The Journal of San Diego History
Spring 1974, Volume 20, Number 2


Images from the article

At the turn of this century San Diego’s City Hall, at Fifth and G, overlooked the Stingaree and the Redlight District. City officials for years had been accused of overlooking both. The oldest profession, thanks to the pawers that be, still flourished openly in San Diego.

It was not that the good citizens of San Diego were unaware of the goings on down at Third and I (Island), and the surrounding area. Every city election that came along heard candidates promising to clean up the Stingaree; but after the election, the subject was dropped, and gamblers, prostitutes, and dope peddlers went on their way, uninterrupted except for an occasional raid and resultant fine. Profits more than justified such inconvenience and expense of doing business.

The Stingaree in San Diego and the Barbary Coast in San Francisco had much in common. They were both identified with waterfront life—the lusty sailor out for a spree after many weeks at sea—and flourished during the years when shipping was at its height, before railroads took over much passenger and cargo business. Concentrated in a relatively small waterfront area were saloons, gambling halls, parlor houses, and cribs catering to the lonely sailor, newcomer, and resident out for a “good time.” The police were glad the traffic in sin was open and above board, where they could keep an eye on it. Residents from other parts of town, while acknowledging such things were going on, simply stayed away from the area and pretended it did not exist.

San Diego also had its Chinatown, located within the Stingaree. Chinese began coming to San Diego in the early 1870’s, after completion of work on northern railroads, and to escape the anti-Chinese riots in the north. Others illegally crossed the border from Mexico seeking work in the land of plenty. At first most sustained themselves as fishermen, operating from a fleet of junks and living in shanties built on stilts along the waterfront. The shanty town extended from the foot of Market to Pirate’s Cove, at the foot of Eleventh street.1 During the Seventies, many tons of dried fish caught by Chinese fishermen in local waters were shipped out regularly from San Diego. Some Chinese became farmers; others opened stores, restaurants and laundries. Most were industrious and law-abiding, but it was inevitable that some found gambling and opium-selling to be more profitable.

On December 24, 1871, the San Diego Union reported: “Four houses on Third Street have been rented to Chinese.” A year later, Alonzo E. Horton, founder of New San Diego, sold a lot on Third Street to Wo Sung & Co., a large importing house of San Francisco, which proposed to build a two story brick building and establish a branch in San Diego. This was the beginning of San Diego’s Chinatown, centering around lower Third Street.

When Horton founded New San Diego in 1867, he built his wharf at the foot of Fifth. It was here that modern San Diego began, and where passengers arriving from the north first stepped ashore. Fifth, therefore, became the main business street. On the southwest corner of Fifth and K stood the First and Last Chance Saloon—the first chance to get a drink on terra firma after leaving a ship, the last chance before going aboard. Soon there were other saloons interspersed among the leading business establishments along Fifth Street.

It was not, however, until the boom of the Eighties that residents began to notice the large influx of gamblers and prostitutes. Before that San Diego had been just a sleepy little village without the money or population to attract peddlers of vice.

In 1887, a reporter from the San Diego Union, disguised, spent several nights on lower Fifth Street. Describing his experience, he wrote:

Strolling down Fifth in the evening, the ear is rasped by notes from asthmatic pianos, discordant fiddles and drunken voices boisterously singing ribald songs. Noses are offended by garlic, swill and fried meat coming from some chophouse. The eye is pained to see men lying drunk on every corner . . . . it is fully as bad as the Barbary Coast in San Francisco. 2

The reporter told about a “greeny” from the country who entered a saloon, accompanied by a “steerer.” He placed a silver dollar on the counter and called for two beers. No change was given; the man’s companion was making sure he would get drunk. When he finally staggered out the back door, the “steerer” followed, returning in a few minutes to give the bartender a wink letting him know the man had been “rolled.” This was a regular occurrence in the Stingaree. He also told about the Railroad Coffeehouse, at the corner of Fifth and K. The bartender there dispensed “Stingaree Lightning.” bad liquor. After midnight, when it was illegal to sell liquor, the Coffeehouse did a good business selling “Coffee Royal” (coffee and whisky) for 15¢. This violation of law was winked at by authorities. The reporter saw no open gambling as it was a few days before an election. and the gamblers had been asked to lay off until after the election.


In 1888, it was said there were at least 120 bawdy houses within the city, and irate citizens complained this was going on at the sufferance of the authorities who were doing nothing to abate the nuisance.3 An occasional raid to close down one of the more notorious of the parlor houses or gambling establishments was carried on to give some appearance of law enforcement.

Among the gamblers who came to town during the Boom was Wyatt Earp, former lawman and refugee from the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Earp, while in San Diego, ran three gambling halls, one on Fourth across from the Plaza, and the others near Sixth and E, all in the “respectable” part of town. As a sideline, he acted as a referee for boxing matches. He was listed in the 1888 City Directory as a “Capitalist.”

In 1901 San Diego’s City Hall moved into the old Consolidated National Bank Building, on the southwest corner of Fifth and G. This fourstory building today is a locker club. San Diego business establishments had been moving north, until by 1900 the main business intersection was at Fifth and Broadway. As legitimate business moved north of Market, the peddlers of vice moved in. It was unsafe for any man (unless he was looking for trouble or excitement) to walk at night below Market. No “decent” woman would be seen in that part of town, even in the daytime. The identifiable ladies of the night seldom went beyond the “deadline,” Market Street, except in carriages hired by the Madam to transport her girls, all gussied up and looking very proper, around town to pass out their calling cards, much to the disgust of housewives who peered curiously through lace curtains at their fallen sisters.

It was not that there were no laws against prostitution, gambling, and other kinds of vice. The California Legislature as early as 1855 enacted the usual laws against lotteries, bookmaking and dice, and provided that keeping or residing in a house of ill fame was a misdemeanor. Nevertheless law enforcement officers throughout the country, and particularly in the west, regarded these vices as inevitable and impossible to eradicate. Thus, over the years, “restricted” districts came into being—an area in a city where vice was allowed to be carried on openly. As long as the “sinner” kept within the bounds of the restricted area and as long as there were no disturbances necessitating a call for the police, authorities kept a “hands off” policy. This was the case in San Diego. Over the years a restricted district, known as the Stingaree, or Stingaree Town, had gradually developed, and by 1912 was thriving and expanding, to the dismay of many citizens.

Just when the name Stingaree was first used to describe San Diego’s tenderloin district is unknown. From early newspaper accounts, it is learned there were some buildings on lower Fifth known as Stingaree Row or Stingaree Block. By 1881, however, they had fallen in disrepair and were causing considerable comment. In November of that year the Union reported that Stingaree Row was receiving an application of paint, soap and water; but in 1882 a citizen wrote to the editor complaining that the Stingaree Block was an eyesore to the community and a nuisance of flagrant character. Finally, in 1884, the old Stingaree Block was moved to a lot “near the court house.”4 It is possible that the name of this disreputable old building was later used to describe the entire area. In any event, the flats along San Diego’s waterfront were infested with Stingarees, a venomous fish with a whiplike tail capable of inflicting severe injury. Obviously those who patronized the Stingaree were likely to “get stung.”

Not much has been written historically about the goings on in the Stingaree, and its eventual demise. There are some amusing anecdotes, but very little factual information.


