragedies and crimes. (108) For example, former police officer Edward P. Snively got drunk and committed suicide by shooting himself in a Morton Street brothel. (109) Several months later Michael Barrett was arrested for stealing $83 and some jewelry from a Morton Street prostitute named Louisa Dawson. (110) The following month a police officer was badly beaten by four men who entered a Morton Street brothel where the officer was investigating a reported theft of $500 from a customer. (111) Then there was a man who was arrested in one of the brothels for biting the nose of one of the prostitutes. (112) When the Police Commission investigated the alleged extortion of prostitutes by police officers, one officer admitted to the Commissioners that he had “been investigated before by the Commission for unofficer-like conduct in a house of ill repute on Morton Street.” (113)
Also of interest was an 1879 Chronicle report describing in great detail a masked ball and its attendees at the California Theater. The beautiful vivandiere (114) costume of Miss Lillie Lorraine of 205 Post Street was mentioned near the end of the article. Though there were dozens of participants listed, hers was the only one that included an address, (115) a not-so-subtle way of identifying her as a prostitute working at a parlor house run by Diamond Carrie Maclay. (116) This building, located next door to posh Marchand’s restaurant, (117) had a covered second-story passageway that ran across the backyard to the rear of 108 Morton, doubling the size of her business. What this meant was that Morton Street still had at least some vestige of higher class prostitution, even if it was only the rear entrance.
This was also the year the very respectable Olympic Club moved into the remodeled upper floors of the old Morton House hotel (now O’Connor, Moffatt & Co.’s dry goods store) with the club’s parlor windows looking down at the brothels on Morton Street, as did the club’s billiard and chess rooms on the floor above. (118) One wonders what the members made of this view. Did they speculate on the street’s activities between billiard and chess games? (119)
1880 was another busy year on Morton Street. Police Officer Thomas Price arrested Morton Street prostitute Victorine Bird for being an inmate of a brothel. She had requested a jury trial and the charge was dismissed when some of the jurors twice failed to show up and her lawyer demanded that the officer appear as a witness. The Chronicle article pointed out that Officer Price, whose beat included Morton and Dupont Streets, was also being sued by another prostitute’s husband for the return of property she had signed over to Price. He arrested Bird again on the same charge (120) and this time she got her day in court when she testified that the arrests started after she had reduced her protection payments to him to just $1, which he indignantly refused, being used to $2 or more. (121) The judge convicted her anyway.
Also, a William Hanrahn (sic) was arrested on Morton Street for impersonating an officer (122) (a dodge used by small time confidence men to extort money from other criminals), and Marks Gruschenski, a notorious Morton and Dupont Street pimp, was arrested in the alley for battery on one Emile Robein, (123) who was likely another pimp.
That same year Terence Clark, a laborer who had lived at number 113 (124) since at least 1862, (125) leased his house to Leon Avignon for four years at the inflated rental of $100 a month, (126) making it apparent that Avignon was opening a brothel, since brothels and gambling clubs were the only businesses with large enough profit margins to afford rents like this. As some Morton Street property owners pointed out years later after the police finally closed down the brothels, they had done the only reasonable thing they could when the city failed to dislodge the prostitutes after the owners first complained: they moved out of Morton Street and leased their properties to the only people who still wanted them. (127)
However, the most interesting thing to happen on Morton Street in 1880, at least for future historians, was the U.S. Census, for this was the first census to include street addresses. When enumerators encountered a brothel, they seem to have treated it like any other habitation, and listed the inmates, including the madam, prostitutes, servants, and anyone else who lived there, occasionally even children. The addresses on the census sheets show that the houses occupied by Morton Street prostitutes that year (128) were the same ones labeled “Female Boarding” on the 1886 Sanborn maps, (129) confirming that by this time the brothels had replaced the residences on Morton Street. (130) The census also yielded additional data: the brothels contained 70 prostitutes and 10 madams, and about half the prostitutes were in houses run by madams while the rest were one-woman operations, with the latter mostly on upper Morton Street near Union Square. Almost half of the women were from other countries, mainly France. Though Asbury and Lewis said prostitutes of any race could be had on Morton Street, (131) the 1880 census listed 64 white prostitutes, with only one Hispanic and 5 black practitioners. There were no Asians or other races specified.
Morton Street, 1892. This scene on Morton Street (probably on the block between Dupont and Stockton Streets) shows two typical brothel frontages. The wooden shutters would be opened when the prostitutes sat behind the windows to advertise their availability. The Carpenter Gothic architecture and wooden sidewalks were typical features of this pre-Victorian thoroughfare.
Image: San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1892, 10
The 1880 census also showed that while some of the Morton Street prostitutes were younger women, the great majority were older than 25, many were in their thirties, and there were even a few in their forties. This was a marked change from the 1870 census (132) when most of them were between the ages of 18 and 24, suggesting a continuing deterioration in the class of prostitutes found there. Young women (or girls) who started out or reached their prime in parlor houses began to show signs of wear in a rather short time (numerous writers have documented how quickly prostitutes aged from the effects of disease, addiction, and ill-usage) (133) and moved, or were transferred, to other, cheaper houses again and again until they ended up in cribs (134) like the ones on Morton Street in 1880. This lent at least some support to Asbury’s statement that “the worst cribs in San Francisco were probably those which lined both sides of Morton Street,” (135) since they featured older and more used up prostitutes, at least during Morton Street’s middle years.
In contrast to this, the census sheets also show that Diamond Carrie Maclay’s brothel at 205 Post/108 Morton was probably operated as a parlor house, that is, a well-furnished brothel with young, attractive, expensively dressed women, even as the rest of Morton Street was in decline. She was open for business by 1880,(136) with 11 young women working for her that year. Her prostitutes were mostly in their late teens and early twenties and all were white with Anglo-Saxon names. The only two from outside the U.S. came from Canada and Ireland. As mentioned earlier, the houses were connected by a second-story passageway that spanned the back yards of both buildings and so were apparently operated as one unit.
What did Morton Street look like in the years that prostitution dominated its two blocks? Lewis didn’t describe it, while Asbury limited himself to saying brothels ran up and down both sides of the street. (137) But other writers – mostly newspaper reporters and editors and Harriet Lane Levy – did offer glimpses, (138) and the descriptions are of a piece: one story, two room cottages, each with a bay window, and each occupied by a prostitute who sat in the window waiting for customers. However, the Sanborn maps show them – with one exception (139) – to be two story houses built on 20 X 60 foot lots. Only two of the buildings had the bay windows reported by Harriet Lane Levy. The rest had flat fronts. (140) An 1892 newspaper drawing of a section of Morton Street shows a row of Carpenter Gothic frame houses with gabled roofs, icicle barge boards, wooden awnings with drips, small, decorative second-story balconies, and shuttered windows overlooking a board sidewalk. (141) Some 1896 newspaper drawings show several two story brick buildings. (142) Nor were they originally one story buildings with second story additions: newspaper real estate advertisements of the 1850s and 1860s (143) made clear that most of these structures were originally built as two-story single family houses.
The earliest reports of gambling found on Morton Street were in 1882 newspaper stories of raids on card clubs. These apparently started in August at number 15 in the back of the Geary House and at number 21 next door. (144) The card game at number 21, run by a Denny Haley, had 35 gamblers. (145) The one at number 15 was entered by way of the hotel’s back door and featured two faro games run by Wyatt Earp’s brothers, Virgil and Warren, of Tombstone fame. (146)
Warren Earp (left) and Virgil Earp (right). Virgil and Warren Earp, brothers of Wyatt Earp of Tombstone, Arizona fame, ran a faro game in the back of the Geary Hotel, with its entrance on Morton Street. Virgil was in San Francisco for surgery on his arm, which was missing several pieces of bone from a shootout in Tombstone.
The raids were precipitated by a man named Charles Falk losing $2,800 at the Earps’ game, money he had embezzled from his socially prominent employers, the Bowie brothers. (147) The raid on the Earps’ game netted 15 gamblers, the faro layouts, and $1,422 in cash. (148) That the raids weren’t taken very seriously is perhaps shown by the Chronicle article’s opening line: “Last night occurred another one of those spasmodic raids which lately have been made on the gambling dens in this city.” (149) But it wasn’t just the newspaper being skeptical. Haley, the owner of the game at number 21, reopened the following night, necessitating a second police raid, just to show him they meant business – this time. (150)
In 1883 the March 11 Chronicle reported a raid on a faro game run by Ross and Carroll at number 21 that netted 19 gamblers, two faro layouts, and $1,171.75. (151) Another raid on the Earps’ game, still going at number 15, came up empty handed, the gamblers apparently having been tipped off. (152) The following month, the police raided numbers 15 and 21 again, but the gamblers managed to escape by the time the officers got inside. (153) In May the two games were raided yet another time and five men were arrested. (154)
The police raided another, though apparently much less expensive, faro game that operated above Patsy Hogan’s saloon at number 3, which netted three gamblers, the faro layout, and just $13 in dimes. (155) Hogan, whose real name was Patrick Keenan, (156) was a former boxer who plowed his winnings into operating a saloon called variously the Shades (157) or the Referee, (158) a hangout for pimps, prostitutes, swindlers, gamblers, and the other petit demimonde around Morton and Kearny Streets from 1882 through 1892. (His 1883 city directory listing reads “liquor saloon and gymnasium.”) (159)
Saloons had always operated on Morton Street, though usually at the corners, but the papers hadn’t reported problems with them until after the prostitutes took over the alley. Patsy Hogan’s saloon made the papers in January 1883 when a ne’er-do-well named McDonald was cheated out of $300 in a poker game there and was beaten up when he protested. (160) Edward Wild, a cowboy from Arizona who called himself Red Dick, (161) was taken to Hogan’s in December and robbed by two men. All three were arrested by the police when Wild threatened them with a six-shooter with a barrel over a foot long. (162)
The police raided the Ross and Earp games for the fourth time on August 30th. The Earps had enough time to hide the faro layout because the police found 15 men but no gambling equipment. However, the layout at Ross’ was confiscated after a lengthy search. (The papers reported that the dealer gave his name as “A. Stranger.”) (163)
This was also the first year that the old panel trick was reportedly used by the Morton Street women. (164) This was worked by a prostitute who put the customer’s belongings into a closet or cupboard or drawer for safe keeping while they transacted their business. In the meantime a confederate opened a hidden panel on the other side and removed the victim’s valuables, generally in the hope that he was too drunk to notice the loss until the prostitute had time to disappear.
By 1883 many residents and businessmen in the area around Morton Street had reached the limits of their endurance (165) and launched another attempt to shut down the brothels by submitting a petition to a Board of Supervisors’ committee asking them to order the city to move the prostitutes out of the neighborhood. (166) The committee referred the petition to Chief of Police Crowley who assured them that “such measures would be taken as will result in the abatement of the nuisance.” (167) The Board then adopted a resolution instructing the clerk to forward a copy of the current ordinances against prostitution to the Chief. (168) The police instituted a blockade of Morton Street that was effective enough to drive fifty of the women from the alley by the following week. (169)
While this was going on, the Police Commission was investigating one of its officers for accepting bribes from prostitute Margaret (or Maggie or Mollie) Kennedy at number 129. The evidence hinged on the testimony of two other officers who swore they saw him take a bribe from the woman while they were watching through a small hole in a door in the brothel. But when the Commissioners seemed to question the sworn testimony of the officers by asking to see the door and its hole to prove the allegation, the carpenter they sent to bring it to the hearing returned empty handed, saying he got the door but it was stolen while he was distracted. (170) However, the accused officer was dismissed from the force just days later. (171)
In the first three months of 1884, it began to look as though the Supervisors really meant what they said about shutting down Morton Street’s brothels. “The Morton-street blockade continues and many of the denizens (172) have been compelled to seek more congenial quarters,” wrote a reporter in the January 11th Chronicle. (173) Other encouraging signs of a Morton Street cleanup were seen in February when a man was found guilty of passing a dollar bill “raised” to look like a ten-dollar bill to a French prostitute on Morton Street (174) and was sentenced to five years at hard labor. (175) The next month a man who had robbed a customer at Patsy Hogan’s the year before was put on trial. (176) But there were still at least some brothels operating during this time because the police arrested another Morton Street prostitute for stealing $180 from a customer. (177)
But just days later an injunction restraining the Chief of Police from blockading Morton Street was requested by a Morton Street property owner who received a large income from the rents he collected from prostitutes, at least until the police blockade was instituted. He argued that since other brothel alleys weren’t being suppressed it was “against the law” to single out Morton Street and he also complained that the blockade was “proving injurious to the property.” (178) A temporary injunction must have been issued, for a little over six months later it was reported that it was finally lifted and the blockade reinstated. (180) By that time it was back to business as usual, as seen by the number of court cases involving Morton Street prostitutes and their maquereaux, (182) as well as several arrests of prostitutes for stealing from customers. (181) A frustrated Chief Crowley finally gave up (or, more likely, responded to a lessening of public pressure), (182) and lifted the Morton Street blockade in August 1885, saying it wasn’t working. (183) Ironically, the 1885 city directory listed the California Supreme Court as having moved into the newly rebuilt 221 Post Street, (184) above the O’Connor, Moffatt and Co. dry goods store, (185) where the court’s rear windows gazed magisterially down at the resumption of activity on Morton Street.
In 1886, the Sanborn Company published the first fire insurance maps of San Francisco. The maps showed the footprint of each structure on each city block and identified it according to its use, and this included brothels, which were coyly labeled “Female Boarding” or “F. B.” The maps for the two blocks of Morton Street show that every residential structure was so labeled, (186) confirming that the street had fallen completely into the hands of the prostitutes and their madams and pimps.
1886 Sanborn Insurance map
The maps also show that the effect of the transition from residential street to brothel alley was heightened by the arrangement of the buildings: instead of being randomly distributed among the alley’s commercial edifices, the residences were organized in blocks of houses. The largest group had thirteen adjacent structures covering almost the entire south side of upper Morton between Dupont and Stockton. Directly across the street were two more blocks of four and seven structures, the two groupings separated by a small coal yard but otherwise covering almost the entire north side of the street. And the fourth group had six structures on the south side of lower Morton near Dupont. In other words, there were 24 houses on upper Morton and six houses on lower Morton. (187) A conservative estimate of just two street level windows per house meant the unwary or otherwise disposed male passed 16 consecutive windows on lower Morton, each one with a woman inveigling him in one way or another, and 64 consecutive windows on upper Morton, with similarly behaving women in each one. Even if we rule out Asbury’s and Lewis’ lurid descriptions, the experience must have been memorable.
