Thursday, September 4, 2008

San Diego's Stingaree District



What is now called the Gaslamp Distict is one of San Diego's main tourist areas, within walking distance of the Convention Center and the new baseball stadium. During the boom years of the 1880s, up until 1916, this same area was the Stingaree District, known for its dance halls, gambling houses, brothels, saloons and opium dens. Comprising a roughly fifteen block area that also included Chinatown, local law enforcement generally looked the other way, hoping to keep the 120 openly illegal establishments contained in one area, away from polite society. The boundaries were 1st and 5th and Market and K Streets. The proximity to the harbor and downtown made it a popular destination for sailors and businessmen alike.

When the railroad came through in 1885, San Diego's population jumped from 5,000 to 35,000 in 2 years. Wyatt Earp owned 4 saloons and gambling halls for a time, after his Tombstone, Arizona days. San Diego's first granite building, the four story Louis Bank Building, housed the Golden Poppy Hotel, run by Madame Cora, a former fortuneteller turned madame. Another famous house of ill repute was the Canary Cottage, run by Ida Bailey, where the Horton Grand Plaza stands today.

Periodically, the citizenry would get up in arms over the unsavory goings on in the Stingaree and a police raid would ensue. In 1916, a sweep by the police netted 138 women working in the bawdy houses. When they were brought before the judge, 136 agreed to leave town the next day and 2 agreed to reform.

The photograph above shows a small section of the Stingaree, circa 1912.

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