It was not a subject one wrote home about. No postcards were sent with a picture of a den of iniquity, signed “Wish you were here.” Old timers will acknowledge with a wink the existence of the Stingaree and of the painted ladies and China dolls, but of course anything they know about it is purely hearsay!

Shortly before his death in 1972 at the age of 91, Walter Bellon, the City Health Inspector who was responsible more than any other individual for cleaning up the Stingaree and the waterfront, made available to this writer his written memoirs. Bellon was born March 22, 1881, in Trenton, New Jersey. After a year of army service during the Spanish American War, he became a journeyman plumber. By a lucky chance, a San Diego newspaper came into his hands, and after reading about the climate in Southern California, he decided to leave the snow and heat of the east and go west. He arrived in San Diego in the winter, still wearing his fur hat. That was 1905, when San Diego was having one of its periodic building booms and the population had grown to all of 25,000. Bellon was employed immediately in his trade, and in 1909 became Plumbing Inspector for the City Health Department. Dr. Francis H. Mead was then Health Officer. The salary of the Health Officer, a part-time position, was $75 a month, and for years Bellon’s pay was $90 a month. This was during a time when the city often ran out of cash to pay salaries. City employees were paid in gold, but when the city coffers went dry, they were paid in checks which the banksthen cashed, after discounting them 10 percent.5

From Bellon we now have an excellent physical description of the Stingaree, and a revealing eye witness account of what went on there during the first years of this century. Perhaps no other person was in a position to know as much about the Stingaree and its operation as was Bellon.

A map drawn by Bellon shows the location, and describes the use, of many of the structures in the twelve block area designated by the Health Department as the Stingaree. These were the blocks bounded by First and Fifth, Market and K. However, the Redlight District, as defined by the Health Department, covered about 100 city blocks, including the Stingaree, and was bounded by the waterfront, F Street on the north, and 16th Street on the east. Nearly all of San Diego’s licensed saloons were within this district. Of course, within these boundaries were many respectable homes and businesses, and as previously noted, the City Hall itself was within the Redlight District.

The four blocks in the southwest corner of the Stingaree district—between Island, K, First and Third—were almost entirely occupied by Chinese, for their stores, homes, gambling rooms and opium dens. On the southwest corner of Third and Island was the Old Tub of Blood, a notorious saloon. Across the street, on the southeast corner, was the Seven Buckets of Blood, equally notorious. Just south of the Seven Buckets of Blood was the Green Light, a parlor house whose girls were a shade higher class than those who occupied the two rows of cribs which extended from Third to Fourth, along a courtway, and which were known as the Stables or Bullpen. Flanking these cribs, on the northeast corner of Third and J was Yankee Doodle Hall, and on the northwest corner of Fourth and J, the Pacific Squadron Hall. Upstairs over these halls were rooms, the entrances marked by red lights. On the southwest corner of Fourth and J was the Legal Tender Saloon. The rest of that block was occupied by Chinese. The single block bounded by Fourth, Fifth, J and K, at one time had 21 saloons.

On the northeast corner of Fourth and J was The Turf. a saloon with a “roominghouse” above. This high class parlor house was run by Mamie Goldstein. with the help of her Negro housekeeper, a Mrs. Williams, who was responsible for maintaining law and order. Later. the Madam at the Turf was Kate Clark.

On the west side of Fifth. between Island and J, in the middle of the block, was Pete Cassidy’s place, a two story brick building. Behind Cassidy’s, and running through to Fourth behind the Turf, was another compound of cribs, or stables. In the parlance of the Redlight District. stables or bullpens described rows of cribs facing on a courtyard, rather than having entrance from a street. In this compound were at least fifty rooms. Each girl paid $14 a week, plus a percentage of the take, for the privilege of doing business, and often a fee to the procurer who usually was the bouncer or “protector” of the compound.


Over the door of each crib was the name of the occupant, such as Rosie or Dolly. Often a good luck charm, such as a horseshoe tied with a faded ribbon, hung over the door. Inside the rooms on the walls could be seen plaster of Paris angels and cherubs, and often a copy of the Lord’s Prayer. In the daytime, as men passed the cribs on their way to work, the girls would “yahoo” at them. One man, trying to be sociable, said he’d be glad to stop but there were ten reasons why he could not, and one was that he had no money. The woman replied, “Then never mind the rest!”

Some of the better brick structures on Fifth housed the “all purpose” girls, those who were employed uptown during the day in dress shops. restaurants and offices, and then “moonlighted” on Saturday night.

The regular inmates of the Stingaree seldom left the district, and so messengers were used to deliver clothing and other necessities from the stores which were out of bounds for the girls. Messenger boys also were kept busy supplying food and liquor to the girls in the compounds. One of the residents, known as Dutch Annie, was an alcoholic, and every morning without fail a messenger was summoned to bring her a bottle. At meal times, messenger boys could be seen on their bicycles carrying trays of food into the Stingaree, usually from the Minneapolis Cafe, at Fifth and F. When the Redlight District was closed, the messenger companies suffered a noticeable drop in business.

San Diego’s most famous Madam was Ida Bailey who came to San Diego with the boomers of the Eighties. In 1887 the San Diego Sun reported that Ida Bailey and two other women had been arrested for the unlicensed selling of tanglefoot (booze).6 The San Diego Directory for 1889 lists Ida Bailey as residing at 253 Sixth Street, and a Mrs. W. E. Castle as “inmate of Ida Bailey’s.” By 1903 Ida Bailey had moved farther uptown to Canary Cottage, the most respectable of all parlor houses within the Stingaree. Located on the west side of Fourth, between Market and Island, it is described as being one-and-a-half stories, set well back on the lot, with a picket fence at the front. It was painted a faded yellow, hence its name. Two rubber trees close to the windows made a convenient exit in the event of a raid. Unfortunately, no photograph of Canary Cottage is known to exist.

In the daytime, Ida Bailey’s was a favorite haunt for the neighborhood children. She loved children and always. kept a supply of candy on hand for them. However, little boys were more welcome than little girls, who were shooed along home quite promptly.

She often engaged a barouche from the Diamond Carriage Company, with Dad Shigley as the driver, and she and some of her most attractive girls would drive about town for an airing (an excellent means of advertising).7 Alice Rainford, whose florist shop was at Fourth and C, recalled that Ida Bailey and her girls often stopped at her shop to buy flowers to carry with them on their jaunts about town.

Ida Bailey’s, like the better parlor houses, was run most decorously. Only the best of food and drink was served. Her girls were all well-dressed, used only light makeup, and were not allowed to smoke. Naturally, charges were higher than those in the lesser houses. The patrons were all “gentlemen” and expected to act the part. If any customer did or said anything out of line, he was asked to leave. A bouncer made sure he did so. Her patrons included many from the “best society,” well-known business and professional men, and political office-holders. The Canary Cottage was seldom raided, and then only for “window dressing,” after an advance warning. Once, by mistake, a warning was not given. and several prominent citizens had to make their getaway down the rubber trees and over the back fence.8

After Ida Bailey retired, the cottage was occupied by a woman and her two attractive daughters. Ida Bailey later lived for years near Second and G, not far from the Police Station. She was a familiar sight, an old lady shuffling down the street, who was pointed out to the uninitiated as San Diego’s famous former Madam. During her last years she lived in destitution. At Christmas, when baskets of food for the needy were given to firemen to distribute. they always made sure Ida Bailey received an especially well-filled one.