In 1887 the papers reported the same dreary tales of prostitutes arrested for stealing money from their customers. (188) But one of the most sensational stories was the finding of Henry Benhayon’s body in a room in the rear of the Geary House, the back of which faced lower Morton Street. Benhayon’s sister had been the third wife of J. Milton Bowers, a physician who killed her for her life insurance by administering phosphorous disguised as medicine. This caused the newspapers to dub her “the phosphorescent bride” because of rumors that her body glowed in the dark. Benhayon had been relentless in helping to convict Bowers and had been the chief witness against him. While Bowers was appealing his conviction, he had Benhayon killed by John Dimmig, a confederate. Dimmig rented a room in the rear of the Geary House and later brought Benhayon there through the back entrance on Morton Street and killed him by giving him liquor laced with poison. Dimmig tried to make it look like a suicide by leaving several empty poison bottles in the room, along with a forged letter purporting to have been written by Benhayon claiming that he himself had poisoned his sister. The death of the prosecution’s chief witness wrecked the case against Bowers, who was eventually acquitted and released. (189)
The next biggest Morton Street story was the December 1888 arrest of rookie police officer William S. Thompson for killing 23 year old Charles Rosenbrock when he tried to stop the officer from beating up a prostitute. Thompson and a veteran police officer had gotten drunk after a court appearance and wandered down Morton Street, still in their civilian clothes, where they insulted two of the prostitutes. The women responded in kind and were attacked by Thompson. (190) Rosenbrock, who was a pimp for a prostitute at 138 Morton, (191) happened to be passing by and tried to protect the women by knocking Thompson down, not knowing he was a police officer. Thompson then shot him. (192) Both officers were dismissed from the force (193) and Thompson was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to the maximum term of 10 years in prison, with the judge stating that he was sorry Thompson wasn’t convicted of murder so he could give him a longer sentence. (194) Also in 1888, a young man who suspected that his under-age sister’s boyfriend had placed her in a brothel followed them from their apartment. On the way, he enlisted the services of a beat cop and they watched them enter a Morton Street brothel, after which the officer took them to the city prison on Kearny Street and booked the boyfriend for pandering and the sister for admission to the Magdalen Asylum. (195)
Magdalen Asylum. This 1925 photograph shows the old Magdalen Asylum on Potrero Avenue and Twenty-second Street years after its name was changed to St. Catherine’s Home . The Magdalen Asylum was an institution for the rehabilitation of female juvenile delinquents, including prostitutes. It was run along more liberal lines than its European predecessors.
By 1889 there were three saloons on lower Morton Street: Patsy Hogan’s at number 3, Charles Buise’ at numbers 5 and 7, and another one at number 39. There was a fourth in 1890 during a brief spurt of prosperity or competition that lasted just three years. One of them, the Strand, was operated by a well-known black pedestrian racer (a competitor in walking races, a popular 19th century sport) who bought it with his winnings. It did well for a while, until his generosity and mismanagement caused it to fail. (196)
Around that time there was this mysterious item in the Chronicle: “The large hat boxes which for some time past have stood on Morton street above Kearny, and afforded people a chance to make the vicinity obnoxious to those who were obliged to pass along Morton street” were removed by employees of the Superintendent of Streets to the city’s corporation yard. (197) Was placing hatboxes on the sidewalk in front of the brothels the prostitutes’ method of forcing passersby to walk next to their windows so they could lean out and snatch their hats? (198) There were also a number of arrests of brothel customers for robbing the prostitutes, (199) in addition to the usual arrests of the prostitutes for robbing their customers. (200)
The only newspaper mentions found of Asian prostitutes on Morton Street were several articles the following year. A police officer took a 12 or 13 year-old Japanese girl into custody who he found living in a Japanese brothel on Morton Street after he broke up a fight between the cook and one of the women. (201) A month later police arrested three Japanese prostitutes on Morton Street for “trying to entice men into their dens.” (202) The following year, police arrested another Japanese prostitute on Morton Street for keeping a nine year-old girl there. (203) This was also the last year that the California Supreme Court was listed on Post Street with its rear windows overlooking the brothels. (204) Had Morton Street become too much for the justices?
That same year, a 28 year old Fresno vineyard heir named Beauregard McMullin, who had been drinking heavily for two weeks, died by shooting himself in the mouth with a large bore pistol in Diamond Carrie Maclay’s brothel at number 108. He was jealously infatuated with Mattie Raymond, one of Maclay’s prostitutes, when one night he entered the brothel by the front entrance at 205 Post, went through the second story passageway across the backyard to Raymond’s room, and threatened to shoot her. She managed to escape, whereupon he turned the pistol on himself. (205)
A month later Diamond Carrie herself died in her brothel at age 36 from an opium overdose under circumstances that suggested a carefully planned suicide, (206) though the coroner ruled it was an accidental death. (207) Her estate was worth around $50,000 and she had made out her will only four months before. She left jewelry and clothing to some of her women friends, a number of small bequests to various relatives (her real name was Clara Cecelia Bedell), and most of the remainder to her mother, to be left to Maclay’s two sisters in the event of her mother’s death. The will, which was written in her own hand, went on to state that “the house at 205 Post street shall be conducted until the lease expires by Fannie Howard who shall receive for her services one-half of the profits; (208) the other half goes to the mother of the deceased.” She also left her library, two paintings, a silver tray and pitcher, and two silver goblets to her “dear friend” Judge Richard S. Mesick. (209) What made this last bequest so intriguing was the inscription of her initials on one of the goblets and his on the other. (210) Moreover, the executor named in the will was Mesick’s former law office clerk and later partner, Richard V. Dey, (211) who promptly asked the probate court to excuse him from this duty. (212) Meanwhile, he gave his approval for Maclay’s mother to apply to take his place. The mother then asked the court to appoint a law clerk named Edward W. Gunther (who worked for William F. Herrin, the chief counsel and political bagman for the Southern Pacific Railroad) in her place. (213)
Two months later Maclay’s father asked the court to appoint the Public Administrator as the executor in an apparent attempt to leverage a share of the estate – he hadn’t been mentioned in the will and was divorced from Maclay’s mother – alleging undue influence by one of Maclay’s sisters while Maclay was of unsound mind because of her opium addiction. (214) This was fought out over the next 12 months all the way to the California Supreme Court until the father finally settled for $2,250. (215) Meanwhile, the executor auctioned off the brothel to Sadie Young, (216) one of Maclay’s nearby competitors. (217)
Maclay’s 1893 estate appraisal listed 23 pieces of expensive diamond jewelry – hence her sobriquet. (218) There was also the $10,000 life insurance policy of her former inamorato, Judge Mesick, who signed it over to her in late 1887. (219) He now sued to get it back, but the insurance company said it was legally assigned to Maclay and they couldn’t renege on the reassignment. (220) When Mesick died later that year the newspapers published details about his life, (221) describing him as a high-living Virginia City lawyer (and later judge) during the Comstock silver rush. He charged high fees, worked hard for his clients, and lived expensively and generously, continuing this lifestyle after he moved to San Francisco. (222) The newspapers reported a number of bills from French restaurants and brothels, especially champagne bills, which surfaced after his death. (223)
Around this time, Gunther, who by now had replaced Dey as the executor of Maclay’s estate, (224) submitted his final accounting to the Probate Court (225) which revealed the estate paid over $11,000 for Maclay’s medical bills. (226) This fact, along with writing her own will just four months before her demise (227) at the young age of 36 (228) (and naming one of the prostitutes working for her to run the house after her death), (229) having a party with close friends the night before her death, (230) and then dying of an overdose from opiates in spite of being an experienced addict, all suggest that she killed herself to avoid the debilitating final stages of some chronic or fatal illness.(231)
During this period, the reform movements that swept across the United States into San Francisco in the last decade of the 19th century made the rising level of crime on Morton Street attract so much attention that the San Francisco Grand Jury included it in a recommendation made in November of 1891 that the cribs and cow yards in the Barbary Coast, Chinatown, and the alleys running off of Kearny and Dupont Streets be either shut down or legalized and taxed to pay for the police, court, jail, and public health services so heavily used by the prostitutes, and to actively regulate them, as had been done in several other cities. (232)
However, indignation among reformers at the immorality of institutionalizing prostitution through taxation and regulation made certain this suggestion was never enacted. Instead, the Board of Supervisors responded the following month by passing an ordinance making it a criminal offense for Morton Street property owners and their agents to rent their premises for immoral purposes. (233) As a result, at least one property owner went to court to enjoin his tenants against conducting brothels in his building, (234) and at least one property manager was arrested for collecting rents from brothel owners. (235) But their charges were quickly dismissed by Judge Love (!), who advanced the novel argument that the new law violated the separation of powers by giving the Chief of Police the power to pass moral judgment on the tenants’ activities. (236)
More public pressure to suppress Morton Street prostitution emerged that year, when a diminutive and aggressive Salvation Army captain, a woman named Pauli of the C Corps (made up of 30 men and 8 or 9 women) invaded Morton Street and several other brothel alleys one night and did their best to disrupt business and call attention to their activities by singing and praying to the prostitutes and their customers. (237) Also, the members of a Grand Jury toured the Barbary Coast and the “tenderloin,” including Morton Street, (238) followed by police enforcement of an ordinance that required the prostitutes on Morton Street and other alleys to keep their window shutters closed. (239)
But things didn’t improve. In 1894 Marguerite Bormann, a prostitute at number 31, was slashed in the neck by a customer named Thomas Bowen who ran away while he was still half dressed. He was caught two blocks away at Post and Montgomery by a responding police officer when Bowen tripped over his still-loose clothing while trying to evade him.(240) Bormann died days later(241) and Bowen was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment at Folsom State Penitentiary.(242)
Also that year, a man named Ruddock, whose underage daughter ran away to live with an older man, found her in a Morton Street brothel where the man had placed her. She was returned home by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children but ran away again with the same man. This time they got married before he returned her to the same brothel. Ruddock tracked them down again, had them both arrested, and pressed charges against the man. (243)
By this time the public was getting fed up with political corruption in San Francisco and a number of reform movements were strengthened and new ones started by growing public support, including initiatives to ban prostitution, much to the annoyance of the police. (244) These groups were able to parlay this growing dissatisfaction into the election of reform candidate Adolph Sutro as Mayor. Sutro took office in the beginning of 1895, (245) and two-and-a-half months later a Grand Jury returned eight indictments and a dozen presentments (statements of offenses observed by the jury) against the owners of properties on Morton and Quincy Streets who were renting their buildings to brothel operators. (246) This was followed by the arrests of several of the owners, (247) including at least two who had been among the early residents of Morton Street when it was still named St. Mark’s Place. In June, at the end of the Grand Jury’s six month term, the jurors submitted a report to the court pointing out that property owners were the direct beneficiaries of the huge rents being charged brothel owners, “and were the greatest obstacle in the way of regulating these women . . . these people, many of them of standing in the community, bring all the pressure and influence at their command to bear on the police authorities to exempt their places.” (248)
That year, the Supervisors responded to a request for regulation of the brothels, especially the ones on Morton Street, by concluding (perhaps hopefully) that what the public really objected to was the women sitting in full view at their open windows. They decided to consult with Chief Crowley about how best to put a stop to this. (249) Meanwhile, public pressure continued to grow when the Women’s Federation staged a large rally at the Metropolitan Temple at 5th and Jessie in which the featured speaker, a minister, said, “Let the respectable portion of San Francisco take a mighty stand against indecency. Let us stamp out Morton Alley and Dupont Street and every other damnable section of San Francisco.” (250) Yet another grand jury recommended that the brothels on Morton Street should be moved to some other location and that all public poker games should be closed.(251)
In 1896, it had been 26 years since the brothels had begun moving permanently onto Morton Street. But a series of events made this the prostitutes’ last winter there. It began with the Board of Supervisors asking the District Attorney for advice on how to close down the “social evil” on Morton Street. The Board was told that current laws were entirely adequate for this purpose – all that was needed was to enforce them. (252) Later that month the Civic Federation, one of several political reform groups, met and agreed to confer with reform-minded Mayor Sutro on starting a campaign to strengthen his executive powers. (253) The organization also commended the police for trying to close the Morton Street brothels. (254) The Federation of Women, a consortium of women’s clubs, also met and discussed the difficulties they faced in trying to close the Morton Street brothels, with a Mrs. French claiming “Some of these houses are owned by captains of police . . . others are owned by members of the Board of Supervisors, and others again by . . . pillars of the church.” (255)
The next month, a prostitute who called herself May Smith but whose real name was May McDermott, was strangled to death in her room at number 135½. (256) This was followed two weeks later by the apparent murder-suicide of May Conboy at number 108½. Conboy, the adopted daughter of a police sergeant, had moved away from home and become an alcoholic prostitute. She was reportedly shot by her boyfriend, who then shot himself. And while it was reported at first as a murder-suicide, evidence quickly emerged suggesting it was more likely a double suicide. (257)
Site of double suicide on Morton Alley.
The Smith/McDermott murder created a sensation in the press, but the death of Sergeant Conboy’s adopted daughter is what finally drove the brothels from Morton Street. The next day an order went out for beat officers to tell every Morton Street prostitute to pack her things and move or face arrest for vagrancy. (258) Reform groups immediately supported the order, and campaigned for the Board of Health to prosecute property owners renting buildings to brothel owners. (259) The Grand Jury and the Chief of Police were “assured by leading merchants, property owners and representative men generally that arbitrary and extreme measures under the law to abolish [the Morton Street brothels] will be fully sustained by public sentiment.” (260)
May Smith aka Mamie McDermott. Mamie McDermott, whose professional name was May Smith, was strangled to death by an unknown assailant. Months later the police discovered they had the probable killer in custody, but he was released through a “straw bail” bond arranged by a corrupt court clerk and was never caught again.
Many of the women moved elsewhere, (261) though seven of them filed damage suits against the police on February 28th and requested an injunction prohibiting the police from blockading their brothels.(262) Not surprisingly, the court dismissed the request.(263) The next day the Police Commission announced that the remaining Morton Street prostitutes had to vacate their premises by March 4th or they would be arrested,(264) and by that date they were all gone,(265) while police officers were kept stationed on Morton Street to make sure the prostitutes didn’t return.(266) The police had finally proven what most people in San Francisco already knew, that they could have closed the brothels any time they wanted, but hadn’t done so until now, mostly for reasons of policy. (267)
The following month real estate transactions involving Morton Street properties began to appear in the newspapers as property owners, no longer getting any income from their buildings, offered them for sale or transferred them to relatives. (268) Businessmen began to make plans to build commercial structures on the street, (269) and a Hobart estate project was completed in December. (270)
There were a handful of attempts to reopen Morton Street to prostitution over the next several years. In July 1896 the grand jury learned that some Morton Street property owners were circulating a petition signed by many nearby Kearny and Grant Avenue businesses that depended on the Morton Street brothels to attract customers to the area. (271) The petition asked that the police blockade be lifted and that they be allowed to reopen their properties as “lodging houses.” (272) It was presented to the Board of Supervisors in September where it was referred it to the Health and Police Committee. (273) John Baumann, one of the early St. Mark’s Place residents who had been driven out by the prostitutes after 1875, told the Committee that the street closure was a scheme by a grand jury member named O’Farrell to drive Morton Street real estate prices down so he could buy them cheaply. (274) Baumann also claimed that no respectable tenants would rent their properties at any price as long as the police kept the street under surveillance. The committee ducked the issue by placing the petition on file and referring the protesting property owners to the Chief of Police. (275)
But events conspired to keep the brothels closed. In November 1896 it was learned that a petty thief had broken into the empty houses along Morton Street, torn up the carpets, and sold them, (276) making the houses less habitable and more expensive to renovate. In January 1897 the Chronicle reported that the lots at numbers 122 and 124, recently purchased by Vittorio Menesini, (277) would be used to extend his Post Street business building all the way back to Morton Street, (278) thereby eliminating one of the old buildings and its cribs. In March of that year the abandoned brothels at number 129 and 131 were damaged from a fire in a nearby cape factory on Geary Street, rendering them uninhabitable. (279) In May the houses at numbers 110 and 112, both former brothels, were sold to real estate developer Isabella Levy who planned to redevelop the properties. (280) And in April the grand jury managed to shut down the straw bail operation (281) of James Keating, one of the owners of the Hub, (282) Morton Street’s last remaining saloon, (283) thus scoring a less direct, but still significant blow against Morton Street prostitution.
