While excavating for construction of the Metropolitan Water District 

headquarters near Union Station in 1996 archaeologists uncovered remnants of 

the Los Angeles red light district.  Pulled from century-old outhouses were 

bottles of prophylactic fluid, jars of face cream and other tell-tale relics of 

the area's seamy past, reminders of a time when the city permitted legal 

prostitution to thrive as long as it remained within the limits set for it.

    Tarnished Angels, the hard-to-find little volume in which W. W. Robinson 

gave readers a brief glimpse of the bordellos that flourished in the 1880s and 

1890s, recounts the arrival in 1853 of the first shipload of prostitutes from 

San Francisco.  They took up residence on Upper Main Street and for the next 

half century brothels and their hostesses held forth on various streets, 

especially Main, Alameda and Buena Vista, within a few blocks of the old plaza.

    In 1874 the council found it desirable to prohibit houses of prostitution 

within the business district.  The ordinance adopted that year placed off-

limits the blocks bounded by Fort {Broadway}, Los Angeles, First and Short.  As 

the city grew and the business section expanded, so did the prohibited area.

    Fire insurance maps of the 1880s labeled some buildings "female boarding," 

the euphemism for brothels.  More directly to the point in identifying red 

light locations, although referring to 1897, is the "Souvenir Sporting Guide" 

printed for distribution to visitors during the city's annual flower festival, 

the charitable purpose of which was the antithesis of the guide's purpose.  

Reprinted in Tarnished Angels, it carried advertisements for Madame Van at 327 

1/2 New High Street, the Octoroon at 438 N. Alameda, the Little Brick at 435 N. 

Alameda, Madame Wier at 312 N. Alameda, the Oakwood Inn on Old Adobe Road, and 

numerous others scattered along Main Street, both north and south.  For those 

desiring the friendly advice of a knowledgeable hack driver, Jack Barber 

advertised that his hack, No. 62, was available from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. at a 

stand conveniently located opposite Western Union's First and Spring office.

    The red light was actually used.  Describing one brothel on N. Broadway, 

Robinson noted that the light was displayed over the open doorway of each 

cubicle, with a silk-clad woman seated before a curtain in the doorway.   Once 

her customer arrived, they entered the cubicle and the light went out.

    Porcupine editor Horace Bell waged an unrelenting fight against bordellos 

on Los Angeles Street.  As a result of his persistent grousing and additional 

complaints from numerous residents and businessmen, the city council adopted an 

ordinance intended to remove prostitutes from that street.  Response to the 

council's action centered on concern that the ordinance was selectively 

enforced.  "Diego's" concluding phrase in Latin - Let justice be done, even if 

the heavens fall - would be repeated in another letter on prostitution from 

"Buena Vista," suggesting that the two might have been written by the same 


                          {Times, May 4, 1882, p. 3}

                                  Is It Just?

              Editor Times:  Justice seems queer in our beautiful 

         city.  The other day several women of the town were arrested 

         and fined $20 apiece for carrying on their business on Los 

         Angeles street.  To this we do not demur, for it was a just 

         penalty for the violation of a City ordinance.  But this 

         ordinance should be as good at the north end of the street as 

         at the south end.  We humbly suggest that on Los Angeles 

         street are many Chinese women equally as guilty as their 

         depraved Caucasian sisters, and that these Chinese women 

         might be made to replenish the city treasury with a few 

         twenties the same as the white have done.  What say you, 

         Messieurs Policemen?  Fiat justitia, ruat coelum.


                         {Times, Sept. 22, 1882, p. 2}

                      Conundrum as to the Nymphs du Pave.

         To the Editor of The Times:

              Permit me to ask why it is that the authorities were so 

         zealous in the work of removing the demi-monde from Los 

         Angeles street on the score of public decency, and then allow 

         them to occupy one of the principal thoroughfares, where they 

         constantly hail passers-by, which they did to my knowledge 

         yesterday and to-day?                   

                                       COMMON DECENCY.

              Los Angeles, Sept. 21.

                          {Times, Oct. 3. 1882. p. 4}

                              Los Angeles Street.

         To the Editor of The Times:

              Now that the disreputable women have left the west side 

         of Los Angeles street, one can walk along on that side of the 

         street, even with his family, without insult or annoyance.  

         The contrast between the present and former condition of that 

         thoroughfare is indeed very striking, and very agreeable.

              If the Alvarados and Mr. Childs, and one or two other 

         property holders on the east side of this street, would now 

         complete the good work and drive the loose women out of their 

         houses, then would Los Angeles street, or at least that 

         portion of it between Commercial and First, be indeed 

         redeemed from its long, immoral saturnalia.