Bellon’s first duties as Plumbing Inspector took him throughout the city. The Health Department knew that many structures, not just in the Stingaree, were old and dated back to the 1870’s when the first buildings were erected in New Town. Many had no inside plumbing, were built close to the ground, and were infested with rats and vermin. The City Attorney had advised that condemnation suits might be lengthy and costly, but if the Health Department could show an existing danger to health, the case would be much easier to win, unless political pressure was brought to bear.

Bellon was assigned to this project and began laying the foundation for condemnation of many structures. Sometime in 1910, Dr. Mead asked him about conditions on lower Fifth and in the Stingaree, and said, “Walter, the town folks are talking about a World’s Fair to be held here, and want to make the town attractive for the tourists who will come. The Board of Health wants the Stingaree district cleaned up, and also the waterfront.”

Dr. Mead claimed to have no first-hand knowledge of the Stingaree. In fact he had never visited it, but he had heard enough about it to know this task would be a dangerous and perhaps impossible one. He told Bellon other departments of the city had tried to clean up the Stingaree but had always given up, and the City Attorney had made attempts to crack down on vice in the area, but his investigations were hampered by local thugs, and by politics. After all, the Stingaree represented business, lucrative business, especially for those owning the land, and improvements such as they were. Among the absentee landlords were some of San Diego’s most influential citizens, and for a city official to tangle with these owners was complete suicide. Furthermore, the true owners of much of the property in the Stingaree could not be identified by public record.

After Bellon acknowledged a willingness to undertake the cleanup as his special project, a mission that would take the better part of six years, Dr. Mead cautioned him about the physical danger that would confront him, and suggested he have a bodyguard. Bellon was young and confident he could handle any situation that might come up and would not need protection. He had learned to defend himself in the army, and “could swing a wicked right, and a left that carried T.N.T.” Before coming to San Diego, he had learned to hold his own against the tactics of the strong-arm men then employed in the building trades in the east.

In Bellon’s words:

With that background of basic experience, I made my first inspection in the Stingaree and Chinatown. Those who lived there did not like cops, or anyone with authority who carried a badge. The Police Department was very small and could only police those sections of the city where the public demanded it. For obvious reasons, the police were not often called into the Stingaree—the residents there preferred to settle problems in their own way. Chinatown did not need protection, nor the waterfront. They had their own code of ethics. Hoodlums and bouncers were everywhere, keeping an eye out for anyone who might mean trouble.

I entered one of the compounds in back of Cassidy’s saloon, where twenty or more cribs were located, one story in height, board and batten construction. On a busy evening ladies were there to greet you, usually two females to a crib. When one was employed, the other was out looking up business. When I made my appearance, two shoulder-holster men blocked my entrance and ordered me out, saying, “No one permitted, these are private grounds.” I introduced myself (as if they didn’t know) and explained that after I had made a complete survey of the entire district, health recommendations would follow. We were interested only in how people were living, not in what they were doing. Then I quoted the law and pressed on. As I walked, eyes peered from doorways and small windows, and watched as I walked through and out into the street.

That same afternoon the papers played up the story of the Health Department’s crusade, and told when I would be walking my beat. So it was no surprise when I entered several compounds surrounded by cribs in Chinatown, that no one was around. The Chinese were avoiding me as if I had smallpox. Every morning when I turned the corner at Third and Island there were at least fifty Chinese on the street, but in 30 seconds they would disappear completely.

The cribs next to the Greenlight and along J Street were called the Stables, because they resembled stalls. They were built in a long row facing a compound, one opening leading to each room, furnished with a bed and chair or two. Water was carried from a lone faucet outside. Other resorts in that neighborhood were buildings of better construction. but the women housed in better quarters demanded higher pay.

The owners of the shanties and cribs did not believe what the news accounts said, but instead waited to see if the authorities were again bluffing and in time would drift back into their swivel chairs at the City Hall.

When the purpose of my activity was understood and that it was to better living conditions, very few of the residents objected, as all agreed that something had to be done to correct the lack of toilet and other plumbing necessities. The Chinese finally began to appear on the streets more often when I walked by. I tried to extend a friendly glance when I could, and at times ate in their restaurants and made small purchases in their stores. The first to break the ice were some orientals who worked uptown in laundries and restaurants. Finally I was invited into their living quarters and into gambling halls. I watched them draw their lotteries. The sale of tickets was large. But at no time did they ever ask me to play. Their habits were never questioned by the Health Department. It did not concern me, in fact it was none of my official business. Many times I watched those who had the opium habit make and smoke their “pills” and then slumber. I never saw opium smoked in a gambling parlor. Occasionally I would see a girl from the Stables enjoying a smoke with the Chinese across the street. Only two Chinese ever showed open antagonism to me. One was a woman, one of the few Chinese women living in the district. She showed her contempt by revealing a blade hidden in her flowing sleeve. The blade could have cut me down. I could have arrested her, but that would have shown weakness on my part, a loss of face, so I ignored her.

During those days of slum eradication, I kept up my rifle, pistol, and shotgun practice. The scores of the San Diego Rifle Club were published regularly, and often I led the field, so I made sure the scores were read and comments made on my marksmanship. I believe this was very helpful.

Early architects in San Diego seemed to favor inside rooms. with an unventilated light shaft, or they just built walls leaving out the windows. Many inside rooms in Chinatown were like ratholes, without light or ventilation. The beds consisted of a few planks, with a thin layer of matting and a round wooden headrest. Mattresses were rarely used. Several carbon dioxide tests were made in rooms while an oriental was sleeping. Any normal person entering a room with such a high percentage of impure air would strangle and stagger out in a hurry. Yet these orientals lived to a ripe old age.

After several of my notices were supposed to have been complied with in respect to light and ventilation for inside rooms, I made a return inspection, and much to my surprise I found the skylights painted black and the louvers sealed with canvas, reverting back to the same old condition. One Chinaman said, “I fix um just likee law. This way I like. Now, letee Chinaboy lon”

Bellon liked and admired many of the Chinese, especially Ah Quin, known as the “Mayor” of Chinatown. Ah Quin arrived in San Diego about 1879. When the railroad was laid from National City to San Bernardino, he supervised hundreds of coolies in the construction of the roadbed. They loved and trusted him. He lived in the heart of Chinatown, at Third and J, with his large family, where he operated a restaurant. Bellon met Ah Quin on one of his first inspection trips to Chinatown. When Ah Quin learned of Bellon’s mission, he offered to help, and much of the success of the Health Department’s cleanup of Chinatown was due to his cooperation. Ah Quin worked hard, never interfered with the business of others, and had the respect of all San Diego businessmen. His life was brought to a tragic end suddenly in 1914 when he was struck and killed by a motorcycle at Third and J. When he died, he was one of the wealthiest Chinese in the south. According to Bellon, “Ah Quin was a living example of good citizenship, thrift and integrity, and did not indulge in the accepted traffic of his community.” Police Chief Keno Wilson said of Ah Quin, “He was without exception the finest Chinaman I have known.”9