In July 1897, the Health and Police Committee of the Board of Supervisors blocked another apparent attempt to bring back the prostitutes when they refused a second request by owners of the Morton Street properties to remove the police blockade. (284) That month a lawyer representing the property owners along lower Morton Street asked the Supervisors to substantially reduce their property tax assessments because their buildings weren’t generating any revenue since the closing of the brothels. The Call noted dryly that “the matter was taken under advisement.” (285)
In August the Chief of Police learned of a plan to rent out the remaining Morton Street buildings as saloons and for “other business purposes” to accommodate prostitutes who were being chased out of Dupont Street. (286) The Board of Health headed this off by inspecting the structures and condemning them in November as unfit for human habitation, while also citing the owners to either repair or remove them, or the city would tear them down and bill the owners for the cost of demolition. (287)
However, there were still occasional troubles, for in September 1897 two men were arrested in The Hub saloon at the corner of Grant and Morton when one took out his pistol and shot at the other, who was throwing cobblestones at him. (288) Two days later a man stabbed another man outside the Hub over an argument about the merits of various boxers. (289) A noted former prizefighter, a black man named Bill Price, was taken to the county hospital in November after he was found lying on the floor of one of the abandoned brothels, starving to death after he lost his job as a one-eyed bouncer at a Barbary Coast saloon. (290) Meanwhile, legitimate businesses stayed away for the first three years following the closing of the brothels. (291)
In March of 1898, James Keating still owned the Hub saloon, Morton Street’s last remaining dive. He and his wife Mabel, an opium addict who the press called “the queen of the pickpockets,” were shot by Jerry Sullivan, a City Hall janitor, while inside the Hub. (292) Sullivan, who was also an addict, did this after accusing Keating of being a police informant. He said later, “I admit I shot the guys, and I’m sorry I didn’t kill them.” (293) Later reports stated that Mrs. Keating, a woman of many aliases, actually made her living robbing inebriated slummers, and the shooting had been the result of a lover’s triangle involving the three of them. The Hub closed soon after the shooting. (294)
Meanwhile, a new Grand Jury found that closing down the brothels on Morton and Glasgow Streets, as well as on St. Mary’s Place, was perhaps too much of a good thing: the displaced prostitutes, no longer contained in their downtown locales, had scattered and were operating in the city’s residential neighborhoods. The Grand Jury quickly recommended “that ‘no more of these alleys be closed.’ ” (295)
But in spite of the apparent cold feet of the business community, in 1898 developer Sanford Sachs accumulated a block of several properties (numbers 115 through 119) for a building project. (296) Around the same time, property owner Vittorio Menesini began construction of a six story extension to his Post Street building on the site of one of the old brothels. (297) The Chronicle reported Isabella Levy, another real estate investor, had assembled a 45 foot frontage along the south side of upper Morton Street between Grant and Stockton next to Sachs’ block which they both planned to develop into business buildings. (298) And Moses A. Gunst moved the main location of his cigar store chain to the storefront on the northwest corner of Kearny and Morton Street. (299)
Levy, Sachs, and other Morton Street property owners, as well as “a large number of business men in the vicinity” petitioned the Board of Supervisors to change the street’s name from Morton Street to Union Square Avenue, in honor of the nearby park, to rid the alley of the associations of its former name. They complained that the houses along the alley were vacant for the previous twenty-eight months and that “The property in consequence has so depreciated in value that several sales have been made at less than the assessed value.” In addition, the banks refused to loan any money on the land since no rents were being collected. Moreover, no one would rent the properties because of the street’s reputation as a former brothel alley. (300) The Board complied with this request a month later. (301) One newspaper article also noted that Sachs’ and Levy’s acquisitions represented a trend: small property owners were selling out to developers along these two blocks. (302) That same month the first block of the newly renamed street was one of many thoroughfares included in an order by the Board of Supervisors to replace the old cobblestones with asphalt paving. (303) And a proposal was unveiled by a local businessman to remodel Union Square Avenue (which was still being called Morton Street by the press) into a covered arcade like those in European cities. (304)
Meanwhile, a sort of ex post facto object lesson on the wages of Morton Street sin was reported in several articles by the Chronicle. Walter Ross, who had been sent to Folsom Prison for assaulting and robbing his mistress, a Morton Street prostitute named Grace Walls, was stabbed to death in a prison dining room brawl in 1898. (305) That same year Patsy Hogan, the former owner of the Referee saloon on Morton Street, shot and killed his estranged wife and attempted to shoot and stab himself. He was later acquitted by a male jury that sympathized with his story of temporary insanity and self-defense. (306) In 1900, Matthew Collins, the police officer who was dismissed after he was accused of accepting bribes through a hole in a door in a Morton Street brothel and was now a special officer in the produce district, was arrested for pistol whipping a businessman when he was drunk while on duty. (307) Around that time, the police found and arrested the likely killer of May McDermott, (308) only to see the courts release him on a straw bail bond accepted by a corrupt court clerk. (309)
In 1899, legitimate businesses finally began moving onto Union Square Avenue. These were the Elite saloon at number 8 and “KOCH THE PAINTER” at number 23. (310) In July the Chronicle reported that the Francis-Valentine Co., at that time the oldest printing business in San Francisco, (311) had moved to numbers 103 through 109, (312) where the brothels nearest Grant Avenue used to be housed. (313) A Central California banker saw an investment opportunity in the cleaning up of Morton Street and bought two lots in September on which to build a manufacturing concern. (314) Real estate developer Anna Whittell started construction of the three-story Whittell Building at numbers 33 through 35½ after razing one of the old brothel structures. (315) Work began on a five story structure at another former brothel site at number 110. (316) It was announced in December that the old Sherman House lodgings at the southwest corner of Grant and Morton, the site of one of the old basement concert saloons, was to be torn down and a four story business building erected to take its place. (317)
Two more legitimate businesses moved to Union Square Avenue in 1900, (318) a wholesale florist in number 23, and a builder in number 133. A. Aronson bought two other former brothel sites at numbers 118 and 120, and secured a permit to build a six story warehouse on the site. (319) The press, while still not warming up to the new street name, did start referring to it as “formerly Morton Street.” (320) And, though the Olympic Gun Club moved out of its rooms on the northwest corner of Kearny and Union Square, (321) the toney Monticello Club moved in a week or two later. (322)
Law and order continued to prevail along Union Square Avenue in 1901 when two burglars were scared off while trying to break into the Elite saloon at number 8. (323) The owner of the former brothel building at number 114 did not contest a Board of Health order telling the city to demolish the structure as a health hazard, (324) and the “evidently mentally unbalanced” man who had been squatting there was arrested by the police. (325)
There were now 11 businesses on the street, five of them printing businesses on upper Union Square Avenue, (326) as the old brothel block showed signs of becoming a small printing industry center. (327) That year the street acquired its first residential tenant since 1895, a French widow named Rose Faure who was listed in the city directory at one of the old brothel addresses at 127B, (328) which must have been remodeled to make it habitable, since she operated it as a legitimate lodging house. (329)
In 1902 (330) and 1903 there were 15 businesses, the widow, and her lodgers as the growth spurt continued. (331) There was an incident in 1903 that was reminiscent of the Morton Street days when a Samuel Nute was buncoed into buying a worthless saloon and crap game on Union Square Avenue after he came to San Francisco with an inheritance and went on a tear. (332) But that same year real estate developer Matilda Esberg bought one of the recent improvements on the Avenue between Grant and Stockton and had architect Sylvain Schnaittacher draw up plans for a two story brick storefront and loft to be built on the site. (333)
In 1904 the eight-story Dana Building, designed for medical and dental offices and reportedly the first art nouveau structure to be built in San Francisco, was completed on the southeast corner of Stockton and Union Square Avenue (the site of the 1896 Smith/McDermott murder). (334) That same year the Francis-Valentine Printing Company at 103-109 had grown to the point that “A new building will soon be constructed for the firm.” (335) There were two isolated pickpocketing incidents that year, but one was just on the corner, at Union Square Avenue and Kearny Street. The other occurred on the corner of Market and Kearny, with the thieves going up Union Square Avenue while being pursued by police officers. (336) Meanwhile, a newly published book of views of Stanford University was being sold at printer Edward H. Mitchell’s at 144, (337) who renewed his lease for another six years in 1905. (338)
Also in 1905 a primitive Marconi receiver mounted on a flag pole at the top of a tall building near Union Square monitored experimental radio telegraph transmissions from the battleship Ohio almost a hundred and fifty miles away to a military installation on Goat Island, and sent them by wire to a nearby laboratory at number 100 where they were recorded on tape (presumably paper tape like on a telegraph machine). (339) Meanwhile, a branch office of the California Special Messenger Service opened in Diamond Carrie Maclay’s old building at number 108 (340) while her connecting building at 205 Post became the Oriental Art Rooms, selling “the most beautiful and unsurpassed collection of rare Antique Persian Rugs.” (341) The Islam Temple of the Ancient and Accepted Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine had its meetings in its headquarters at number 6. (342) The Head Building on the southwest corner of Grant and Post, extending back to Union Square Avenue, was rebuilt as a twelve story office tower with the Livingston & Co. department store on the first three floors. (343)
A scaled down version of the earlier scheme to turn the old alley into a European-style shopping arcade was revived by J. W. Raphael of Raphael’s dry goods store and Moses A. Gunst, owner of a chain of cigar stores, both stores located on the corners of Kearny Street and Union Square Avenue. They began persuading owners of shops on Geary and Post that had back delivery entrances on the Avenue to construct larger back entrances and install store windows on the alley, as well as place street lights every ten feet to transform the thoroughfare from a back alley into a shopping street. (344) The proposal was so enthusiastically received (345) that the plan evolved back into the original arcade idea. (346) There was just one incident that year when a man was held up by a gunman for $8 while walking along the alley late at night. (347)
Though the 1906 earthquake and fire put an end to the arcade plans, rebuilding continued its transformation into a small business alley. (348) It also had its fourth and fifth name changes (to Manila Alley in 1909 (349) and Maiden Lane in 1922, its present incarnation). (350) By now it was clear that the prostitutes and other lowlifes were gone for good and that the city had had a rare success in cleaning up a bad neighborhood.
As for Asbury’s anecdotes and Lewis’ stories, primary sources revealed a very different Morton Street from the one they described. For starters, brothels existed continuously on Morton Street for just 26 years, almost 20 years less than Asbury and Lewis reported. (351) They didn’t run from the end of the 1850s to the 1906 earthquake and fire as Asbury stated. Their actual continuous existence was from 1869 to 1896. They weren’t a product of the excesses of the end of the Gold Rush, as Asbury’s dates implied. Rather, they were outgrowths of San Francisco’s post-Civil War prosperity fueled by the Comstock silver rush and civic corruption.
Nor were the brothels briefly closed by a Civic Federation campaign in 1892, as Asbury reported. The police partially clamped the lid down on Morton Street several times during its existence, but it was never completely closed until the police finally evicted the prostitutes in 1896. Nor were they eradicated by the sin-cleansing 1906 earthquake and fire, (352) as Asbury and Lewis both wrote. They were run out ten years before by a police department that contained, tolerated, and to a lesser extent exploited them for two and a half decades until it turned on them, mostly for reasons of political expediency, when a member of a police sergeant’s family, herself a prostitute, was killed in her Morton Street lodging. Moreover, the proximate impact of a newly elected municipal reform administration on Morton Street’s closing in 1896 was mostly coincidental. The only real support it lent to the campaign to move the prostitutes out of Morton Street was to legitimize the Police Department’s decision to close the brothels and help prevent their return. (353)
Asbury’s and Lewis’ reports of Morton Street’s range of ethnic diversity also failed to be confirmed by the evidence. The 1870 census counted just two black prostitutes in the area around Morton Street – all the others were white. And the 1880 census showed only slightly greater diversity with one Hispanic and five black prostitutes: the other 64 were white. Asbury’s and Lewis’ claims of ethnic diversity might have referred to Morton Street’s later years, but there is no way to verify this: the 1890 census sheets for California are lost.(354) However, 19th century San Francisco newspapers almost always reported a newsworthy person’s race if the person wasn’t white. The fact that Morton Street prostitutes’ ethnicities were seldom specified in 1890 as well as in other years(355) suggests that most of them were white throughout the street’s years as a brothel alley. The newspapers did report the presence of a Japanese brothel on Morton Street in 1891, but this is the only instance found of Asian or other non-white prostitutes working in Morton Street after the 1880 census.(356)
The wider range of ages among Morton Street prostitutes’ in the 1880 census did lend support to Asbury’s statement that their houses were the worst cribs in San Francisco (though the narrower range of ages in the 1870 census did not). Judging by the young ages of the prostitutes and the relatively low crime rate on Morton Street before the 1880s, the brothels apparently didn’t start to seriously deteriorate until near the end of the 1870s. But once they did, the increasing number of crimes over the years suggest a decline from the parlor houses that were there first to the cribs that were there last when the street was finally shut down.
Yet, Asbury’s statement as a whole still seems questionable. There were several alleys reputed to be filled with cribs, such as St. Mary’s Place, Quincy Place, Berry Street, and Waverly Place, to name just a few. Also, the activities Asbury described on Morton Street were relatively benign when compared to the level of depravity he reported on the Barbary Coast itself.
As for Asbury’s biographical sketches of Iodoform Kate and Rotary Rosie, searches of the available data bases (357) failed to turn up a single mention of either of these individuals.(358) However, their stories were found in Nell Kimball: Her Life As An American Madam By Herself,(359) an autobiography of a former New Orleans prostitute and parlor house madam who operated a Tenderloin brothel for several years. The original manuscript, according to its editor, Stephen Longstreet, was given to him by its subject in 1932, which was the year before publication of The Barbary Coast. (360) In Nell Kimball, Kate and Rosie’s stories were just two of several told to Kimball by a former San Francisco prostitute she called Old Sugar Mary. These stories as recorded by Kimball are remarkably similar to Asbury’s Morton Street vignettes. Thus, it seems likely that his source was Kimball, her manuscript, and/or Longstreet. Asbury appears to have borrowed these stories wholesale, though he did rewrite them in his own entertaining style. (361) However, not only were Asbury’s time frames for these individuals incorrect in that he placed them on Morton Street in the decade after the police shut down the brothels, but he was incorrect to place them there at all, since Kimball reported that Old Sugar Mary connected them with the Barbary Coast, not Morton Street. (362)
But were Old Sugar Mary’s stories as reported by Kimball any more accurate than Asbury’s retelling of them? Her noisy crowds of drunken men on Morton Street, with Asbury’s embellishment of the men being herded into orderly lines by the women’s pimps as they waited their turns in front of the houses, weren’t found in any primary sources. The only mentions to be found of crowds were the ones that gathered at the occasional major crime scene. And not a single instance was found of the prostitutes’ pimps hustling business for their women. It was the women themselves who used various means to attract the men into their houses. As for the noise, not only did the author’s literature search fail to document this, but Harriet Lane Levy, in her description of her many looks down the lower block of Morton Street during walks with her father, said that the street was always silent and deserted, except for the prostitutes sitting in their windows staring straight ahead. (363)
Whether Morton Street was the most popular brothel alley in San Francisco – as Asbury’s informants seem to have told him – can’t be determined from the available records and remains an open question. However, one of the reasons reported for that popularity by Old Sugar Mary in Nell Kimball, and apparently repeated by Asbury, has been disproven. The police did not avoid going into Morton Street any more often than they avoided any other high crime area, nor were ordinary misdemeanors and minor felonies ignored.
