The Stingaree’s Transformation from Vice to Nice

April 01, 2014 – November 02, 2014

SIN DIEGO: The Stingaree’s Transformation from Vice to Nice showcases the development, and eventual “clean up” of San Diego’s infamous redlight district. The district existed between 1st and 6th Avenues (west-east) and from H (today Market Street) to the bay (north-south).

The term “Stingaree” originated it is said because people who visited the neighborhood got stung (like a sting from a stingray) by the many vices the district possessed. During it’s heyday around the turn of the 20th Century, the Stingaree boasted 71 saloons, 120 bawdy houses, opium dens, and gambling establishments. San Diego’s waterfront became “synonymous with sin,” said the detractors of the day, and rivaled San Francisco’s Barbary Coast and New York’s Bowery Districts. Given the racial restrictions of the day, the neighborhood also became a melting pot of nationalities from all over the globe. Wyatt Earp, while living in San Diego for two years during the “Boom of the 1880s,” had his residnce and business just outside the district.

Prior to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, a city-backed effort to cleanup the vice elements within the Stingaree destroyed many of the structures deemed to be sanitation and health hazards and shipped off some of the prostitutes outside the city. But the problem of vice persisted.

Prohibition in the 1920s created a black market for liquor and in the 1930s, the forces of the Great Depression never allowed the neighborhood to improve its image. With the buildup of military personnel throughout the city prior to World War 2, servicemen frequented the many locker rooms throughout the old Stingaree to shed their military clothes for street clothes, allowing them to partake in the bars, peep shows, and other nefarious activity that combat-bound soldiers and sailors often partake in. The phrase, “don’t go south of Market Street” was common.

In the 1950s, the effects of suburbanization meant that people and businesses moved from downtown’s core, taking jobs and opportunity with them, depressing property values. Soon San Diego’s downtown, like others around the country at this time experienced  urban decay (or urban blight).

It wasn’t until the 1970s when a group of concerned citizens decided to reclaim and revitalize downtown. Backed by the legislation of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, suddenly it became cost-effective to save the old downtown buildings symbolizing San Diego’s past and became an incentive to attract business back to downtown. The first project, undertaken and overseen by the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) was the Gaslamp District and the renovation of Horton Plaza. Historic buildings were renovated and turned into commercial and mixed-use properties that today generate income for the city and entertain and service (safely) the millions of visitors to the city.

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