The gambling habits of the Chinese were open. and largely conducted in Chinatown, on J between Second and Third. with lottery drawings held at the main gambling room on J. Lottery tickets were distributed city wide. Housewives uptown were the best customers, buying lottery tickets from their vegetablemen.10

One of the products sold in the Chinese stores was “soupe,” a large white pill, about one inch in diameter, containing a minute part of opium and not in violation of the narcotics law. This “soupe” was used by the Chinese as a basic ingredient for a good bowl of soup. It was supposed to add spice and pleasure to the meal. During a raid on one of the wholesale stores in Chinatown, these pills seemed of special interest to the Customs and Narcotics Inspectors.11

Small amounts of opium were not illegal, to sell or own. One incident reported by Bellon involved Sam, a shoe repairman at Fifth and J, who wanted to make a few dollars and yet stay within the bounds of the law. Word got around that Sam was selling small cans of opium at the bargain price of $5.00. Upon examination, the contents turned out to be blackstrap molasses. It seems the purchasers were more eager to make a cheap purchase and leave quickly than to open the can and check its aroma. Sam was quietly ordered to close his opium trade and stick to mending shoes.12

According to Bellon, the philosophy in the Stingaree was, “It is not what you do, it is what you get caught at that counts.”

Although the police were seldom called into the Stingaree, firemen often were. With so many buildings close together, and built of clapboard, there was always the danger of fire, frequently caused by exploding oil heaters. The fire alarm box in the Stingaree was Number 23. One reporter, who fancied himself a poet, filed this account of a fire in the Stingaree:

Ah! Stingaree!
It didn’t mean skidoo
It meant skid to.
The wise ones all rushed to Third and J
They knew where the alarm came from
Big crowd. Great disappointment.
No modest, shrinking females in fluffy lingerie
No graceful curves outlined through skintight silk hose.
Scene: A shack. Cause: Explosion of gasoline stove.
Damage: Five Dollars. Time: 7:12 P.M. 13

During the first decade of this century, other cities in California, including Los Angeles, had been forced under pressure from citizens’ committees to close their “restricted” districts, and this was causing a noticeable increase in population in San Diego’s Stingaree. In 1912 it was believed there were more than 100 women in the district, many living in the bullpens and cribs which were among the few remaining relics of penlight architecture. The others were in Parlor Houses and rooming houses.14 Although the Health Department was meeting with a measure of success in requiring property owners to bring structures up to minimum standards, nothing had been done about the use being made of the buildings. And so another “clean up” campaign began. This time citizens banded together as a Vice Suppression Committee, or Purity League, as it was dubbed, led by Rev. L.A. DeJarnett, pastor of University Heights Christian Church; Rev. William E. Crabtree, pastor of Central Christian Church; and several prominent women. including Dr. Charlotte Baker, one of San Diego’s first women physicians and a leader in the fight for women’s suffrage in California. Although active members numbered only about a dozen, more than 200 prominent residents signed a petition asking that the Redlight District and the “hell hole” that was the Stingaree be closed. The Panama-California Exposition would open in 1915, and the eyes of the world would be on San Diego. Now was the time to insist that the authorities do something. The committee demanded action, not promises.

On October 2, 1912. the Union reported that members of the Vice Suppression Committee had been conferring with the police to “slam the lid on the Stingaree.” Their cause did not meet with any enthusiasm on the part of the department. In fact, it was the contention of the police that they had the denizens of the district well in hand, knew where they were and what they were doing, and were in perfect control of the situation. If the district were closed, they would no longer have that control. Police Chief Keno Wilson expressed confidence that if the district were closed the women would scatter throughout the town.15 Chief Wilson, who joined the Police force in 1899, was convinced from his years of experience that he knew what was best for San Diego. Furthermore, he said no action would be taken until some assurance was given for the welfare of the women. Captain of Detectives Jack Myers was quoted: “These people of the redlight district must have a chance, and we will not drive them out without having a place where they can go.”16 Money would be needed to help those who had no other means of support, and could not pay for transportation out of town.

As a result, the Vice Suppression Committee offered the use of the Door of Hope, a home for fallen women first opened in 1898 at 1243 Front Street, and which had recently moved to City Heights.17 They were confident the Door of Hope would be the answer for those who would agree to reform. The committee would do its best to rehabilitate the women and find jobs for them.18

When the Union, on October 14, came out with the headline, “All Stingaree to be Door of Hope Guests,” it was flooded with letters of protest—no one wanted this kind of Door of Hope in his neighborhood! Property owners in City Heights held an indignation meeting at Fairmount Hall.19 When the Board of Supervisors pledged $125 a month to the Door of Hope, members of a church sent a petition to the Board, protesting the pledge, and said they did not want the Door of Hope in their supervisorial district. They also claimed the money could be better used in road improvements—the women would not reform anyway.20

One letter to the Editor of the Union, signed Common Sense, asked:

Why have preachers and the Purity Union undertaken to dictate the community morals? Personally. I am indifferent whether the Red Light District is closed. Why stir up all this strife and talk about opening a home for prostitutes in a respectable part of town? It is my opinion that the majority of citizens of San Diego are satisfied with the existing conditions. . . . 21

Other letters urged that the city license its prostitutes within a restricted district, thus getting right back to where the argument started.

Another letter came from one of the denizens of the night, a resident of the Stingaree:

The Door of Hope is going to be a beautiful place. The name alone would keep me away. I say every woman in this district is just where she wants to be. We don’t need anyone to reform us.22

Other letters ridiculed the Purity League and said it wanted to “whitewash” the district.23

This time. however, the Vice Suppression Committee, with its impressive list of leading citizens, pulled enough weight and influence that Superintendent of Police John L. Sehon finally gave the order to Chief of Police Wilson to close the Redlight District. Sehon had served as Mayor of San Diego from 1905 to 1907, and so he well knew where the political clout lay.

Early in the morning on Sunday, November 10, messenger boys were seen scurrying around the district, knocking on doors. Some women took advantage of the warning and hurried to the train station with hastily packed bags, but most paid no attention. It was all just a scare tactic. Nevertheless, they dressed in their best and waited to see what would happen.24

Promptly at 8 a.m., Chief Wilson, with thirty patrolmen, and a full detective force, surrounded the area and blocked all the crib yards, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, and warned the women they would have to come to headquarters immediately, under guard and in the patrol wagons. The first place of call for the patrol wagon was the Oasis, at 416 Fourth, where four women and six men were taken aboard and hurried to the station. The men were released without booking after proving they were strangers to the area. A large crowd of men gathered on the corners to watch the action. The women were good natured as they piled into the wagons, and laughed and joked as if they were going on a picnic.25

While the raid was going on, Sgt. Witherbee was on the phone at police headquarters trying to notify the members of the Vice Suppression Committee that the raid was on and tell them to come to headquarters. Not one could be reached. No one answered the phone!26


It took a considerable time to round up all the women and get them to Police Headquarters, at 732 Second Street (now the headquarters for the U.S. Navy Shore Patrol). By that time, Mrs. F. W. Alexander, a member of the Committee, appeared, and when all the women were assembled, she explained that it was not the Committee’s intention to coerce them in any way. It only hoped to be able to bring some happiness into their lives, and to help them reform. She was listened to respectfully, and in silence. Then the women laughed. joked, smoked. Cigarettes, and asked for breakfast as none had eaten. The police provided them with coffee and ham sandwiches.