Asbury’s report of brothel prices ranging from twenty-five cents to a dollar depending on age, nationality, race, and general level of attractiveness are similar to prices the author of Nell Kimball said she heard from Old Sugar Mary and are comparable with reports of brothel prices elsewhere in 19th century San Francisco. Asbury and Old Sugar Mary were also right about the drunks: most articles about the brothels’ customers (364) – and there were many of these – said they were inebriated. Likewise, the prostitutes did sit behind their windows.(365) However, newspaper and other accounts failed to verify Asbury’s and Old Sugar Mary’s claims that they were half naked.
Lewis’ assertion that political boss Abe Ruef took over ownership of the Morton Street brothels after the turn of the century was not reported in the numerous primary sources consulted for this article, (366) nor did it appear in Boss Ruef’s San Francisco, Walton Bean’s searching history of Ruef’s leading role in the political corruption of that time.(367) Too, evidence shows that the Morton Street bagnios were finally and permanently shut down in 1896, long before Ruef’s scheme was alleged to have occurred.
This photo is looking up the alley towards Union Square from Grant Avenue on April 18, 1906, the day of the earthquake and fire. The damaged brick building that used to house Carrie Macklay's brothel and later the California Special Messenger Service is next to the corner saloon. What used to be a row of one and two story residential structures has been replaced by multi story business buildings. Note the signage on the side of the fifth building up from the corner. This was the Sunset Building, one of the structures housing the various printing industry businesses that moved to this block after the brothels were closed down.
Photo: courtesy Glenn Koch
Moreover, Asbury’s assertion that the Morton Street brothel structures weren’t eliminated until the 1906 earthquake and fire is an exaggeration: a number were condemned and razed by order of the Board of Health in 1897.(368) Others were torn down in the following years through redevelopment by new owners.(369) The few remaining structures were remodeled and leased to legitimate businesses and to one or two legitimate citizens as dwellings, all before 1906. As for Lewis’ report that Morton Street was also known as Iodoform Alley, the author’s research failed to find a single reference to this appellation other than in Lewis’ book. In sum, primary sources supported just five of Asbury’s, Lewis’, and Nell Kimball’s reports of Old Sugar Mary’s statements about Morton Street: there were prostitutes, their prices ranged from twenty-five cents to a dollar, they sat behind their windows, the customers were frequently drunk, and petty criminals loitered there.
In spite of the immense amount of research done by Asbury for The Barbary Coast, he seems to have relied heavily on the author, manuscript, and/or the editor of Nell Kimball for his pages on Morton Street. But in doing so he moved events from other San Francisco locations onto this alley. Aside from his collection of anecdotes, little of the primary source material that was potentially available to him, such as census records, Sanborn maps, city directory listings, or several hundred newspaper items documenting the actual events of Morton Street’s history, were alluded to in his narrative. Whether he rejected these sources in favor of better sounding stories from Nell Kimball and his informants, or never did the research to begin with, is unknown. (370) But Asbury romanticized Morton Street’s history by relying on his informants’ memories of the Barbary Coast and moving much of what they recounted south to Morton Street. (371)
With Lewis it is harder to say: there were no citations at all, making it difficult to even speculate about his sources.
More legitimately, Asbury warmed up the tone of his prose with his use of a wryly humorous and sympathetic style. One of the main features of Asbury’s oeuvre was his relentless criticism of the hypocrisy of middle and upper class morality. In his writing he seems to be a genuinely understanding advocate of the unfortunates he wrote about, while never making excuses for them. (372) But when the doubtful accuracy of his sources and his reportage come to light in his several pages on Morton Street, they bring into question the scholarship of the rest of his work. Even if his stories are at least human and appreciatively ironic in his descriptions of the denizens of San Francisco’s underworld, we can’t get away from his distortions, no matter how entertaining they are.
1. This article is part of a research project by the author tracing the history of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District from its origins in the 1840s to the present.
2. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933) 258-260.
3. Oscar Lewis Bay Window Bohemia (New York, Doubleday, 1956) 19-23
4. For example, see James R. Smith, San Francisco’s Lost Landmarks (Sanger, California, Word Dancer Press, 2005), 79.
5. For example, see Robert O’Brien “Riptides,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 1946, 10; Margot Patterson Doss “A Stroll Down Maiden Lane,” San Francisco Chronicle, Bonanza Magazine, June 24, 1962, 13; Mary Duenwald, “Maiden Lane,” Pacific, July 1980, 30-31 or “Dr. Weirde” in “San Francisco’s Sleaziest Street – Yesterday and Today,” (foundsf, Neighborhood, Tenderloin, undated).
6. For examples, look up the phrase “Maiden Lane in San Francisco” and choose almost any of the resulting listings.
7. For example, notes by John Ferreira for his City Guides’ “Bawdy and Naughty” tour, June 24, 2013.
8. Nineteenth Century San Francisco newspaper editors used a variety of euphemisms of greater or lesser charm to refer to the business of prostitution. The buildings themselves were houses of ill fame or ill repute, bagnios, or disreputable or disorderly houses. Sometimes they were simply called brothels or houses of prostitution. A prostitute was a Magdalen (after Mary Magdalene, the New Testament disciple of Christ who was described in the Bible as a reformed prostitute but who feminist historians say was one of Christ’s chief lieutenants), a demimonde, an inmate, a fallen woman, a courtesan, a woman of the town, an abandoned woman (as in seduced and abandoned as well as abandoning oneself to a life of shame), a siren, a Cyprian (from the ancient belief that Venus, the goddess of love, had sprung from the foam of the sea at Cyprus–see The Reader’s Encyclopedia, William Rose Benét, ed., New York, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1948, 267), and a white slave, to name just a few. Prostitution as an institution was referred to as the social evil. Interestingly, newspapers never used the slang term parlor house (a high class brothel), so-called because it had a parlor in which the customer was introduced to the prostitute.
9. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933), 258-260.
10. Oscar Lewis Bay Window Bohemia (New York, Doubleday, 1956), 19-23.
11. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933), 315.
12. These numbers were calculated by using the year the newspapers first reported the prostitutes permanent presence on Morton Street – 1869 – and the year they reported the last prostitutes had left – 1896.
13. The author reviewed over 400 newspaper items found in the California Digital Newspaper Collection, Proquest’s San Francisco Chronicle Historical I database, and Chronicling America, as well as San Francisco city directories, microfiche and microfilm records in the San Francisco Public Library, and additional materials from the California State Library at Sacramento that mentioned or alluded to St. Mark’s Place, Morton Street, and Union Square Avenue.
14. Harriet Lane Levy, 920 O’Farrell Street (Berkeley, Heyday Books, 1996) 186-187.
15. This was a loose, ankle length gown with a square bodice that was easy to take off and to put on again.
16. Harriet Lane Levy, 920 O’Farrell Street (Berkeley, Heyday Books, 1996) 186-187. Levy knew a young lady from a respectable family who “roamed the city with an older woman with a bad reputation” who she saw turn up Morton Street one day, but her narrative says nothing else about this occurrence. (Ibid, 187-188)
17. There was one other documented instance of a woman who at least aspired to respectability who walked at least a few feet on Morton Street, namely, Sarah Althea Hill. She was in the middle of a trial in which she tried to prove that her former lover William Sharon was in fact her husband, and thus owed her spousal support after their separation. While in court Hill had snatched back from an expert witness letters she claimed were addressed to her from Sharon with the salutation “Dear Wife” that she had just been ordered to surrender so an ink sample could be taken, apparently to help establish the authenticity of the letters. She then fled the courtroom. The judge ordered her arrest for contempt of court after waiting for several days to give her time to think it over. Deputy U. S. Marshals staked out her home on the southwest corner of Larkin and Golden Gate and her lawyer’s lodgings at the Rassette House on the southwest corner of Kearny and Morton. She was apparently with her lawyer– no other than ex-Supreme Court justice David Terry, the killer of David Broderick in a duel in 1856, because she evaded the deputy marshal by slipping out through the servants’ entrance on Morton Street while the marshal stood in front of the entrance on Kearny, and, heavily veiled, walking past the marshal to a street car. (“A Search For Sarah,” Daily Alta California, April 6, 1885, 1; Sanborn Map Company, 1886, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995, microfilm)
18. See endnote number 13.
19. Herbert Asbury The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933) 258-260.
20. It wasn’t named for nearby St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Geary Street. According to the San Francisco city directories between 1850 and 1864, St. Mark’s (or St. Marcus as its German congregation called it) wasn’t organized until 1860 and it didn’t move to Union Square until 1864.
21. City of San Francisco and its vicinity, U. S. Coast Survey, 1853, in San Francisco: The Grid Meets The Hills (Marseilles, France: Editions Parentheses, 199, 61; San Francisco History Room, San Francisco Public Library, Maps of 1853, U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
23. The earliest mention of St. Mark’s Place found so far is in an advertisement in 1853 offering building lots on St. Mark’s Place for rent for one to five years. (“Building Lots For Lease,” Daily Alta California, October 7, 1853, 2)
24. “For Sale–To Let,” Daily Alta California, January 16, 1854, 3.
25. “A Few Gentlemen . . .” Daily Alta California, March 16, 1855, 2.
26. Harris, Bogardus and Labatt City Directory for the Year Commencing October, 1856 (San Francisco, Harris, Bogardus and Labatt, 1856); Samuel Colville San Francisco Directory for the Year October, 1856 (San Francisco, Samuel Colville, 1856).
27. City of San Francisco and its vicinity, California. U. S. Coast Survey, 1857, San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History Room, Maps of 1858. [U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey].
28. Henry G. Langley Directory for the Year 1858 (San Francisco, S. D. Valentine & Son, 1858)
29. San Francisco City Directories, 1856-1875
30. In those days, there was probably very little noise on this residential thoroughfare when someone walked, rode, or drove on its dirt paving. When board sidewalks were built and the street itself was planked, probably by 1865 (“Auction Sales,” Daily Alta California, December 21, 1865, 3; Daily Dramatic Chronicle, December 27, 1865, 2; “Morton Street,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1892, 10, drawing), residents heard the clumping of boots and hooves and the rolling of wheels on wood. When still later it was paved with cement sidewalks and cobblestone streets, the residents heard the clicking of heels and the noisy rattling of iron shod wagon wheels on cement and stone.
31. Sixty-two, or four less than the previous year. Henry G. Langley Directory for the Year Commencing July, 1860 (San Francisco, Valentine & Co., 1860).
33. “Board of Supervisors,” Daily Alta California, July 3, 1860, 1.
34. “Report of Superintendant of Streets,” Daily Alta California, August 2, 1860, 1.
35. Ancestry.com. Interestingly, a search of the U. S. Census records for San Francisco during the supposedly prudish Victorian era revealed that census enumerators typically labeled brothel inmates occupations as prostitutes. It wasn’t until the seemingly more liberal 20th century that census enumerators started using euphemisms.
36. Walter Rice, Ph. D., and Emiliano Echeverria When Steam Ran On The Streets Of San Francisco (Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, Harold E. Cox, 2002) 11-12.
37. Henry G. Langley San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing September, 1861 (San Francisco, Valentine & Co., 1861)
38. The first report was an August 20, 1857 Alta article about the chief cutter in the San Francisco Mint’s coining department, who was stealing gold cuttings from the Mint, melting them into bars in his room in a German lodging house on St. Mark’s Place, and selling them to Wells Fargo, which unwittingly sold them back to the Mint. When this enterprising German immigrant’s room was searched, a trunk was found with a false bottom filled with gold coin blanks and coining tools. (“Robbery In The U. S. Mint,” Daily Alta California, August 20, 1857, 2; “Robbery Of The San Francisco Mint,” Sacramento Daily Union, August 22, 1857, 1) The other report was a November 20, 1857 Alta article describing when Henry Wendell was arrested in his home on an eponymously named alley running from St. Mark’s Place to Post Street after police found numerous stolen items in his room. (“Increasing His Store,” Daily Alta California, November 20, 1857, 2) But these two incidents were outliers because no further articles were found reporting crimes on St. Mark’s Place until 1862.
39. “The Late Stabbing Affray,” Daily Alta California, April 4, 1862, 1; “San Francisco News,” Sacramento Daily Union, April 4, 1860, 2.
40. “Till Thief,” Daily Alta California, August 2, 1862, 1.
41. “Serious Charge,” Daily Alta California, October 8, 1862, 1.
42. Henry G. Langley San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing September, 1862, (San Francisco, Valentine & Co., 1862), 42.
43. “Scandal in San Francisco,” Sacramento Daily Union, August 17, 1860, 3; “Scandal in San Francisco,” Sacramento Daily Union, August 18, 1860, 1; “Beautiful Characters,” Sacramento Daily Union, August 20, 1860, 2.
44. Neil Larry Shumsky and Larry M. Springer “San Francisco’s zone of prostitution, 1880-1934” Journal of Historical Geography, 7, 1, 1981, 71-89.
45. “By Telegraph To The Union,” Sacramento Daily Union, January 16, 1863, 3. The Union was always fond of printing sensational stories about San Francisco – and not infrequently scooped the San Francisco papers. For those who are skeptical at the idea of a 19th century woman being burned to death by her clothing, recall that fashions of the time were more complicated and time-consuming to get in and out of than they are today.
46. “Burned to Death,” Daily Alta California, January 16, 1863, 1; “By Telegraph To The Union,” Sacramento Daily Union, January 16, 1863, 3; “Coroner’s Inquest over the Burned Woman,” Daily Alta California, January 17, 1863, 1.
47. “Drawing a Deadly Weapon,” Daily Alta California, June 28, 1863, 1.
48. “A Horrible Outrage,” Sacramento Daily Union, June 13, 1864, 3.
49. “Auction Sales,” Daily Alta California, May 8, 1864, 5.
50. On Morton Street, a crib was generally a room rented nightly by prostitutes who hung a small sign with their first name on the bedstead.
51. Henry G. Langley, San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing October, 1868 (San Francisco, Bacon & Company, 1868), 151. Its legitimacy was confirmed by the random mix of mostly male roomers at that address in that year.