                                        PATER FAMILIAS.

              September 30, 1882.

    "Cleaning up" Los Angeles street did not mean that the city was no longer a 

vale of sin and vice.  The madams and their employees merely moved to other 

streets nearby: Main, Alameda, San Pedro, New High and Commercial.  That 

brought complaints from passengers arriving by rail at the Alameda Street 

depot, whose first welcome to the city was likely to be one that resulted in a 

blush.  As prostitutes left Los Angeles Street, one resident of Buena Vista 

{No. Broadway} responded with the "not in my back yard" argument that would 

become so common decades later when city government moved to relocate other 

unwanted fixtures of society.  Later in the decade, when a suggestion had been 

made to clear prostitutes from Alameda Street, sending them to New High, "F.L.S." 

also became a "nimby."  

                          {Times, May 12, 1883, p. 4}

                        A Kick from Buena Vista Street.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  We wish to occupy a 

         little space for a few words in your paper, and we want them 

         clear-cut and right to the point, for we say what we mean and 

         mean just what we say.  Some two weeks since there was a 

         petition before our City Council, respectably signed by 

         property-owners and residents on Buena Vista street, praying 

         for the immediate removal of all persons engaged in 

         prostitution on said street, and also to prevent all such 

         persons in the future from occupying places on the same.  

         Said petition was received by the Council, and an order made 

         instructing the Chief of Police to remove the nuisance 

         complained of immediately.  Now, what we want to know is 

         whether or not the members comprising a council for the 

         government of this city are to be hood-winked by prostitutes 

         and their abettors, or whether we are to look in another 

         direction for the moral protection of our families that all 

         good governments should strenuously maintain; or whether, 

         with all, our executive officer is inefficient or derelict in 

         the performance of his official duty?  If either, we would 

         simply suggest to him, in vulgar parlance, to throw up the 

         sponge, and let some one more capable take his place.  In 

         writing this article we have no desire whatever to make any 

         reflection on either the Council or police, for we have the 

         highest respect for both.  But as citizens who have the 

         welfare of families and our beautiful street at heart, we do 

         want to know if the government of this city will carry out 

         its mandate and protect our families from the moral curse of 

         all curses that is fast encroaching upon us.

                                           BUENA VISTA.

                         {Times, July 14, 1883, p. 3}

            When the Hawk is on the Wing Let the Timid Dove Beware.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  Owing to an article in 

         your paper from "Buena Vista" of about the 12th of May last, 

         it has been remarked by certain individuals that squibs don't 

         amount to much.  Well, perhaps they don't; but that reminds 

         me of the story of an old man who found a rude boy in one of 

         his apple trees, stealing apples, and desired him to come 

         down, which the young saucebox plainly told him he would not 

         do.  Those of your readers who are familiar with the story 

         will remember well what steps the old man took to bring hIm 

         down, and to those who have not, suffice it to say that after 

         he had used good words, with no avail, and had pulled up and 

         thrown a number of tufts of grass at him, which only made the 

         young rascal laugh, he then had recourse to something that 

         had a more persuasive effect than good words or grass, and 

         which soon brought the youngster down to beg the old man's 

         pardon.  So, in writing this article, we do not intend to 

         fire squibs, nor have anything to do with grass, but we do 

         intend to come boldly to the front with quiver and bow, 

         though we do not mean to be personal, and have no wish 

         whatever to wound the feelings of false pride of any who may 

         be taken in our range.

              Some months ago a number of prostitutes were removed 

         from off Los Angeles street, in this city, by an action of 

         the City Council, and it is presumable that said action was 

         based on a legal right under the city charter for the 

         abatement or abolishment of all nuisances within the city 

         limits; and, if not by a legal right, then the Council had no 

         right at all for said action, and if the charter gave them no 

         right, and we were an attorney, and placed in the impecunious 

         circumstances that, no doubt, some of the legal fraternity 

         are, (no insinuation, gentlemen, that any of you are on the 

         bedrock,) we would take up the cause for one and all of those 

         persons so removed, and most certainly this city would have 

         to pay a bill for damage.  And, again, a short time ago a 

         petition was before the City Council, respectably signed by 

         property owners and residents of Buena Vista street, praying 

         that honorable body to speedily remove all persons engaged in 

         prostitution on said street, and also prevent all such 

         persons in the future from occupying places on the same.  