Caught in the raid were 138 women. They were questioned, one at a time, in Chief Wilson’s office. The Chief sat at a table in the center of the room with some of his officers, Deputy City Attorney D.F. Glidden, and an immigration officer. After questioning, each woman was released to go home and pack to be ready to leave on Monday. Many refused to give their names or former addresses. Those who did probably gave false names, and many were obviously lying. One woman willing to talk gave her story:

I am 28 years of age and would be glad to quit the sporting life if you could find a job which would enable me to earn enough to meet my expenses. I have a crippled mother and a young sister to support…. I once worked as a hairdresser and as a clerk in a store but the wages were not enough to keep me alone…. I saw one of your Committee this morning and the way she looked at me and the others put me in mind of what could be expected if any of us undertook to reform on your terms. She walked past us holding her skirts away and looking as if she expected to be contaminated by breathing the same air with us.27

Another young woman confessed she was the mother of a little boy in school in Sacramento, and that her earnings went to support him.

A sweet faced young girl said she was alone in the world and was trying to make her own way. Her manner appealed to the sympathy of those in the room, but she refused the assistance of the Committee and chose to go her own way in some other place.

A girl who gave her name as Clara Doe said she began her career when she was fifteen. She was goodlooking, well dressed, and said she was well satisfied with her way of life. Another said she had been in her present life only six months, and that she was ready to return to the “upper” side. She said she was a graduate nurse. Chief Wilson offered her a job in a local hospital, but she said she would try to find work in Los Angeles.

None of the women attributed their downfall to the cruel ravages of the world. None cried, or asked for pity.

Most of the women claimed to have been born in 1888. Wilson believed they were stating that year to avoid being classed as juveniles. Hardly any admitted to being more than 30. Most were new residents, having come to San Diego within the last few months.

Among those arrested were four Japanese women, who were held for deportation, and one Chinese who declared her intent to leave. There were a number of Negro women, all of whom said they would leave town, except onewho agreed to reform. This woman, from New Orleans, and a white woman, were the only two who accepted the offer of aid from the reform committee. The sanity of the white woman was in doubt as she had recently been in a lunatic asylum.

Chief Wilson later remarked that most of these women would go to Los Angeles, which had already closed its red light district, and so

Why will not women who are run out of other cities not come to San Diego? We may drive out the women already here but others will come, and l see no means of preventing it. We will try to prevent their spreading to other parts of the city, but other cities have found that impossible.29

Wilson believed the fact that only two of the 138 women offered to reform was proof that they would not reform.

On Monday morning the women lined up in rows of five or more before Justice of the Peace George Puterbaugh. Shelley J. Higgins, Assistant City Attorney, prosecuted. The women were charged with vagrancy, a misdemeanor, under the Penal Code section which provided that, “Every common prostitute is a vagrant.”30 Judge Puterbaugh fined each $100, and suspended the fine on condition they leave town forthwith. “Forthwith” meant by the three o’clock train that afternoon.

By afternoon there was an exodus of women out of the Stingaree and to the train station. Most bought tickets for Los Angeles, a few for cities farther away. Of those who were going to Los Angeles, almost without exception they bought round trip tickets. Preparations to leave had been quickly made, few had more personal belongings than could be carried in one suitcase. Los Angeles Police Chief Sebastian was forewarned of the trainload of women likely to descend on hts city. He was quoted as saying: “The city is open to them as long as they behave.” However, he was taking no chances. An order was quickly made placing plainclothesmen at every station where the train from San Diego stopped to discharge passengers. As the women alighted, the men mingled with them to learn their plans and to take note of where they went to live.31

By evening, Wilson estimated that at least half of the women had left town. Monday night the Stingaree was dark with only a dim light burning here and there indicating the presence of some solitary woman packing the last of her effects. However, Wilson was careful to point out, “The fact remains that while the places were dark last night, and the women gone from there, about half of them are still in the city.”

The action taken by the police department was well known in advance. Many “Jane Doe” warrants had been issued in anticipation of the raid. In view of the advance warning, it was surprising so many women were caught in the raid. Some had already left town, or moved into rooming houses uptown in the few weeks before, when it became apparent to all that the closing of the district was inevitable. In the week before the raid, Chief Wilson arrested four women of the Stingaree in a rooming house north of Broadway. Prior to the agitation for the closing of the district, there was no need to watch houses in the residential sections of the city, as the women were not known to cross the “deadline.”32

After the raid, Wilson assigned six plainclothesmen to check on the expected move of the women to other parts of town.

That I do not agree with the advisability of the step taken has nothing to do with the situation. it is true that there is a state law behind the closing of such places. Therefore they are closed and will remain so until such time as the law permits them to open, if they ever do.33

Newspaper conjecture as to the reason behind the raid was that it was made to thwart further friction and legal complications. or for political reasons. There were those who believed the closing of the Stingaree was a political move, and the victims were supposed to be John L. Sehon and Chief Keno Wilson. These critics claimed, “The known agitators are believed to be sincere, but are being used as pawns by unseen hands in the game of politics.”34

The editorial pages of the Union had been silent while all the agitation was going on. But on Tuesday, November 12, an editorial, under the heading, “The Vice District Closed,” stated:

There is much difference of opinion in this city in reference to the closing of what is known as the redlight district for several months there has been vigorous agitation for the complete closing of the redlight district it appears to be a sort of unwritten law in most cities that discretion may be liberally exercised in carrying into effect enactments relating to the vicious classes that is to say, the police power has been exerted to restrict and regulate evils which many persons deem impossible to suppress….

Here in San Diego the plan of restriction and regulating has been followed during many years and the district has been held in close restriction, but public opinion has demanded that total suppression should take place of regulation, and the redlight district has been summarily closed.

From newspaper accounts, it is apparent the official closing of the Redlight District did not meet with universal enthusiasm. Small businesses and restaurants in the downtown area which had catered to sailors and Stingaree residents complained of lack of business. and blamed it on the Purity League. Prostitution had been the lifeblood of the Stingaree, and with the women gone, many of the bars and places of revelry were forced to close. As a result, San Diego became unpopular as a liberty port for the Navy. In May of 1913, men on board several warships voted 797 for San Francisco as their liberty port to only 17 for San Diego, and so the ships remained only overnight. The year before, San Diego had been the most popular liberty port on the West Coast. but now the ships could not leave fast enough to suit their men35

In reply to the sailors’ complaint of lack of entertainment, Dr. Charlotte Baker of the Purity League said that if only the League would be notified when ships were due in, it would provide recreation for the men by arranging a dance in a public hall. Young ladies. and chaperoned. would be provided. It is doubtful if the Purity League’s offer was ever accepted!