52. “A Row On St. Mark’s Place and Arrest For Assault To Murder,” Daily Alta California, March 16, 1869, 1; “Shooting Affray This Morning,” Sacramento Daily Union, March 16, 1869, 3; “Shooting Affray On St. Mark’s Place,” Daily Morning Chronicle, March 16, 1869, 1.
53. “Auction Sales,” Daily Alta California, September 12, 1869, 3.
54. Henry G. Langley, San Francisco Directory for the year commencing October 1860 (San Francisco, Valentine & Co., 1860) 135.
55. “Died,” Daily Alta California, February 1,1870, 4; “Fearful Accident,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 24, 1870, 3; “San Francisco News,” Mariposa Daily Appeal, February 25, 1870, 2; “Inquests,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 2, 1870, 3. Franklin’s young son was impaled by the rod of a sponge shot from a cannon that prematurely discharged in front of the Post Street armory across from Union Square. The cannons were being fired as part of Camillo Urso’s benefit concert for the Mercantile Library being held inside the Mechanics Pavilion.
56. Daily Alta California, May 4, 1872, 4.
57. Henry G. Langley, San Francisco Directory for the year commencing April, 1876 (San Francisco, Francis & Valentine, 1876), 674.
58. “Board of Supervisors,” Daily Alta California, May 25, 1869, 1; “St. Mark’s Place,” San Francisco Call, November 19, 1895, 6.
59. Lewis Publishing Co. The Bay Of San Francisco: the metropolis of the Pacific Coast and its suburban cities: a history. Vol. 2 (Chicago, Lewis Publishing Co., 1892) 401-403. The Morton brothers lived in nearby St. Ann’s Valley, (San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing December 1869, San Francisco, Bacon & Co., 1869, 455) which was later part of San Francisco’s Tenderloin from the 1890s until the 1906 earthquake and fire, after which it was called the Uptown Tenderloin up until the beginning of World War I. (Peter M. Field, “The Tenderloin’s First Brothels: 223 and 225 Ellis,” The Argonaut, 22, 2, Winter 2011, 64-90) The brothers owned large amounts of property on Ellis, O’Farrell, and Taylor Streets. (Peter M. Field, “A Tenderloin District History Part I: 1847-1859: The Pioneers of St. Ann’s Valley,” MS; ibid, “A Tenderloin History Part II: 1860-1876: From Hamlet To Neighborhood,” MS) Reuben was president of one of San Francisco’s earliest street railroads, the Central Railroad Company, in the 1870s and 1880s.Another brother, politically ambitious Sargent S. Morton, was active in the San Francisco Republican Party (see endnote number 13) and was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1887 where he served a two year term. (W. H. L. Corran, Compiler, Langley’s San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing May 1887, San Francisco, Francis, Valentine & Co., 1888, 57, and W. H. L. Corran, Compiler, Langley’s San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing May 1888, San Francisco, Francis, Valentine & Co., 1888, 57)
60. Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm; Henry G. Langley San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing December, 1869 (San Francisco, Bacon & Co., 1869) 708
61. “The Outside Land Case,” Daily Morning Chronicle, February 21, 1869, 3.
62. “Astrology,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 5, 1870, 1.
63. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, saloons were called concert halls or concert saloons when they had stages featuring scantily clad women who sang and danced when they weren’t cadging drinks from the customers.
64. “Police Court Record,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 15, 1870, 3. This sort of harassment was common in downtown San Francisco. For example, the pimps and other petty criminals who loitered around cigar stores along Kearny Street were called “statues” and they would “insult passing ladies with rude stares and vulgar remarks.” (“He Is A Statue,” The Morning Call, 7/1/1890, 1)
65. Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA
66. This information was obtained by cross correlating census listings in brothels (ibid) with corresponding entries in the 1871 San Francisco City Directory. (The 1871 edition was used because there was no edition published in 1870.) (Henry G. Langley, San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing April, 1871 (San Francisco, Bacon & Co., 1871)
67. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933), 258-260.
68. Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm.
69. The Sanborn maps identified each structure on a street according to use. Female Boarding (sometimes abbreviated as F.B.) was a euphemism for a house of prostitution.
70. San Francisco city directories spanning the years 1868 through 1882.
71. The 1880 Federal Census showed that all of Morton Street’s residential addresses were actually occupied by prostitutes by 1880, so this period of transition may have been closer to 12 than 13 years.
72. “Violated the Ordinance,” Daily Alta California, September 7, 1888, 1.
73. “Messenger Boys,” Daily Alta California, June 6, 1888, 2.
74. “The Same Old Game,” Daily Alta California, July 8, 1886, 8; “Robbed by a Woman,” Daily Alta California, November 6, 1886, 2.
75. Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm; Harriet Lane Levy, 920 O’Farrell Street (Berkeley, Heyday Books, 1996) 186-187.
76. “Morton Street,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1892, 10. They were paved with cement sidewalks by 1896. (“Two Men Arrested By The Police,” San Francisco Examiner, February 11, 1896, 9)
77. Harriet Lane Levy, 920 O’Farrell Street (Berkeley, Heyday Books, 1996) 186-187. Though the newspapers made no mention of the prostitutes attire, or lack of it, recall that Levy remembered them as wearing dresses–described as “brightly colored Mother Hubbard’s,” and said nothing about nudity. This garment would have been easy to slip out of and back into, a practical consideration for busy prostitutes who didn’t want to deal with the time consuming complications of 19th century women’s’ fashions.
78. Henry G. Langley, San Francisco directory For the Year commencing March, 1872 (San Francisco, Bacon & Co., 1872). 1872 was the year the City Directory carried its largest number of names with residential address listings on Morton Street, a total of 123 listings. But this total was deceptive because what it really showed was a concentration of more names at fewer addresses as the single family homes that weren’t converted into brothels were remodeled into private rooming houses or lodging houses. The total number of city directory listings began to decrease after 1872 as these remaining dwellings became brothels.
79. See endnote number 13.
80. George A. Beers “Vasquez; Or The Hunted Bandits Of The San Joaquin,” in The California Outlaw, compiled by Robert Greenwood (Los Gatos, California, The Talisman Press, 1960), 21, 164, 166; Angus MacLean Legends of the California Bandidos (Sanger, California, Word Dancer Press, 2004), 133; Eugene T. Sawyer Tiburcio Vasquez: The California Stage Robber (Oakland, California, Biobooks, 1944), 9.
81. “Disgusted Residents,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 1872, 2. Although there were 36 fewer city directory listings than in 1871, there were still 87 respectable residents or families living on Morton Street that year. (Henry G. Langley, San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing March, 1872, San Francisco, Bacon & Co., 1872).
82. “Jottings About Town,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 17, 1872, 3; “Personals,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 13, 1872, 4; “Jottings About Town,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 4, 1872, 3; “Lost And Found,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 24, 1872, 1.
83. “Personals,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 1872, 1.
84. “Arrests Made Yesterday,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 1873, 3. For Emily Edwards’ amazing story, see endnote number 371.
85. “Shot In The Shin,” Daily Alta California, December 14, 1873, 1; “The Police Court,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 1874.
86. Special officers, or specials as they were called colloquially, were the 19th century version of San Francisco’s present day Patrol Special Police, the private patrol force made up of moonlighting San Francisco police officers that is paid by neighborhood merchant associations to patrol local shopping districts. In the 19th century, special officers caused frequent complications in this more permissive era because they were often hired to provide security for quasi legal businesses such as gambling clubs or saloons and cabarets that allowed prostitutes to solicit on the premises.
87. “Special Lawlor’s Protegees (sic),” Daily Alta California, October 24, 1873, 1. The voluntary payments to Special Officer Lawlor make more sense with the information that Specials were not paid by the city. Rather, the Specials themselves collected their fees in the form of subscriptions from the various businesses along their beats – in this case the prostitutes on Morton Street. However, they were apparently supervised by the San Francisco Police Department at least insofar as the Police Commission was responsible for their oversight.
88. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933) 258-260.
89. “The City Watch,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 1873, 1) While it was true that newspapers editorialized about the low number of police patrols, this was primarily a problem west of Stockton Street, which at least in this decade was the western limit of police patrol routes. (“An Increased Police Force,” Daily Alta California, August 24, 1865, 2; “Garroters at Large,” Daily Alta California, March 25, 1871, 1; “The City Watch,” San Francisco Chronical, November 26, 1873, 1; “Patrol The Outside Districts,” Daily Alta California, November 1, 1875, 1)
90. See endnote number 13.
91. Arthur McEwen’s Letter, Second Series, No. 22, March 2, 1895.
92. Oscar Lewis Bay Window Bohemia (New York, Doubleday, 1956) 22.
93. “Brutally Killed,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 5, 1873, 3.
94. “Jottings About Town,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 18, 1874, 5. On the other hand, Morton Street’s respectability had not declined enough to prevent the Eighth Ward polling place for the Republican primary election of February 5, 1873 from being established on the corner of Stockton and Morton, even though by that time there were around ten brothels on that block of Morton Street alone. (“Republican Primary Election,” The Elevator, February 1, 1873, 2)
95. “Two Unclean Birds,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 1874, 3. Herbert Asbury reported a madam named Bertha Kahn who operated a parlor house on Sacramento Street during this time. (Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933, 248-249.) Was this the same woman? As for 110 Morton, there was a report of prostitution there as early as mid-1873. (“Local Melange,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 1873, 3)
96. “Jottings About Town,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 2, 1874, 3.
97. “He Lost His Money,” Daily Alta California, December 19, 1874, 1.
98. Henry G. Langley, San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing March, 1875 (San Francisco, Francis & Valentine, 1875).
99. “Personals,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 23, 1876, 1.
100. “The Grand Jury,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 21, 1874, 3.
101. Interestingly, there is an 1860 city directory listing for a Sarah Mace on St. Mark’s Place, Morton Street’s original name. Is there a connection? The writer was unable to find this name in San Francisco in either the 1870 or 1880 federal census sheets or in any San Francisco city directory for any of these years.
102. “Another Procurer,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1876, 3. One might surmise that this was actually a successful variant of the old badger game. Mace moved to Oakland where he took over a brothel known as the Hotel de France. A newspaper described it as “the most orderly house of bad repute in Oakland.” But in spite of his pains, he made the pages of the Chronicle in December 1875 when it reported him being fleeced in his own brothel when a group of hoodlums broke into his hotel on Christmas Eve and started ransacking the place. Mace blew his police whistle and in seconds the hoodlums vanished and were replaced by three men claiming to be police specials, a captain and two patrolmen. The captain took him around a corner of a room to interview him while the two “patrolmen” made themselves drinks at the bar and stole boxes of cigars. Then the hoodlums reappeared and started to ransack the place again. By now Mace had had enough and threatened to shoot them, and this time they fled–only to return a couple of days later to try the same trick. Mace got some real officers, but not before the thieves had disappeared again. (“Oakland Hoodlumism,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 1875, 3; “Oakland,” Daily Alta California, December 29, 1875, 2) He was finally convicted of procuring in September of 1876 and paid a $2,000 fine to avoid a jail sentence. (“Two Thousand Dollars Fine or One Year’s Imprisonment,” Sacramento Daily Union, September 23, 1876, 2)
103. Henry G. Langley San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing March, 1877 (San Francisco, Henry G. Langley, 1877), 358; Supplement to the Annual Directory of the city of San Francisco for 1877 (San Francisco, B. C. Vandall, 1877), 481
104. “Telegraph By Coast Lines,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, January 29, 1877, 3.
105. “Second Dispatch,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, July 10, 1877, 3.
106. The phrase “more conspicuous than the law allows” presumably referred to the San Francisco Police Department’s quasi-official policy of concealment and containment.
107. “A Pleasant Sort of Sport,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 5, 1878, 3.
108. See endnote number 13.
109. “Pacific Slope News,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, January 4, 1879, 1.
110. “A Charge Not Sustained,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 20, 1879, 1.
111. “Attempted Suicide–Proposed Pedestrian Contests–An Officer Assaulted,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, June 9, 1879, 4.
112. “A Felonious Bite,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 1879, 2.
113. “Officer McGuire Dismissed for an Attempted Extortion,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 1879, 3.
114. A vivandiere was a woman who provisioned French troops in the 18th or 19th centuries, or who sold wine and/or food to them from a canteen, in which case she was a cantiniere. (See Roger Fenton’s photograph of a Crimean War vivandiere in her costume in Wikipedia, where this definition was found.)
115. “Ballroom Revels,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 8, 1879, 3.
116. Though now forgotten, Diamond Carrie Maclay was one of the most well known parlor house madams of her time. (“Opium Kills Carrie Maclay,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1891, 10)
117. Henry G. Langley, San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing April, 1879 (San Francisco, Francis, Valentine & Co., 1879) 562; Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm. Marchand’s was one of San Francisco’s most expensive French restaurants – strictly for the carriage trade.
118. “The Olympic Club,” Daily Alta California, January 14, 1879, 1.
119. This was a not uncommon juxtaposition. The rear of the Dashaway Society building also faced Morton Street during its transition into a brothel alley. The Dashaways were a temperance society of recovering alcoholic men. A San Francisco branch was started in 1859 and they completed their headquarters building, Dashaway Hall, on Post between Kearny and Dupont, in 1862, with its rear facing what was then a less inebriated St. Mark’s Place. This was the same year Kate Buchanan opened her parlor house at number 17, more or less across the alley from the rear of the society hall. They got their name from their determination to “dash away” the cup that cheers. The famous chorus line to their society anthem was “Dash, dash the cup away! Dash, dash the cup away! In brotherhood ‘tis understood, We’ll dash, dash the cup away.” (John Bernard McGloin, S. J., Ph. D Eloquent Indian: The Life Of James Bouchard, California Jesuit, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1949, 124-125) And in 1881, the Masons of the Golden Gate Commandery, No. 16, Knights Templar, consecrated their new quarters in Crocker’s new building at 131 Post Street, the Golden Gate Block, in the rear of the fifth floor rooms overlooking the risqué doings on Morton Street. (“Knights Templar,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 1881, 4)
120. “A Case in Which He Is the Complaining Witness,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 1880, 2.
121. “An Official Nemesis,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 5, 1880, 3. In this case, Price was referred to in the articles as Officer Price, not Special Officer Price, suggesting that these were, in fact, extortion payments instead of legitimate subscription payments to a private duty special officer.
122. “At Port Townsend,” Daily Alta California, October 13, 1880, 1.
123. “Police News,” Daily Alta California, May 15, 1880, 1. Gruschenski had been around for a few years. In 1873 he was one of half a dozen men who tried to drag a woman into a notorious saloon on the northeast corner of Geary and Dupont before they were stopped by a passerby. It was reported he had been arrested several times before this incident. (“Stabbed In The Neck,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/30/1873, 3) He was arrested again in 1881 for threatening to kill a Morton Street prostitute who had run away from his constant abuse. (“A Brute’s Behavior,” San Francisco Chronicle , December 23, 1881, 1) Interestingly, he was also elected secretary of a neighborhood Democratic Club in 1875. (“Brevities,” Alta, 4/16/1875, 1)
124. The newspaper transposed the address to 133.
125. Henry G. Langley San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing September, 1862 (San Francisco, Valentine & Co., 1862) 103.