         Said petition was acted upon and an order made by the Council 

         instructing the Chief of Police to remove the nuisance 

         complained of immediately.  Well now let us see how near that 

         order has been obeyed, if indeed it was intended to be obeyed 

         at all, for to all appearances it does seem that it was not.  

         And it does seem to us that it is like many other orders and 

         ordinances to be found on the minutes of our City Council, 

         not worth the paper and time that it took to write them.  We 

         will name some of them presently.  But allowing that the 

         order was made in good faith with the people of Buena Vista 

         street, then certainly somebody has been derelict in their 

         official duty.  On the night that said petition was acted 

         upon, and the order made for the removal of said persons from 

         Buena Vista street, a grand raid (if it is lawful to call it 

         such) was indiscriminately made upon the habitues, both male 

         and female, of the city at large, and they were pulled in to 

         the number of dozens, and O! what a splutter and 

         jollification there was a few days after over the hundreds 

         and hundreds of shining shekels that had been raked in from 

         the poor miserables to enrich the city's coffers or 

         somebody's pockets, for it does seem to us that the raid was 

         made more for the sake of the money there was in it, than to 

         abate a nuisance.  And when the misters and madams who were 

         captured in that raid were being arraigned before His Honor 

         he might have pertinently asked the question of their 

         accusers, as it had been asked in olden time, without 

         compromising his dignity in the least!  "He that is without 

         sin among you, let him cast the first stone at" them.  It is 

         true on the night of that memorable raid there were a few of 

         those persons complained of taken from Buena Vista street, 

         and for a few days their places were closed up, but in less 

         than a week they were reopened, and several new ones were 

         added to their number.  And now, gentlemen of the Council, 

         has the Chief of Police ever informed your honorable body 

         that he had faithfully executed your mandate, or have you 

         taken any step whatever to know whether he has or not?  You 

         were not elected to the honorable position you occupy to play 

         hide and seek, or second fiddle to nobody, and if you had the 

         law on your side in the Los Angeles street case, that law has 

         not been repealed, and the people of Buena Vista street are  

         as much entitled to your protection by the law as those on 

         Los Angeles street, or elsewhere; and it is a well-known fact 

         that if a petition for a like purpose for any street south of 

         the courthouse were before your honorable body, that it would 

         be acted on at once, and the star spangled brass buttons and 

         blue would be on hand in full force, and not an hour's grace 

         would be given, and the poor soiled doves would have to fly, 

         even if those that had their wings clipt in the memorable 

         raid were among them.

              Then, gentlemen, in your official capacity act like men 

         who have brains enough to set a steel trap or a hen on the 

         side of a hill.   The eyes of the people of Buena Vista 

         street are upon you, and will hold you to a strict account 

         for your stewardship.  "Yes," says one member, perhaps a 

         newcomer, "But where is this Buena Vista street?"  "Well," 

         says another, "Buena Vista is a street running up through 

         what is called Sonoratown, where the people raise so many 

         dogs and fleas, every family is expected to have from one to 

         half a dozen of the former and legions of the latter."  True, 

         gentlemen, Sonoratown can boast of having all the dogs the 

         law allows, and perhaps a few dozen more, and certainly it 

         has as many fleas to the square foot as almost any place in 

         the city, but it is about as hard to account for the tastes 

         of some people as it is for the acts of a city council.  And 

         allow us to say that Buena Vista street can also boast of 

         many very elegant residences and moderately fair business 

         houses, and is fast improving, and when the grade is finished 

         and the bridge across the river, it will be one of the most 

         pleasant drives in the city, overlooking, as it does, all the 

         new depot grounds and the country for miles away, and we can 

         also boast of a very elegant and commodious public 

         schoolhouse, which is only a few steps from our western line; 

         but alas, how disgusting it is, and particularly as to the 

         parents, to see our young lady folks wending their way to and 

         from school, through the purlieus of prostitution; and yet we 

         are told our City Council cannot and will not take any steps 

         to prevent it being so.  No, gentlemen of the Council, that 

         cannot be; it is your bounden duty as the guardians of this 

         city, to guard the morals of the youth of this street and its 

         environs the same as you would those of any other street; and 

         if the City Charter confers the right on you to abolish 

         nuisances, then why in the name of the Judge of all Councils 

         would you hesitate a minute when a rightful request has been 

         laid before you, to remove a nuisance so detestable and 

         demoralizing as the one complained of?  Teach those abandoned 

         creatures that they cannot and shall not flaunt their lewd 

         obscenities in the face of a civilized and respectable 

         community.  Let them go and sin no more, or retire to a more 

         secluded place, and give our street the unstained meaning its 

         name implies--Good View.  In regard to those dead-letter 

         ordinances that we made mention of a little way back, we will 

         only call the attention of our city fathers to a few:

              First--An ordinance against gambling.