Just as Chief Wilson had predicted, the women who remained moved to other parts of town, and then called themselves “hostesses.” In Mission Hills it was noted that single women were renting homes and doing an unusual amount of entertaining. Detectives knew that a string of houses were operating along El Cajon Boulevard, then an unpaved stretch leading to La Mesa. When the East San Diego City Hall was dedicated in 1913, the beer that was used to celebrate had been confiscated from some houses that had recently been raided.36

As cities throughout California were closing their restricted districts, the police were finding it difficult to enforce the’ laws having to do with prostitution. Most arrests and convictions were for vagrancy, a minor charge. Finally enough pressure was brought to bear on the state legislature that in 1913 the Redlight Abatement Act was passed. The act declared that all buildings and places wherein ants of lewdness, assignation, or prostitution took place, or which were used for such purposes, were a public nuisance, and provided that such nuisance could be abated by injunction. The real clincher, however, was that an abatement order could be made closing a building for one year. Now the law had some teeth in it. It applied to the building itself, and not to the occupants alone. At last the owner was made aware that not only could he be arrested, and fined or imprisoned, but his income could be cut off for a year should his building fall under the basement act.37

According to Bellon, the Redlight Abatement Act came directly on the heels of the Health Department’s sanitary crusade in the Stingaree. There was a mad rush on the part pf owners to remove suspicion. However, a few places remained wide open.

Sometime after the Redlight Abatement Act went into effect, two state officers charged with enforcing the new law came to San Diego to look over the situation here. By that time the Stingaree was fairly well vacated of its girls because there were very few places left for them to live and carry on their profession. They had flocked uptown. Bellon was asked to give the state officers some addresses so they could carry on their work. He told them of a few places he knew were still operating. One was a rooming house on Fifth, across from the City Hall. It was well known that the rooms upstairs were being run as a Parlor House by an elderly Madam whose girls ran the gamut in nationalities. According to Bellon, this building became the first in San Diego to be closed under the Redlight Abatement Act, and after this one success, the state officers left town.38

The flight of the women out of the Stingaree and the Redlight District did not end the work of the Health Department. The buildings remained, were put to other uses, or were allowed to rot and deteriorate. The Health Department, after all, was concerned with the condition of the buildings, not with what went on inside.

Bellon informed Dr. Alfred E. Banks, who had succeeded Dr. Mead as Hea1th Officer, that there were many buildings that should be destroyed, and requested permission to set fire to thirteen buildings at the foot of Eighth Street, near the railroad tracks. Bellon advised Dr. Banks he was sure the owners of the buildings would put up no objection—they would not want their names in the papers. Notices were posted in accordance with the law, and at the hour set for the conflagration the fire department was on hand. A crowd gathered to watch, wondering if the city officials actually would carry out their threat. All the occupants had been moved out, some of the aged having been taken to the County Hospital to be cared for. Every detail had been carefully considered. Just as Bellon started across the railroad tracks to apply the torch, a blaze appeared in the rear of one of the buildings, and in a minute the entire nest was an inferno. Dr. Banks and the Board of Health breathed a sigh of relief, for they could not be blamed for an act they did not do. It was evident that Bellon had not started the blaze; as a matter of fact, he was as surprised as anyone. He never found out who applied the torch, but it was well-timed.

The precedent of demolition by tire thus was established, and the Health Department felt confident it could proceed in the same manner on other buildings, especially those along the waterfront.

In the meantime, the Chinese in Chinatown were ordering new plumbing installations. Toilets and sinks started to be installed. Inside rooms were lade to comply with minimum requirements. The cribs facing J between Third and Fourth began to tumble, the owners doing this themselves. Indeed, a general cleanup throughout the area by the owners was evident. Old hopper water closets and foul smelling wooden sinks were removed in large numbers. Cesspools under kitchen floors were filled with earth. Old “leantos” were ripped down, and a general compliance with health department orders was observed.

Bellon served notices of condemnation on owners of many buildings, but often it was several months before they decided the Health Department meant business. One owner, a woman who owned a half block of tenement buildings, threw up her hands in horror when Bellon told her the buildings were about to be demolished. She professed not to know their use, or condition, and wanted to know how he knew she was the owner of the property. Other landlords decided to remove the structures themselves. One wrecking contractor who took the job for the lumber in the buildings, later told Bellon he had never in his life seen such a place as the wreckage revealed.

When the cribs behind the Yankee Doodle and Pacific Squadron were being torn down, a few workmen claimed that silver was found beneath the floors. One workman uncovered 250 beer bottles, which he sold for 30 cents a dozen across the street. It was said another workman found a cache of valuables, put on his coat and left his job in a hurry. The police were aware that there were caches of illicit drugs and liquors hidden in the Stingaree. Detectives, when seeking a suspect, were often puzzled by the fact that their quarry seemed to disappear as if by magic once he entered the Fourth Street entrance to the enclave. It is certain he found refuge in blind rooms in the back of the two rows of cribs.

As the cleanup progressed, the Health Department began receiving anonymous letters and phone calls threatening Bellon’s life. Dr. Banks was worried, and so was Chief Wilson. Wilson finally insisted that Bellon not travel alone. Bellon says,

So one morning when I entered my office, there stood Walter Weymouth and Reg Townsend, both over six feet tall and over 200 pounds. Weymouth said, “From now on we are travelling together.” I said, “Things can’t be that bad!”

Nevertheless, from then on, Bellon was accompanied everywhere be his two burly bodyguards, both highly respected police officers, and they became good friends. Townsend. a Negro, was one of San Diego’s first black police officers.

Meanwhile, the Chinese in Chinatown had been carrying on “business as usual” so far as gambling was concerned. Finally the police department decided it had better do something, and so on August 15, 1915 one of the largest gambling raids in Chinatown took place. Walter Weymouth and Reg Townsend, Bellon’s bodyguards, were among the officers who led the raid. With search warrants in pocket and axes in hand, the police assembled at Third and J, and before the lookouts in front of the gambling establishments knew what was happening, their signal ropes were grabbed from their hands and the doors shattered by axes. Police then surrounded the surprised players. while others covered the alleys, barring exits. As police closed in, the Chinese started running in every direction. Although the officers thought they had barricaded every door, the Chinese, as if by a miracle, disappeared into secret doors. About fifty escaped in this manner. Fifty may have escaped, but 49 were carted off in the paddy wagon to the city jail. Within minutes, Tom Kay. then “Mayor” of Chinatown, arrived and bailed out all his countrymen. At $10 a head, the cost was $490.00. Most of the places raided were Fan Tan houses located on J, between Second and Third.39

When the time came for the Health Department to tear down the shacks in Chinatown, the question arose concerning where the displaced Chinese could be housed. “Many of these families are very good Chinese.” Bellon said when interviewed by a reporter, “and we don’t know what to do with them. We have now sixty buildings in all that should be torn down, but I think on account of their families, we can’t destroy more than forty at present….However, when the Health Department has finished, old Chinatown will be a vacant field, and the accumulations of years will be wiped out.”

When razing a shack in the rear of an old Chinese tenement on Second, between J and K, Bellon found under the floor 51 cans of opium. “Enough dark goo was found in each to float anyone to a most glamorous and satisfying feeling.” Then the Customs men arrived and picked up a few opium pipe bowls with the stems missing. a small rubber hose having been substituted. By using only the bowl with the rubber hose. it could be hidden quickly in a pocket.