126. “Real Estate Notes,” Daily Alta California, January 28, 1880, 2.
127. “Want The Eye Of The Law Closed,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 10, 1896, 11. However, one barber named William Wiebe made a go of it at number 4 from 1880 through 1895, after which the business reverted back to the lottery ticket forging barber he leased or bought it from – one Emanuel Kaeintz – who had it before him. (“The Lottery Evil Dying,” San Francisco Call, August 12, 1895, 12)
128. Ancestry.com. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA
129. Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm.
130. The census sheets fine-tuned the author’s estimate of the time period when the prostitutes took over Morton Street. (See end note number 71.)
131. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933) 258-260; Oscar Lewis Bay Window Bohemia (New York, Doubleday, 1956) 19-23.
132. Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA
133. Howard B. Woolston, Prostitution in the United States, (Montclair, N. J., Patterson Smith, 1921), 52-57.
135. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933), 258-260.
136. Number 108 was a small rooming house before 1874 (San Francisco city directories), the year this address likely became a brothel, as there were no city directory listings for this street number after that year. Miss Maclay was ferrying girls to San Francisco from back East, probably to her new brothel, in 1880. (“Westward-Bound Passengers,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, September 29, 1880, 2; “Passengers Passing Carlin for San Francisco,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, October 2, 1880, 1.) Since no earlier mentions of her in the San Francisco press were found, she may have bought an already established brothel that year from another madam.
137. Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933) 258-260.
138. See endnote number 13; Harriet Lane Levy, 920 O’Farrell Street (Berkeley, Heyday Books, 1996) 186-187.
139. “Two Men Arrested By Police,” San Francisco Examiner, February 11, 1896, 11. The one exception at number 135 ½ was displayed in a newspaper drawing in 1896 and showed a building in keeping with the cottage description – but with a two story building on each side.
140. Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm.
141. “Morton Street,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1892, 10. This architecture is pre-Victorian because the residences on Morton Street were nearly all built in the mid and late 1850s and the early 1860s, when it was still St. Mark’s Place, before Victorian architecture became fashionable in the 1870s in San Francisco.
142. “Two Men Arrested By Police,” San Francisco Examiner, February 11, 1896, 9; “Sent A Bullet Into Her Brain,” San Francisco Examiner, February 23, 1896, 20)
143. See endnote number 13.
144. “Raids On Gambling Dens,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 1882, 3; “The Raid on Faro,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 3, 1882, 2.
145. “Raids On Gambling Dens,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 1882, 3.
146. Virgil Earp was in San Francisco in 1882 and 1883 for surgery on his left arm, which was missing several pieces of bone after a shootout in the Arizona Territory when he was a U. S. marshal. (“Brief San Francisco Items,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, May 30, 1882, 4; “Passenger Lists,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, February 10, 1883, 1) As marshalling, gambling, and protection of stage coach robbers were reportedly how he made his living, and as he was currently disabled and there weren’t any stage coach robbers in San Francisco to extort, he seems to have resorted to running a faro game to make ends meet. Another Earp connection to San Francisco was that Wyatt’s wife, Josie Marcus, was from the city and her parents still lived there. Wyatt’s notoriety was renewed in 1896 when, as referee of the Sharkey-Fitzsimmons heavyweight boxing championship at the Mechanics Pavilion, he gave the decision to Sharkey on a foul after Sharkey was knocked down by Fitzsimmons with a punch to his midsection that Earp claimed was “below the belt” but that observers said was no such thing. (“ ‘Sharkey Wins By A Foul’ Said Referee Earp,” San Francisco Examiner, December 3, 1896, 1.)
147. “Gone To The Springs,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 6, 1883, 1.
148. “Raids On Gambling Dens,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 2, 1882, 3.
150. “The Raid on Faro,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 3, 1882, 2.
151. “A Raid On Faro,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 11, 1883, 8.
153. “A Raid On Faro Games,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 21, 1883, 3.
154. “Five Faro Players Caught,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 20, 1883, 8.
155. “A Raid On Faro Games,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 21, 1883, 3.
156. “Patrick Keenan Fatally Shoots His Wife Anna And Stabs Himself,” San Francisco Call, October 10, 1898, 12.
157. “A Cowboy Robbed,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 3, 1883, 2.
158. “Pay Gravel In Morton Street,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 22, 1892, 24.
159. The Directory Publishing Company Langley’s San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing April, 1883 (San Francisco, Francis-Valentine & Co., 1883) 609.
160. “McDonald’s Game of Poker,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 28, 1883, 8; “Arrests on Charges of Robbery,” Daily Alta California, February 3, 1883, 1.
161. See the incident described earlier involving Tomas Redondo in 1872.
162. “A Cowboy Robbed,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 3, 1883, 2; “A Cowboy Robbed,” Daily Alta California, December 3, 1883, 1.
163. “Hunting The Tiger,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 31, 1883, 3.
164. “The Panel Game,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 22, 1883, 3; “Another Panel Victim,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 17, 1883, 3.
165. That is, the residents and businesses that didn’t depend on the prostitutes, their pimps, and their customers for employment or patronage.
166. “The Morton-Street Shame,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 7, 1883, 1.
167. “The Supervisors,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 1883, 8.
168. “Passed Over The Mayor’s Veto – The Morton-Street Matter,” Daily Alta California, October 9, 1883, 2.
169. “Showing Up Bad Characters,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1883, 3.
170. “Where Is The Door?” San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 1883, 5; “Officer Collins’ Case,” Daily Alta California, December 11, 1883, 1; “That Missing Door,” Daily Alta California, December 12, 1883, 1; “A Door Disappears,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, December 13, 1883, 1.
171. “San Francisco Items,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, December 19, 1883, 4.
172. They were citizens if they were respectable and denizens if they were not.
173. ‘Jottings About Town,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 1884, 3.
174. “Court Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 1, 1884, 2.
175. “Shover of Queer Money Sentenced,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 5, 1884, 5.
176. “The Criminal Courts,” Daily Alta California, March 12, 1884, 2.
177. “A Fresno Man Robbed,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 1884, 7.
178. “The Morton Street Blockade,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 27, 1884, 2. Presumably what the property owner argued against was the selective enforcement of the prostitution laws.
179. “The Morton-Street Blockade,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 12, 1884, 1; San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 1884, 8.
180. “A Thieving ‘Lover’,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 1884, 4; “The Maquereaux,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 25, 1884, 4; “A Rich Vagrant’s Sentence,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 20, 1884, 1; “The Vagrant Crew,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 29, 1884, 8; “Proved an Alibi,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 30, 1884, 4; “The Vagrants,” Daily Alta California, July 30, 1884, 1. Maquereaux was French slang for pimps (singular maquereau). It translates literally as mackerels or fish. The word mack, American slang for a pimp, is derived from it. Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill must have thought of this when they gave MacHeath his nickname, Mack The Knife, while they wrote and composed Die Dreigroschenoper. According to Wikipedia, mackerels are predators known for their fighting abilities.
181. “Robbed in a Bagnio,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 23, 1884, 3; “Thieving Courtesans,” Daily Alta California, July 16, 1884, 4; “Robbed by a Siren,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 18, 1884, 3; “”A Syren Caged,” Daily Alta California, September 10, 1884, 4
182. The police were in an impossible situation with respect to San Francisco’s brothel alleys. If they closed them down, the prostitutes moved to other neighborhoods and caused an outraged citizenry to protest. If they contained the brothels in a small number of more or less unobtrusive locations, the prostitutes did what prostitutes do and caused an outraged citizenry to protest. If the police arrested them en mass, the machinery of the law slowly cranked out its version of justice and caused an outraged citizenry to protest. And anyone suggesting something as practical as taxing prostitution to pay for a system of regulation (“Foul And Reeking,” The Morning Call, November 18, 1891, 2) caused an outraged citizenry to protest.
183. “Raising the Siege,” Daily Alta California, August 6, 1885, 1; “San Francisco Items,” Sacramento Daily Record-Union, August 7, 1885, 1.
184. W. H. L. Corran, Langley’s San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing April, 1885 (San Francisco, Francis-Valentine & Co., 1885), 1098.
185. “A Half-Million Fire,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 21, 1883, 2; “New Advertisements,” Daily Alta California, July 1, 1883, 1; “New Advertisements,” Daily Alta California, December 30, 1883, 7.
186. Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm.
187. Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm.
188. See endnote number 13.
189. Charles F. Adams Murder by the Bay (Sanger, California, Word Dancer Press, 2005) 74-90. 190. “Shot By An Officer,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 6, 1888, 8; “A Police Assassin,” Daily Alta California, December 6, 1888, 1; “Pacific Coast,” Sacramento Daily Union, December 6, 1888, 4; “Rosenbrock Dies From His wounds,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 1888, 8.
191. “Thompson’s Defense,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1888, 8.
192. “Shot By An Officer,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 6, 1888, 8; “A Police Assassin,” Daily Alta California, December 6, 1888, 1; “Rosenbrock Dies From His wounds,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 1888, 8.
194. “Ten Years For Thompson,” Daily Alta California, May 12, 1889, 1. Four years later, a Morning Call article reported that Thompson’s pistol used to belong to Joseph Hayes, a waterfront boarding house runner who had come to San Francisco from New York after he killed a man. Hayes was in a duel in the Club Stables on Taylor between O’Farrell and Geary on the northern edge of the future Tenderloin just months before he himself was shot and killed in 1888, apparently only a short time before Thompson somehow got possession of Hayes’ pistol. (“A History Of Crime,” The Morning Call, March 12, 1892, 7) Thompson was eventually pardoned and released from San Quentin – Democratic political boss Christopher A. Buckley was one of the references for his appointment to the police force. He ran a sailors’ boarding house for a couple of years before dying in 1895. The cause of death was tuberculosis, which he had had for the last three years and which he probably contracted in prison. Three months before his death, he took out a life insurance policy in an apparent attempt to defraud the company after managing to pass the physical with a claim that he had pneumonia . (“Thompson’s Life Policy,” San Francisco Call, July 17, 1895, 11)
195. “A Wayward Girl,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 5, 1888, 6. The Magdalen Asylum was an institution for the rehabilitation of female under age prostitutes and juvenile delinquents that was started by the Sisters of Mercy in 1865 on Silver Avenue and Mission Road. It moved to its permanent location on Potrero Avenue and 22nd Street in 1871 on the block just north of San Francisco General Hospital. Recent journalism questions earlier assertions that the sisters exploited the inmates of the Asylum or that they were unduly punitive in managing their behavior. Reportedly, American Magdalen asylums were run along more liberal lines than their older European counterparts. While the girls had to work many hours a day cleaning, washing, cooking, and farming to keep the Asylum running, the sisters worked right along side of them. Moreover, the work was designed to train the girls in useful occupations to make them eligible for jobs and/or marriage. (Don Lattin, “The Magdalen Grotto Still Draws Faithful,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 24, 2003) San Francisco Community Mental Health’s MHRF (Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility) was built on the site of the Magdalen Asylum, and the old Asylum’s grotto can still be visited next to the MHRF’s front entrance. (“The Magdalen Grotto Still Draws Faithful,” ibid)
196. “Locked Up The Saloon,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 16, 1889, 8.
197. “”A Sunday Raid,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1889, 8.
198. If so, it may have been singularly effective, for 19th century hat boxes were very large, since they had to contain the huge hats that many women wore during that period.
199. “A Pugnacious Sailor,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 25, 1889, 8.
200. See endnote number 13.
201. “A Fair Japanese,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 6, 1890, 20; “A Dissolute Japanese Girls (sic),” Daily Alta California, July 6, 1890, 1; “Bail Was Given For Her,” The Morning Call, July 7, 1890, 3.
202. “Three Wicked Japanese Women,” Daily Alta California, July 29, 1890, 2.
203. “Mother and Daughter Arrested,” The Morning Call, November 10, 1891, 7. There was a small traffic in Japanese prostitutes smuggled into the U. S. through San Francisco and Seattle, (“This Looks Bad,” The Morning Call, August 12, 1893, 3) and later across the Canadian border, to service the growing number of Japanese workers in the West. About a dozen were said to be in Morton Street brothels. (Japanese Women,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 28, 1891, 9; “Immoral Japanese,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 1893, 5) But these numbers declined in the United States after World War I as anti-Japanese immigration legislation was passed and Japanese – American relations deteriorated. See Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama, The Four Immigrants Manga, translation and notes by Frederik L. Schodt. (Berkeley, Stone Bridge Press, 1998), 147.
204. Edward M. Adams, (Langley’s San Francisco Directory For the Year commencing May, 1890 (San Francisco, Geo. B. Wilbur, Receiver of Painter & Co., 1890), 1265.
205. “Quarrel And Death,” The Morning Call, September 19, 1891, 1; “A Bullet In The Brain,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 19, 1891, 1; “M’Mullin’s Suicide,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1891, 20. 206. “Died from an Overdose of Laudanum,” The Evening Bulletin, October 16, 1891, 2; “Opium Kills Carrie Maclay,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1891, 10)
207. “Opium Kills Carrie Maclay,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1891, 10.
208. Miss Howard was probably one of Maclay’s prostitutes, likely the house favorite.
209. “Carrie Maclay’s Will,” The Morning Call, October 18, 1891, 10; “ ‘Diamond Carrie’s’ Will,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 1891, 16;
210. “The Wages Of Sin,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 16, 1893, 5.
211. “Court Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 1891, 7.
212. “ ‘Diamond Carrie’s’ Will,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 3, 1891, 3.
213. “ ‘Diamond Carrie’s’ Estate,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 4, 1891, 12; “Contested Letters,” The Morning Call, March 26, 1892, 3.
214. “ ‘Diamond Carrie’s’ Will,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 13, 1892, 12.
215. “Court Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 12, 1893, 22; “Diamond Carrie’s Estate,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 1892, 12; “Court Notes,” The Morning Call, June 17, 1892, 3; “A Harlot’s Gains,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 18, 1892, 12; “ ‘Diamond Carrie’s’ Estate,” The Morning Call, June 18, 1892, 3; “Court Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 1, 1892, 5; “Carrie Maclay’s Will,” The Morning Call, November 2, 1892, 1
216. “Court Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 17, 1892, 4. Just how did Gunther go about arranging an auction of a brothel? Was this one of those private, invitation-only affairs with embossed invitations on expensive stock mailed to just a few select parlor house madams? Did the madams attend and bid personally, or did they send representatives? Or was this handled more discreetly, perhaps by requesting sealed bids to be mailed to Gunther at his offices?
217. “The Wine Flowed,” San Francisco Call, January, 1896, 3. But Young didn’t operate 205 Post Street longer than two or three years because it was listed as the Club Metropole in the 1895 City Directory, an apparently legitimate operation. Painter & Co., Langley’s San Francisco Directory (San Francisco, J. B. Painter & Co., 1895), 387.
218. “The Wages Of Sin,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 16, 1893, 5.
219. “Judge Mesick’s Life,” The Morning Call, January 10, 1894, 3.
220. “An Insurance Tangle,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 30, 1893, 2.
221. “Stories Of Mesick,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 28, 1893, 7.
223. “Mesick Lived High,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 6, 1894, 16; “Mollie And The Frog,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 1895, 14.