              Second--Leaving animals unhitched.

              Third--Riding or driving at a breakneck speed, 

         particularly over street crossings.

              Fourth--That foolish and dangerous practice of 

         scattering paper broadcast on the streets and sidewalks.  In 

         many places the city presents the appearance of an Indian 

         rancheria after a big feast on mescal, much more than it does 

         clean and well-kept streets.

              Fifth--Obstructing streets and sidewalks.  These are all 

         well-framed and statutory ordinances and should be executed 

         to the letter, and no doubt would be only for the incapacity 

         and negligence of our police; and it is our opinion, and the 

         opinion, too, of many others who pay heavy tax levies in this 

         city, that if there were fewer aristocratic airs indulged in 

         around headquarters and less visits paid to side shows and 

         standing before those things in which we see ourselves as 

         others see us, and a little more of something done in the 

         right way towards earning the hard cash so easily pocketed on 

         pay-days, that those large cobblestones that lie where the 

         sidewalk ought to be, nearly opposite the Pico House, might 

         be removed, and many other places aligning the streets might 

         be put in better shape.  So of Sunday mornings, when the 

         people walk out to church, and to the picnic grounds, their 

         senses might be regaled by the thoughts of a pleasant walk.  

         And strangers and country people coming into the city would 

         be loud in their praise of the elegant streets and sidewalks, 

         (not of gold) asbestos, in the city of Los Angeles.  In 

         conclusion, notwithstanding we have been somewhat criticising 

         in our remarks, we hope you, gentlemen of the City Council, 

         will be assured of our highest respects for you'all, and 

         believe us when we tell you that we clearly see with our 

         mind's eye, standing on a magnificent platform in the midst 

         of our Council chamber, gleaming in the effulgent rays of its 

         incandescent light, the lovely form of that most beautiful 

         creature, the scales in one hand and her scepter in the 

         other, and we distinctly hear you exclaim, una voce, fiat 

         justitia, ruat coelum.  And looking still a little farther in 

         the background we plainly see the eager faces and stalwart 

         features of a host of janizaries ready and willing to do your 


                                             BUENA VISTA.

                         {Times, Aug. 30, 1888, p. 6}

                         A Kick from New High Street.

              Los Angeles, Aug. 29.--[To the Editor of The Times.]  In 

         reply to "Citizen," who writes wishing to send prostitutes 

         from Alameda street into the 50 vacant houses on New High, I 

         will say that if the property-owners of Alameda street take 

         the same means to clean up that thoroughfare that most on New 

         High are doing, viz., let the houses stand empty, until the 

         street is renovated, they may have some chance for a future 

         respectable street.

              Character has something to do with avaricious landlords 

         as well as bad women.

              There is a law that can be made effective, that persons 

         of this class shall occupy only the second story.  So New 

         High will be a poor refuge for such, especially as there is a 

         force now at work that will make it as hot as possible for 

         such quality.

              On the hills northwest of the city lay the houses of 

         some of Los Angeles' best citizens.  The ladies from these 

         neighborhoods may object to living so near such dens, and 

         numbers of children have to go to school through these 

         streets.  So, would it not be well for "Citizen" to suggest 

         some other back street than one within a stone's throw of the 

         Plaza, and one of the busiest parts of the city.  When the 

         electric road is completed, New High street will be a common 

         thoroughfare from one part of the city to another, and are 

         our citizens and our tourist visitors to be obliged to 

         witness this flagrant shame in so well used a street--such a 

         blemish to so fair a city as ours?

                                               F. L. S.  

    Efforts to further segregate the location of brothels continued.  Numerous 

arrests of women on morals charges led Mayor William Workman to appoint Mrs. 

Helen A. Watson, the socially-prominent and outspoken reformer, to the newly 

created post of jail matron referred to earlier.  The Times joined the ranks of 

those seeking to contend with prostitution by designating specific areas within 

the city where it could continue.  That, coupled with a petition to the city 

council in early July, 1889, from junk and used clothing dealer Horatio Marteen 

asking that houses of prostitution be allowed on a portion of New High Street, 

brought a sharp response from the Tribune.  The short-lived, bitter rival of 

the Times was directed for a while by Otis' former partner Col. Henry H. Boyce.

In support of the position taken by Otis, "Ah There" offered this advice.  