One of the last buildings to be razed under Bellon’s direction in the Stingaree was the Old Tub of Blood, a one-story shanty at Third and I. On October 2, 1915, the San Diego Sun reported its demise:

There are still many old-timers here who will recall the Old Tub of Blood as vividly as if it were yesterday. As the wormeaten timbers came down, one upon another, in the ruins of the old redlight district marking the passing of one of the most wretched relics of Stingaree days, there were many little reminiscences exchanged regarding the “then and now” of night life in San Diego. The Tub of Blood was the center of all-night debauchery 25 years ago. Drunken sailors from windjammers then in the harbor settled their grudges there. Sometimes it was with their fists, at other times with knives, even revolvers. Strong-arm men, who would slug a tenderfoot for a too-bit piece, made it their rendezvous. Hopheads crazed with their drugs, and painted women, hysterical and disheveled from drink, fought out their battles in the vile smelling arena…. The Health Board’s campaign in Chinatown and the old Stingaree is going through with a rush. Many old landmarks of the early days in San Diego are falling below the axe. But none with more real “history” attached to it than the Old Tub of Blood which went down today, and which is now only a memory.

While buildings in the Stingaree were falling, the Health Department was also working on the waterfront. Some of the persons driven out of the Stingaree had taken refuge in waterfront shacks. The Health Department served 83 notices on tideland owners that their buildings were unfit for human habitation, and unless removed the city would destroy them by fire, as the wood was too infested to be reused. The tenants were told if they refused to vacate they would be arrested. Those who were ill were removed to the County Hospital, including Crawfish Charley who had lived on the waterfront for almost thirty years. The Associated Charities offered its assistance, but was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the relief necessary to help the evacuees, and requested contributions from concerned citizens. The city estimated at least 80 shacks would have to be burned before the waterfront could be given a clean bill of health, but when the work was completed, the hiding places for criminals, smugglers of opium and cocaine, and other undesirables would be wiped out. City Attorney Cosgrove had given assurance that the Health Board was well within the law in destroying the unsanitary, vermin-infested buildings that were a menace to the public health.

The area east of the ferry landing and extending beyond the Fifth Street pier was cleared of the many shacks over the mud flats. Then the waterfront from Market to Laurel received attention. A new Municipal Pier was to be built at the foot of Broadway. However, when Bellon posted notices on some of the buildings near the foot of Market, including the “Cozy Cottage,” the campaign to rid the city of the waterfront shanties hit a snag—politics. According to Bellon:

We were challenged by men high in the business and political world. Citizens who were the loudest in the demands for a clean city and to rid the city of its shacks were now my enemies. A large number teamed up one morning and entered the Council Chambers and demanded my dismissal.

The protestors were not successful, however, and work went on. Bellon tells about the day when these buildings were finally destroyed:

The Cozy Cottage was constructed on pilings out over low tide, with a boardwalk connecting the building to the beach. It could easily be seen a mile up H [Market] Street. It did not need a sign to advertize its wares, because it was well known for its supercharged females. These girls liked money, also men if they went together. When this group of buildings was posted. the tenants moved uptown. When the final day came. a Saturday afternoon, the fire department arrived early, and my wrecking crew of three men, with crowbars, sledge hammers and other heavy equipment, was on hand. The day and hour when we were to start our destruction was always kept a secret. However, it did not take long for a crowd to gather. I entered a room in Cozy Cottage to make sure no drunks were around and ‘that nothing of value remained. A five gallon can of kerosene gave me the fuel needed for a surefire flame. A match was applied to the oil on the floor and in a few seconds the flames encircled the entire building. Then a match was applied to the next building. and flames leaped to the sky and the heat drove all back to a safe distance.

The sailors on board the Ohio and the Wisconsin, naval ships lying in the harbor, thought the whole town was on fire. Three boatloads of anxious sailors landed to form a bucket brigade to tight the flames. They received thanks. and explanations, and then returned to their ships.

The Fire Department was playing a stream into the glowing mass, the hose line stopping traffic to the ferry wharf. Crowds from the streetcars augmented the throng already on the scene. Automobiles stopped, and traffic was blocked.

All of a sudden a prominent man appeared. claiming ownership of the next building slated for destruction. He was accompanied by his attorney. They threatened me with everything from arson to highway robbery if I touched his building. Nevertheless, when the crew could get close enough to the next building, they started to work. It was a one room, frontier style structure, with a square front, and was to be razed, not fired, because other buildings were too close. Long crowbars were forced between the front and the sides. and as pressure was applied, over toppled the entire face of the building. To my amazement, and to the crowd’s, there stood a beautiful copper still, all intact and workable. The owner of this building, and his attorney, turned and fled uptown as fast as they could go. The legal threats vanished with them. I had entered this old shack several times. Two aged men were its tenants. I did not notice any false partitions because every opening on the outer face was duplicated on the inner partition. One door and one window, boarded up tight, were a perfect camouflage. Who was profiting from this well concealed whisky machine? The papers did not carry the story about the still. I know why. The remaining nest of shacks melted as the days went by.

One of the buildings located at the foot of Market, just opposite the Cozy Cottage, was the Seaman’s Rest, operated by the Floating Society of San Diego, a work of the Christian Endeavor, organized in 1893 for the purpose of “spreading the gospel by Godfearing seamen across the sea and into every land.” At that time it offered the lonely sailor a place to go as an alternative to the Stingaree. Its launch, The Evangel, set out whenever a new ship arrived in the harbor. Sometimes its missionaries were invited aboard; often they were turned back, but never in discouragement. The Seaman’s Rest, in addition to its soul-saving purpose, offered a clean, home-like atmosphere where sailors could read, write their letters home, and enjoy a social hour with young ladies from various churches who provided coffee and refreshments. When the waterfront was cleared, it was forced to close. The Seaman’s Rest, an island in a sea of temptation, should be remembered as San Diego’s first “U.S.O.”

The Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park, which had been five years in the planning and had given the impetus to the cleanup of the Stingaree and the waterfront, opened on January 1, 1915. Now there was a different kind of entertainment at the Fair for the sailors who had complained there was “nothing to do” in San Diego since the Stingaree had closed. In addition to the circus-like shows offered in the Isthmus, the fun zone of the Fair, officials of the Exposition made sure that upon the arrival of every naval vessel the men aboard would be made to feel welcome at a ball arranged in the Plaza de Panama. The fair also brought mixed blessings to San Diego. Chief Wilson complained that since the Fair opened San Diego was overrun with “immoral” women. Besides the uninvited women who came to town, there was a continual stream of politicians, high-ranking military officers, and other distinguished visitors whom city officials escorted around town, proudly pointing out its attributes. When former President Theodore Roosevelt visited in July, 1915, San Diego went all out to entertain him. After visiting the Exposition, which he declared was “bully,” he was given a tour of the city, including the waterfront then undergoing its cleanup by the Health Department. Upon departing, Roosevelt said: “I hope that you of San Diego, whose city is just entering on a great period of development, will recognize what so many old communities have failed to recognize, that beauty is not only well worthwhile for its own sake, but it is valuable commercially. Keep your waterfront, and develop it so it may add to the beauty of your city.”40

The greater part of the Health Board’s cleanup terminated in 1916. Between 1912 and 1916 Bellon supervised the removal of 120 structures in the Stingaree, and condemned more than 500 inside rooms in the old Redlight District. This was in addition to the work along the waterfront. When Bellon no longer needed protection, Officers Weymouth and Townsend returned to their original posts of duty. One night, while Weymouth was on duty near the waterfront, someone shot him in the stomach. When he recovered, he resigned from the force and left town. Bellon had left Weymouth only a few minutes before he was shot, and was convinced the shot was intended for him. He and Weymouth were frequently mistaken for each other. Reg Townsend remained with the police department until 1919.