224. “Carrie Maclay’s Estate,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 1892, 4.
225. “The Bedell Estate,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1894, 6.
226. “Diamond Carrie’s Estate,” The Morning Call, April 24, 1894, 9.
227. “ ‘Diamond Carrie’s’ Will,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 1891, 16.
228. “Carrie Maclay’s Will,” The Morning Call, October 18, 1891, 10.
230. “Opium Kills Carrie Maclay,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1891, 10 .
231. Maclay had probably seen the results of such an illness when her friend Dolly Adams made her last visit to San Francisco in 1886, physically a shadow of her former self from opium addiction and syphilis. (Peter M. Field, “The Tenderloin’s First Brothels: 223 and 225 Ellis, The Argonaut, Volume 22, No. 2, Winter 2011, 64-90; Curt Gentry The Madams of San Francisco, Garden City, New York, Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1964, 167-168) One wonders if her memory of the visit influenced Maclay to take her own life in order to avoid a similar fate.
232. “Foul And Reeking,” ibid. The report also recommended against regulating parlor houses as it was felt they adequately monitored themselves. But since the press reported a significant number of misdemeanors and felonies committed in these houses as well as the more numerous offenses at cheaper brothels, this likely meant that the more expensive bagnios were simply better protected by the influence of their sponsors (who were usually well off champagne importers), a sort of class-based Victorian double standard.
233. “The Supervisors,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 1891, 15; “Board of Supervisors,” The Morning Call, December 15, 1891, 8; “The City’s Morgue,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 1891, 8; “The Supervisors,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 22, 1891, 4; “The Supervisors,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 1892, 10; “Board of Supervisors,” The Morning Call, January 5, 1892, 2.
234. “A Morton-Street Cleansing,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 27, 1892, 3; “A Morton-Street House,” The Morning Call, January 27, 1892, 3.
235. “Enforcing the Morton-Street Order,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 23, 1892, 10; “Enforcing an Ordinance,” The Morning Call, February 23, 1892, 7
236. “It Is Unconstitutional,” The Morning Call, March 9, 1892, 3.
237. “Captain Pauli’s Assault,” The Morning Call, May 22, 1893, 12.
238. “The Grand Jury,” The Morning Call, September 7, 1893, 8.
239. “A Neglected Law,” The Morning Call, December 18, 1893, 10.
240. “Her Throat Cut,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 1894, 3; “Thomas Bowen’s Mishap,” The Morning Call, February 16, 1894, 2.
241. “The Wound Was Fatal,” The Morning Call, February 21, 1894, 3.
242. “Prison For Life,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 19, 1894, 4; “Taken to Folsom,” The Morning Call, June 5, 1894, 3.
243. “After His Son-In-Law,” The Morning Call, August 22, 1894, 4.
244. The press reported that Chief Crowley complained that “since the reform movement struck this city several instances have been called to his attention of women [reformers] who have tried to get policemen in their power by offering bribes and making promises of money and ‘gifts,’ ” in apparent attempts to entrap them or to turn them into informers. (“The Chief Is Angry,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 1895, 9)
245. Gladys Hansen, San Francisco Almanac (San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1995) 120-121.
246. Work Of The Grand Jury,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 12, 1895, 14. But things got complicated when the wayward son of one of the grand jurors tried to extort money from a prostitute at number 112 by posing as a police officer catching her with stolen property after he got one of his younger brothers to give her a cheap gem, in a version of the old badger game. (“Two Brothers At War,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 1895, 9; Henry Mayer Is Blameless,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 30, 1895, 9)
247. “Local News Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 17, 1895, 2.
248. “Final Report Of The Grand Jury,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 13, 1896, 12; “The Grand Jury Files Its Final Report,” San Francisco Call, June 13, 1895, 9.
249. “The Supervisors Meet,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 21, 1895, 16; “After Public Evils,” San Francisco Call, September 21, 1895, 7.
250. “Mrs. French, Inspector,” San Francisco Call, November 26, 1895, 9.
251. “Grand Jury Is Groping For Light,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 13, 1895, 8.
252. “How To Stop Poker Games,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 10, 1896, 11; “To Suppress Poker Games,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 18, 1896, 16.
253. At that time the San Francisco City Charter specified a form of municipal government with a weak Mayor and a strong Board of Supervisors.
254. “Civic Federation To Aid The Mayor,” San Francisco Call, January 29, 1896, 11.
255. “Woman’s Federation,” San Francisco Call, February 18, 1896, 16.
256. “:Choked To Death With A Towel,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 1896, 2; “Strangled And Robbed,” San Francisco Call, February 10, 1896, 8; “Strangled Her In The Night,” San Francisco Examiner, February 10, 1896, 1.
257. “Sent A Bullet Into Her Brain,” San Francisco Examiner, February 23, 1896, 20; “They Agreed To Die Together,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 24, 1896, 7.
258. “To Vacate Their Dens,” San Francisco Call, February 24, 1896, 14; “Must Vacate Morton Street,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 24, 1896, 12.
259. “Woman’s Federation,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 25, 1896, 11.
260. “Dens Of Morton Street,” San Francisco Call, February 25, 1896, 9.
261. “Morton Street And Water Rates,” San Francisco Call, February 27, 1896, 8.
262. “Abandoned Women Sue,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 1896, 7.
263. “Court Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 4, 1896, 11; San Francisco Call, April 4, 1896, 7.
264. “Doom Of Morton Street,” San Francisco Call, February 29, 1896, 11.
265. “”Obeyed The Chief’s Order,” San Francisco Chronicle March 4, 1896, 5; “Exit Morton Street,” San Francisco Call, March 4, 1896, 5.
266. “Shutting Up Vile Dens,” San Francisco Call, March 7, 1896, 9.
267. In November the following year, the Chief of Police admitted to the Board of Supervisors Committee on Public Morals that they closed down the Morton Street brothels for good by stationing men at the entrances to turn away customers and “that this was an arbitrary action on our part without any authority of law.” “Vice Must Go From The Streets,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 7, 1897, 21.
268. “Real Estate Transactions,” San Francisco Call, April 22, 1896, 12; “Real Estate Transfers,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 11, 1896, 14;
269. “Realty Market Review,” San Francisco Call, July 13, 1896, 9; “Geary Street Next In Line,” San Francisco Call, December 22, 1896, 8.
270. “An Architectural Ornament,” San Francisco Call, December 25, 1896, 34; “A Big Lease,” San Francisco Call, August 26, 1896, 10.
271. “Want To Reopen Morton Street,” San Francisco Call, July 15, 1896, 9; “The Grand Jury,” San Francisco Call, August 29, 1896, 11.
272. The term lodging house was often used by brothel owners as a front and/or as a city directory listing in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.
273. “Questions For The Supervisors,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 1896, 7; “Want To Open Morton Street,” San Francisco Call, September 29, 1896, 8.
274. One can’t help but wonder if over the decades this report morphed into the stories Asbury was told about Abe Ruef trying to gain control of the Morton Street brothels for his own profit by using essentially the same method.
275. “Want The Eye Of The Law Closed,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 10, 1896, 11; “Will Remain Closed,” San Francisco Call, October 10, 1896, 12.
276. “Burglar Phelan Fond Of Millinery,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 1896, 9; “Two Authors Of Many Burglaries,” San Francisco Call, November 26, 1896, 14.
277. “Real Estate Transactions,” San Francisco Call, July 11, 1896, 12. Number 122 was a former wood and coal yard.
278. “City Real Estate And Buildings,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 1897, 5.
279. “Work Of The Flames,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 7, 1897, 31; “Three Fires Yesterday,” San Francisco Call, March 7, 1897, 7.
280. “Real Estate Transfers,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 22, 1897, 12.
281. When a someone tried to post bail with fraudulent sureties worth less than their claimed value or which had no value at all, or which didn’t even actually exist, it was called straw bail or straw bonds.
282. “Two Shots Fired,” San Francisco Call, May 10, 1897, 7.
283. “Foley’s Bonds And The Grand Jury,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1897, 22.
284. “Must Remain Closed,” San Francisco Call, July 24, 1897, 7.
285. “Ups And Downs Of Assessments,” San Francisco Call, July 15, 1897, 5.
286. “Morton Street Under The Ban,” San Francisco Call, August 13, 1897, 9.
287. “Vice Must Go From The Streets,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 7, 1897, 21; “Morton Street Under The Ban,” San Francisco Call, August 13, 1897, 9; “The Morton-Street Rookeries Condemned,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 13, 1897, 7; “Morton Street Doomed,” San Francisco Call, August 19, 1897, 7.
288. “Raggett Shot To Kill His Man,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 1897, 10; “Fired Three Shots,” San Francisco Call, September 6, 1897, 6.
289. “Local News Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 8, 1897, 5.
290. “ ‘Bill’ Price Dying,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 1897, 11; “Was Awaiting Death,” San Francisco Call, November 13, 1897, 11. Price had been without food for several days. He had lost an eye in a barroom brawl several years before and could no box for a living.
291. See endnote number 13.
292. “Fires Twice To Kill Two,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 7, 1898, 10; “Sorry He Did Not Kill Them,” San Francisco Call, March 7, 1898, 12.
293. “Sorry He Did Not Kill Them,” ibid.
294. “Both Keatings Will Recover,” San Francisco Call, March 8, 1898, 9.
295. “Disreputable Alleys,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 8, 1898, 12. See also endnote number 180.
296. “Real Estate Transactions,” San Francisco Call, March 10, 1898, 12; “Real Estate Transactions,” San Francisco Call, April 22, 1898, 10; “Court Notes,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 26, 1898, 7; “Real Estate And Buildings,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 27, 1898, 11.
297. “Real Estate Transfers,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 23, 1898, 11; “Real Estate Transfers,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 22, 1898, 30; “Builders’ Contracts,” San Francisco Call, May 22, 1898, 30; San Francisco Call, May 25, 1898, 9, “Fire Committee Rulings,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 1898, 8.
298. “Real Estate And Buildings,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 27, 1898, 11.
299. “Gunst Backed Dennery,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 1899, 14. Gunst was investigated the following year for his role in the state senate campaign, but nothing ever came of it.
300. Ibid; “To Change The Name,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 17, 1898, 9. As such, it represented an effort to rehabilitate the alley’s reputation by identifying it with the Union Square retail district.
301. “Union Square to be Created,” San Francisco Call, September 23, 1898, 10; “City Fathers Make a Big ‘Clean-Up,’ ” San Francisco Call, September 27, 1898, 6.
302. “Real Estate And Buildings,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 27, 1898, 11.
303. “Many Streets Ordered Paved,” San Francisco Call, September 23, 1898, 20. This apparently didn’t get done for at least fourteen more months. (“Adopt Plans For Hospital,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 14, 1889, 7)
304. “Eyesore To Beauty Spot,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1898, 4; “Discuss Plans For An Avenue,” San Francisco Call, June 13, 1905, 9.
305. “Killed Within Prison Walls,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 1, 1898, 4.
306. “Patrick Keenan Fatally Shoots His Wife Anna And Stabs Himself,” San Francisco Call, October 10, 1898, 12.
307. “Clubbed A Man With A Pistol,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 6, 1900, 5.
308. “Is He The Strangler?” San Francisco Call, April 24, 1899, 12
309. “Hand Of The Forger Wrote Out The Bond,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 17, 1899, 8; “Contradictions In The Straw-Bond Case,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 6, 1899, 12.
310. H. S. Crocker Company San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing May, 1899 (San Francisco, H. S. Crocker Company, 1899) 596, 993.
311. Founded in 1851. ”Francis-Valentine Company,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 9, 1899, 32.
313. Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm.
314. “Real Estate News,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 30, 1899, 5.
315. “Builders’ Contracts,” San Francisco Call, October 8, 1899, 15; “Builders’ Contracts,” San Francisco Call, October 10, 1899, 13; San Francisco Chronicle, October 14, 1899, 12.
316. “Builders’ Contracts,” San Francisco Call, November 19, 1899, 18
317. “New Structure For Sherman House Site,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 10, 1899, 32.
318. H. S. Crocker San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing May 1900 (San Francisco, H. S. Crocker, 1900) 1981, 1925.
319. “Purchase Of Valuable Realty On Post Street,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 31, 1900, 12. Aaronson rebuilt the structure in 1911 after the earthquake and fire. In 1949 it was drastically remodeled by architect Frank Lloyd Wright into the V. C. Morris gift shop. “In the final decade of his life,” when Wright frequently visited San Francico, “more often than not, he would stay at the St. Francis, perhaps stopping by the exquisite gift shop he designed at 140 Maiden Lane for V. C. Morris to rearrange the displays (invariably changed back after his departure).” (“City of dreams,” San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook, October 30, 2016, 30) Wright’s design of the interior was restored in 1998. While its most recent occupant, the Xanadu Gallery, was closed at the time of this writing, Wright’s redesign of the building’s exterior can still be viewed from the street.
320. “Post-Street Property Sold,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 27, 1900, 7.
321. “Trap Season Nearly Ended,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 11, 1900, 14.
322. “Monticello Club Smoker,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 5, 1900, 9.
323. “Burglars Enter Cigar Store,” San Francisco Call, June 8, 1901, 7.
324. “Health Board Condemns Building As Unsafe,” San Francisco Call, October 31, 1901, 9.
325. “Union-Square Avenue Fortress Is Raided,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 2, 1901, 7.
326. H. S. Crocker San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing May 1901 (San Francisco, H. S. Crocker, 1901), 2143. While businesses started moving to the alley in 1899, by 1901 most of them – eight out of eleven – were located on the upper block of Union Square Avenue next to the Union Square retail district, away from Kearny Street and the recently opened Elite Saloon at number 8, the old site of Lang & Co.’s wholesale wine and liquor business (which had moved away in 1878 when the brothels had taken over Morton Street). Meanwhile, lower Union Square Avenue became a street of the rears of buildings located on Geary and Post Streets.
327. For example, the Sunset Photo Engraving Company built their Sunset Building on the site of Diamond Carrie Maclay’s brothel at number 108.
328. H. S. Crocker San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing May 1901 (San Francisco, H. S. Crocker, 1901), 643. However, Mrs. Faure was not new to brothel alleys in general nor to Union Square Avenue in particular. She bought the property from one Ann Murrin in 1891 for $12,000 (“Real Estate Transfers,” Daily Alta California, April 25, 1891, 7) when it had been a brothel for a number of years. (It had been gifted to Murrin in 1885 by a widow named Catharine Hargarden, who was part of the family that lived there from when it was built around 1856 until the address’ last city directory listing in 1875. ) (“Real Estate Transactions,” Daily Alta California, August 1, 1885, 7) Faure was one of several property owners who were arrested in 1895 for “renting houses for purposes of ill fame” and released on bail. (“Work Of The Grand Jury,” San Francisco Call, March 14, 1895, 14) She moved into the building around 1900 and ran it as a lodging house (United States Census, 1900, ancestry.com) and transferred the property to a relative living with her named Julie Faure in 1902 (“Real Estate Transactions,” San Francisco Call, May 5, 1902, 13) though she remained at that address to at least 1903. That the Faures were no strangers to the brothel real estate business was also shown in the report of the transfer of a lot on Belden Street, another nineteenth century San Francisco brothel alley, again from Rosalie Faure to Julie Faure. (“Real Estate Transactions,” San Francisco Call, May 3, 1902, 13) One wonders if the loss of income from her properties after the 1896 brothel closings reduced her circumstances to the point of deciding to cut expenses by moving into the Union Square Avenue house and opening a lodging house. Julie Faure finally sold the property to developer Anna Whittell in 1903, perhaps after Rosalie died., (“Real Estate Transfers,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 23, 1903, 15; “Real Estate Transactions,” San Francisco Call, June 25, 1903, 14)
329. United States Census, 1900, Ancestry.com. Also in 1901, the tailors of Morton Street, having left after 1879 when the brothels took over the alley, made a comeback to number 102 in the person of one Bernard Kuttner.