Theodore Summerland served on the city council in 1889; George Knox was a 

police commissioner.  

                         {Times, July 12, 1889, p. 3}

                           One of the Social Evils.

              Los Angeles, July 11.--[To the Editor of The Times.]  

         The Tribune devotes an editorial commending Police 

         Commissioner Knox's idiotic motion at Tuesday's meeting, to 

         the effect that the City Council ought to pass an ordinance 

         finding signers of petitions for the removal of houses of 

         prostitution to certain limits guilty of a misdemeanor. It is 

         to be presumed that Mr. Knox, no matter how small his 

         knowledge of law may be, has at least a modicum of common 

         sense, and, taking this for granted, it is easy to see that 

         he "poses" for the gallery with his one-horse motion.  Knox 

         is aware that there is such a thing as the Constitution, and 

         that an ordinance, in the sense in which he desires it, would 

         be against that Constitution.  He knows, too, that the City 

         Council could not pass, and would not put itself on record by 

         attempting to pass, such a ridiculous ordinance.  The idea 

         that signing a petition to the Council or to the Board of 

         Police Commissioners, asking for the better government of the 

         city, by one of its citizens, should ever be considered as a 

         crime, could only emanate from an individual suffering with 

         "swelled head."  Theodore Summerland's threat to have Mr. 

         Knox decapitated has something to do with that motion, or 

         else the commissioner wishes to bask in the Tribune's 

         sunshine of cant.  The organ of the military pretender, who 

         may be called an abortive general, since his lack of 

         confirmation by the State Senate, says that Mr. Knox voices 

         the opinion of the respectable part of the community (who are 

         old subscribers to the consumptive Tribune.)  Why the 

         respectable part of the community should be more idiotic than 

         those who do not subscribe to that "newspaper," I fail to 

         gather from the editorial.  Neither did I learn it from 

         another canting, mawkish and inane editorial published by the 

         same sheet a week ago, when it upbraided The Times for 

         publishing a petition from some property-owners who expressed 

         a willingness to harbor, comfort, rent to and draw rent from 

         all women of easy virtue who would take up their habitation 

         on their property, provided the Council would declare the 

         said property to be within the limits set apart for the 

         conduct of houses of prostitution.  The proposition, if 

         adopted, would be an excellent way out of a great difficulty.  

         The Council may try to suppress the evil, but it cannot 

         eradicate it.  It may imprison for a time women driven into 

         the street as night hawks and guilty of solicitation, but 

         these unfortunates must live, and as a consequence must 

         reenter the lists upon the end of their term of captivity.  

         Other communities have attempted extirpation, and have not 

         succeeded.  There is a remedy, but there is no cure.  The 

         remedy is the establishment of proper limits in which to 

         confine prostitution.  Of course, if property-owners are not 

         consulted as to their willingness to allow their street to be 

         dedicated to these people they are bound to kick, and they 

         will kick so hard and strong that the City Council will be 

         unable to overcome the force of the argument.  But here you 

         have a set of property-owners in a quiet, uninhabited street, 

         hardly ever used as a thoroughfare, willing to rent to these 

         people.  This is the way out of the difficulty, and yet Mr. 

         Knox and the Tribune would not only prevent the Council from 

         acting upon it, but would imprison or fine the property-

         owners who are willing to solve the problem,

              In conclusion I would ask Mr. Knox:

              First, is there any law preventing any one from signing 

         a petition?  If not, could an ordinance prohibit such an act?

              Second, is there any way he can devise by which he could 

         have a man arrested for signing a petition, except that the 

         words in it were obscene or indecent, or contained a 

         malicious defamation against some one?

              Third, does he know what he wants, and if so, why does 

         he want to give the Constitution and Legislature a black eye, 

         and substitute the Council therefor?

              Fourth, is it his last spasmodic effort as commissioner.

                                               AH THERE.

    Regulated prostitution continued past the turn of the century.  By then the 

once-prevalent position taken by "Ah There," that the "social evil" could only 

be controlled but not eliminated, had given way to a puritanical effort to 

regulate morals through so-called "blue laws" that prohibited such perceived 

moral dangers as horse race betting, boxing, saloons and prostitution.  In 

addition, corruption of the police department and other city offices resulting 

from graft associated with legalized prostitution influenced progressive-minded 

citizens to ban prostitution in an effort to cleanse city government.  After 

Mayor Arthur Harper had been forced to resign in 1909 amid scandalous charges 

of extortion in connection with the rental of houses to prostitutes in the 

protected area, his reform successor and the council closed down the city's red 

light district.