By the time his work came to an end, Bellon could claim with satisfaction, “The waterfront had been cleaned up, the Stingaree had been wiped out, Chinatown had almost disappeared, and minimum health standards had been met. The Redlight District officially was no more—the trade had spread all over town.”

In 1922 Bellon resigned from the Health Department and went into the plumbing contracting business. This did not, however, end his public service. He served as a member of the Board of Supervisors from 1937 until 1944, and was Chairman of the Board for three years. It was while he was a member of the board of Supervisors that the City-County Administration Building was built on the waterfront, on tidelands he had cleared of shacks some years before. After his retirement from the Health Department, he wrote his “memoirs,” believing that some day, when a long enough time had elapsed, his story could be told.

As for Keno Wilson, politics forced his removal as Police Chief in January, 1917, and he resigned from the force a month later. He had served on the force since 1899, and as Chief of Police since 1909. In December, 1917, he was reinstated as a police patrolman, and remained until his retirement in 1926. For 26 years he served his city well. Keno Wilson was one of the last of the legendary lawmen of the west. Handsome to look at, six-feet-four in height, slender, with a regal bearing, he was the idol of many a small boy, and when he rode his horse at the head of a parade all eyes were on him. San Diegans admired and trusted their Chief of Police. His integrity and good faith were never questioned. Wilson’s attitude toward the closing of the redlight district is not to his discredit, but reflected the opinion of most lawmen of that time. His prediction that the closing of the restricted district meant the spreading of prostitution throughout the town proved to be correct.

During World War I, when military camps were established in Balboa Park and on the Kearney mesa. the military authorities took the place of the Purity League in demanding that the city rid itself of known houses of prostitution and keep “a clean environment” around the camps. In 1917, San Diego’s controversial Mayor Louis Wilde made a tour of the old Stingaree district, and then said he was satisfied with what he saw, but he would not hesitate to personally lead as many raids as necessary to keep the city in its normal condition of “moral cleanliness.”41

After the war came Prohibition, with its speak-easies scattered around town, many used as covers for prostitution. Later in the 1930’s prostitution and gambling flourished but was largely confined south of Broadway. Today, if members of the Purity League could return, they would be shocked to see the large number of “X” rated movies, pornographic bookstores and peep shows, the Go-Go bars advertising “complete nudity,” and the proliferation of “massage” parlors, all beyond the “deadline” of the old Stingaree.42

In recent months the old Redlight Abatement Act has been dusted off and used in a crackdown on pornography, a use not envisioned by the lawmakers in 1913.

When the old redlight district was closed in 1912, a Union reporter said, “It is generally believed that so far as the fight has progressed, the police officers have earned the right to emit the equine laugh.”43 Surely Chief Keno Wilson, who must be smiling in his grave, is entitled to the last laugh!




1. Richard F. Pourade, The Glory Years (San Diego: Union-Tribune Publishing Co., 1964), p. 230.

2. San Diego Union, Nov. 3, 1887, p. 5.

3. Richard F. Pourade, The Glory Years, p. 205.

4. San Diego Union. References to the Stingaree Block: Nov. 4, 1881, p. 3; July 20, 1882, p. 3; Sept. 10, 1882, p. 3; Oct. 21, 1884, p. 3; March 3, 1885, p. 3.

5. Walter Bellon, Memoirs. Manuscript, Serra Museum Research Library, San Diego History Center. First made available to author through the courtesy of Walter Bellon. Hereafter cited as Bellon Memoirs. All quotations and statements attributed to Bellon, unless otherwise credited, are from the Memoirs.

6. San Diego Sun, June 16, 1887.

7. Interview with Louis Voeltzel, who as a youth was one of the messengers who delivered to the Stingaree. In several interviews with the present writer he told many fascinating stories of his experiences. Some are related in this article. Others are better left untold! Voeltzel, a retired banker, died in 1973.

8. Jerry MacMullen, “Sad Passing of Canary Cottage,” San Diego Union, Jan. 9, 1966, p. G3.

9. Bellon Memoirs.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. San Diego Union, Oct. 12, 1912, p. 13.

14. Ibid., Oct. 3, 1912, p. 13.

15. Ibid., Oct. 2, 1912, pp. 13, 19.

16. Ibid., Oct. 3, 1912, p. 13.

17. Ibid., Oct. 8, 1898, p. 5. The Door of Hope was taken over by the Salvation Army in 1931 as a home for unwed mothers.

18. San Diego Union, Oct. 10, 1912, p. 7.

19. Ibid., Oct. 18, 1912, pp. 11, 12.

20. Ibid., Oct. 14, 1912, p. 10.

21. Ibid., Oct. 15, 1912, p. 10.

22. Ibid., Oct. 14, 1912, p. 10.

23. Ibid., Oct. 13, 1912, p. 10.

24. Ibid., Nov. 11, 1912, pp. 9, 10.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. California Penal Code. Sec. 647 (Statutes 1911), p. 508.

31. San Diego Union, Nov. 12, 1912, p.13.

32. Ibid., Oct. 17, 1912, p. 8.

33. Ibid., Nov. 12, 1912, p. 20.

34. Ibid., Nov. 10, 1912, p. 5.

35. Ibid.. May 6, 1913, p. 7.

36. Ibid., May 9, 1913, p. 9.

37. California Statutes 1913, Chapter 17, p. 20 (effective Aug. 10, 1913).

38. Bellon Memoirs.

39. San Diego Union. Aug. 16, 1,915, p. 1.

40. Ibid., July 27, 1915, pp. 1, 2.

41. Ibid., July 12, 1917, Editorial.

42. Joseph Trento, “San Diego Erotica,” San Diego Magazine. Vol. 25 (Sept., 1973), pp. 108-10, 135, 137.

43. San Diego Union, Nov. 10, 1912, p. 5.

Mrs. Elizabeth C. MacPhail, a native San Diegan, is an attorney and a graduate of Balboa Law College, now United States International University. She is the author of a book, The Story of New San Diego and Its Founder Alonzo E. Horton, published in 1969, and articles relating to San Diego’s history which have appeared in previous issues of the Journal of San Diego History. As a member of the San Diego Historical Site Board, Mrs. MacPhail is engaged in efforts to document and identify San Diego’s historic sites.

Mrs. MacPhail’s article published here appeared originally in Brand Book Number Three, The San Diego Corral of the Westerners. Edited by George M. Ellis (San Diego: San Diego Corral of the Westerners, 1973). Other articles in that issue of the Brand Book deal with Cowboys, Vaqueros, Vaqueiros, and Gauchos; The Western Artist; Indians; Fur Trappers and Traders; Settlers, Soldiers, Surveyors and Survivors; and The Californias.