330. The shoemakers and barbers, who had left Morton Street in 1879, made a comeback this year with John H. Baltimore at number 165 and Henry F. Garbe at number 104.
331. H. S. Crocker San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing May 1901 (San Francisco, H. S. Crocker, 1901); H. S. Crocker San Francisco Directory for the Year Commencing May 1902 (San Francisco, H. S. Crocker, 1902).
332. “Samuel Nute Is An Easy Target,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 7, 1903, 7.
333. “The Realty Market And The Building Trades,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 14, 1903, 7; “Demand For Dwellings Unusual For The Season,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 1903, 13.
334. “September Situation Of The Real Estate Market,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 12, 1903, 13; “Dana Building To Be New Style,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 21, 1904, 48; “Selling, Purchasing And Improving Land Holdings,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 27, 1904, 13; “Ye Sign Of Ye Peacock,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 1904, 9. The restaurant was started on Geary Street by the present owner’s mother, where it was very profitable. But her son moved it to its current location in the Dana Building “where he fitted up a luxurious place at an enormous expense. High rent and excessive expenses soon exhausted his means, and he conveyed all his belongings,” including the restaurant, to his creditors in late 1905. (“Creditors Will Sell Peacock Restaurant,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 23, 1905, 12)
335. “Famous Over Land And Sea,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 1904, 14.
336. “Clever Pickpockets Placed Under Arrest,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 1904, 4; “Pickpocket Caught As He Robs Victim,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 7, 1904, 13.
337. “Books of the End of the Year,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 1904, 8.
338. “Realty Market and Building News,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 20, 1905, 7.
339. “Battle-Ship At Sea Talks With Goat Island,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 1905, 7.
340. H. R. Crocker Company Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory for the year commencing May 1905 (San Francisco, H. S. Crocker Company, 1905), 394.
341. “Grand Opening,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 1902, 3.
342. “Meeting Notices,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 1905, 10.
343. “Realty Market and Building News,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 11, 1905, 13.
344. “Would Create A New Street,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 2, 1905, 18.
345. “Merchants Take Kindly To Plan,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 3, 1905, 18; “Interested In Union-Square Avenue Plans,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 4, 1905, 29; ”To Discuss Improvement Of Union Square Avenue,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 10, 1905, 11.
346. “Union Square Arcade Receiving Attention,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 1905, 5; “To Discuss Arcade For Union Square Avenue,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 18, 1905, 23; “Arcade For First Block,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 20, 1905, 9. However, Julius Raphael’s father died, causing Raphael to focus his attentions elsewhere, and the project became dormant without its originator to move it along. (“Julius Raphael Talks Of The Arcade,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 22, 1905, 16)
347. “Masked Robber Works In Business Center,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 18, 1905, 13.
348. “Once There Were No Maidens,” San Francisco Chronicle November 26, 1970, 62
349. Jerry F. Schimmel, letter to Carol Vernier, April 30, 1995, San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History Room. Manila Alley (sometimes spelled Manilla Alley) was named in honor of the Admiral Dewey monument in nearby Union Square Park to further memorialize his victory in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. As such, it represented an effort to rehabilitate the alley’s reputation by identifying it with the Union Square retail district.
350. This name was promoted by Albert Samuels, a jeweler at Kearny and Union Square Avenue who wanted the alley named after the home of New York’s and/or London’s diamond districts, both located on streets named Maiden Lane. (Louis K. Lowenstein, Streets of San Francisco, Berkeley, Wilderness Press, 1996, 61; “100 years ago: The night they expelled Maiden Lane’s harlots,” San Francisco Examiner, March 1, 1996, A-23; “Once There Were No Maidens,” San Francisco Chronicle November 26, 1970, 62 ). Samuels may be best remembered for hiring a young and tubercular Dashiell Hammett as a part time advertising copywriter. (Diane Johnson, Dashiell Hammett: A Life, New York, Random House, 1983, 38-40)
351. Before indulging in any righteous indignation over Asbury’s and Lewis’questionable assertions, it would be well to remember that contemporaneous newspaper accounts, that is, the current article’s primary sources, were often just as inaccurate. For example, one reporter wrote in 1892 that Morton Street had “been the most open and shameless haunt of vice” for the last thirty-five years, that is, since 1857, twelve years before the brothels actually established themselves. (“Morton Street,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1892, 10)
352. Compare Charles Fields’ famous post-fire rhyme:
“If, as they say, God spanked the town
For being over frisky,
Then why did he burn the churches down
And save Hotaling’s Whiskey?”
353. While the lower echelons of the Police Department may have believed that May Conboy’s killing was the immediate cause of Morton Street’s closing, the cumulative pressures of an escalating number of newspaper reports of increasingly serious crimes on Morton Street in the 1890s plus a growing reform movement and a newly elected reform administration must have forced the upper echelons to conclude that unless they shut down Morton Street, the next focus of these groups would be the police command structure itself. It was a last resort, because any police department commander would understand that closing down a prostitution district would likely disperse the women around other parts of the city and create a new set of problems. How else would the women earn a living? The chief and his aides probably hoped the problem would eventually solve itself if they kept chasing the women away from wherever they landed, eventually forcing them to leave San Francisco. And this is what actually happened.
354. The original census sheets for several states, including California, in the 1890 census were destroyed in a warehouse fire in Washington, D. C. (ancestry.com)
355. See endnote number 13.
358. There were, however, Kate Buchanan, the madam at the parlor house at number 17 in 1862 discussed earlier, as well as Kate Williams, who was listed for just one year in the 1880 city directory as the owner of a saloon at number 25, the Germania House, in the time when the brothels had taken over Morton Street. But these women operated many years earlier than the decade Asbury claimed for Iodoform Kate.
359. Stephen Longstreet, ed. Nell Kimball: Her Life As An American Madam By Herself (New York, Macmillian, 1970), 223-224.
360. Nell Kimball wasn’t published until 1970 because Longstreet thought the MS too explicit for 1930s readers. (Nell Kimball: Her Life As An American Madam By Herself, New York, Macmillian, 1970, preface)
361. If, as seems likely, he did use this material, he did not cite her, her MS, or her editor in his bibliography, credit apparently being subsumed under his headings of “personal recollections of old-time San Franciscans” or “many private collections of Californiana.” (Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast (Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1933), 315.
362. The Barbary Coast was located on the blocks of Pacific Street running west of the waterfront and its environs, while Morton Street was in an altogether different neighborhood.
363. Harriet Lane Levy, 920 O’Farrell Street (Berkeley, Heyday Books, 1996) 186-187.
364. See endnote number 13.
365. As did the prostitutes in other San Francisco brothel alleys such at St. Mary’s Place, Belden Place, Waverly Place, etc. Stephen Longstreet, ed. Nell Kimball: Her Life As An American Madam By Herself (New York, Macmillian, 1970), 222.
366. See John Baumann’s earlier allegations on page 21 and the author’s conjecture in endnote 274.
367. Walton Bean Boss Ruef’s San Francisco (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1952)
368. “Morton Street Under The Ban,” San Francisco Call, August 13, 1897, 9; “The Morton-Street Rookeries Condemned,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 13, 1897, 7; “Morton Street Doomed,” San Francisco Call, August 19, 1897, 7.
369. The 1899 Sanborn maps show vacant lots where many of the brothels used to be. (Sanborn Map Company Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (Bethesda, Md., University Publications of America, 1995), microfilm.)
370. The tales of Iodoform Kate and Rotary Rosie sound hackneyed and stereotyped in comparison to some of the stories Asbury didn’t find or left out of his pages on Morton Street. For example, in May of 1874, a Police Commission whitewash of accusations concerning the extortion of bribes from prostitutes by two detectives (“The City’s Disgrace,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 12, 1874, 3; “The Infamous Ending of the Police Investigation,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 12, 1874, 2; “The Great Fiasco,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 13, 1874, 3) mentioned a Morton Street brothel run by a madam named Clara McElroy, who testified that she had quit prostitution and had rented the house to the Fire Queen. (“Police Investigation,” Daily Alta California, May 10, 1874, 1) The Fire Queen was Emily Edwards, also known as Mrs. Emily Casement, a remarkable woman who, with her husband Hugh, had operated a popular saloon, dance hall, and brothel called The Half Way House at Eighth and Folsom Streets from 1852 to 1856, when this area was still undeveloped. (“Supreme Court Decision,” Sacramento Daily Union, February 5, 1867, 3) Born in Richmond, Virginia (Daily Alta California, September 2, 1862, 1; “Death of the ‘Fire Queen’,” Richmond Dispatch, August 2, 1885, 1), she crossed the continent from New York City in early 1850, “a freeborn quadroon girl, about twenty-eight years of age, and possessed [of] a face and figure of striking beauty . . . she was honesty itself and would permit no underhanded dealings among those in her establishment . . . she made a great deal of money, but was always free with it . . . and many a poor devil has been checked on his downward career and given a new lease of life through her generosity.” (“The Fire Queen,” Daily Alta California, July, 27, 1885, 1) There were many stories’ of her resourcefulness. She once defended her claim to a plot of land near the present day Bayview-Hunters Point District from a rival claimant. The plot was surrounded by water and she kept the other claimant off it by sitting in a chair in the middle of the little island with a double barreled shotgun across her lap. (“An Old Californian,” Daily Alta California, May 17, 1855, 2) Another time she plunged into the swamp near her Folsom Street resort and rescued a man’s horse from drowning in the mud while a crowd of men stood helplessly by. (Ibid.)Yet another time she tracked down and captured a man who had shot someone else’s cow. (Ibid.) Once, after the Daily Alta California lost its newspaper morgue from the fire of May of 1854 and advertised for back issues to replace it, she found and sold a complete set to them. (Ibid.) She also had a talent for badinage and her repartee could cut deeply when someone tried to tangle with her. (Ibid; Daily Alta California, September 2, 1862, 1; “An Old Californian,” Daily Alta California, May 17. 1855, 2.) Edwards was one of those San Francisco women who, like her better known contemporary Lillie Coit, ran to fires. (“An Old Californian,” Daily Alta California, May 17, 1855, 2) But unlike Coit, who merely cheered from the sidelines, she became famous in 1855 when she ran several times into a burning distillery (“Terrible Explosion At The Novelty Distillery,” Daily Alta California, November 3, 1855, 1; “New Advertisements,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 1871, 2) that was about to collapse and dragged out several firemen who had been overcome by smoke before she herself passed out. She was badly burned, but when she regained consciousness she refused any attention to her own injuries until she had bandaged the injured firemen with strips torn from her dress and had them taken to her nearby road house and made comfortable. (“The Fire Queen,” Daily Alta California, July, 27, 18 85, 1) She later refused a gift of a purse of gold from a group of admirers for her heroism. (“New Advertisements,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 1871, 2) After this she became known as the Fire Queen (Ibid; “The Fire Queen,” Daily Alta California, July, 27, 1885, 1) and was idolized by the city’s volunteer firemen. (Ibid) But she wasn’t always so self-sacrificing: in some of her exploits she expected – and got – suitable rewards for her good deeds, as was the custom of the times. (“An Old Californian,” Daily Alta California, May 17, 1855, 2) Sadly, her burns left her scarred for life. (Ibid) Edwards lost The Half Way House property from it being mortgaged and deeded at least three times before her husband went to Australia. She fought in the courts for years (“Twelfth District Court,” Daily Alta California, September 24, 1864, 1; Sacramento Daily Union, August 2, 1866, 2; “Supreme Court Decision,” Sacramento Daily Union, February 5, 1867, 3) to recover it under the Homestead Act until the California Supreme Court ruled against her. She apparently opened another resort at 10th and Folsom, two blocks away, which did well enough for her to move into San Francisco proper and open a brothel on California Street. But this house eventually failed, forcing her to move to Morton Street, where she ran another brothel for a time, though this turn in her fortunes must have taken a number of years to transpire because the newspapers didn’t place her on Morton Street until 1871 and again in 1873 when she was arrested for fighting another woman. (“Arrests Made Yesterday,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 1873, 3) One of the reasons Edwards might have ended up on Morton Street may have been the financial drain of having a soft heart. For example, in 1871 she took one of her prostitutes, who wanted to get out of the life, to the California Rescue Mission, and later paid for the expenses of other prostitutes entering this program. (“New Advertisements,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 1871, 2) The San Francisco city directory of 1874 listed her at 24 Belden Place, another brothel alley, where she presumably moved her operation from Morton Street. She next surfaced in an 1879 city directory listing as Mrs. Emily Edwards at 1230 Mission (at Eighth Street), just a couple of blocks away from her former Half-Way House resort. Sometime after this she left San Francisco and ran parlor houses in Chico and Colfax where she amassed a small fortune of $10,000. (“The ‘Fire Queen’,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, 1888, 8) She died in 1886 in either Colfax (“Charitable Bequests,” Sacramento Daily–Record Union, July 20, 1885, 2; “Died,” Sacramento Daily–Record Union, July 24, 1885, 3; “The ‘Fire Queen’,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, 1888, 8) or Reno (“The ‘Fire Queen’,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 12, 1888, 8) and bequeathed most of her money to various charitable institutions in California, including several in San Francisco. Her will instructed her executor to give her body to “Dr. J. M. Todd of Auburn, Placer County, State of California, to examine and dispose of as he may decide best.” (Ibid)
371. For other criticisms of Asbury’s verisimilitude, see Herbert Asbury (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Asbury), Adam Gopnik, “Underworld,” New Yorker, November 11, 2002, 174-183, and Jon Michaud, “The Forgotten Crime Novels of Herbert Asbury,” New Yorker, September 10, 2015.
372. Asbury’s grandfather and great-grandfather were Methodist ministers. Asbury Park, New Jersey, the home of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, was said to be named after Francis Asbury, the first American Methodist bishop who Asbury claimed as his great-great uncle. But Asbury rejected his background: his first book was titled Up From Methodism. (Adam Gopnik, “Underworld,” New Yorker, November 11, 2002, 174-183) and its partly autobiographical content reflected his repudiation of his upbringing. “Rebelling against his overbearing parents, Asbury left the church at age fourteen to pursue a life of drinking, gambling, and womanizing.” (Herbert Asbury, Sucker’s Progress. New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1938; republished by Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York, end page note.) If Asbury preferred the anecdotal to the historical, as he did in his pages on Morton Street, it was at least in part because he had an axe to grind against the cold stone wheel of his Methodist upbringing.