It’s finally here! My book,
Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business Doing Pleasure,
is now available!
And this is the back cover:
It’s finally here! My book,
Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business Doing Pleasure,
is now available!
And this is the back cover:
First of all, let me just say this: the FBI didn’t close down Wallace’s houses.
That’s the official story around town, despite the fact that the last brothel, the U&I Rooms, stayed open until just a few weeks prior to the raid. People say that the intervention of the federal government was just the final nail in the coffin, that the real reason the century of brothels ended was a result of AIDS and the lousy economy.
In a move that locals would later describe as “overkill,” the FBI sent 150 agents into the Silver Valley and raided almost every bar in Shoshone County (and, accidentally, one or two from Kootenai County as well) from Cataldo to Mullan on this day in 1991.
What most people here say is something like this:
It had nothing to do with the FBI. That’s why they went after the bars, because they’d come to town to put the whorehouses out of business, but they were going out of business anyway. The feds had to recoup their expenses, so they decided to go off in a different direction…. It had nothing to do with the FBI. It had to do with AIDS. (Gnaedinger)
John Posnick, who used to run the Silver Corner, told me he thought the FBI was looking for a drug ring as well. John and Sue Hansen also agreed with this interpretation. Sue added that the way she understood things, an agent tipped off one of the women working at the U&I, “in a moment of weakness,” warning her that they should probably get out of town before the raid went down.
The official story from the FBI remains to be written, although judging from what appeared in the newspapers and the trial, the story is consistent there, too. Federal officials focused on gambling and racketeering rather than prostitution, and did “not so much [target] the machines as the local authorities who had allowed them to flourish” (Egan, “Gambling Raid”). Of course, it’s also not so simple as that…
During the raid, FBI agents took more than a half a million dollars in cash from the bars and “seized all the video poker machines” (Egan, “Gambling Raid”). Of course, locally we know that—as a result of the infamous yet informal “phone tree”—some of those slot machines didn’t actually make it into federal hands because some people were able to rush a few out before the agents could make it to all the bars in the Valley as they moved from west to east. The government kept the money and the rest of what they took unless the bar owners or operators could prove in court that the earnings weren’t the result of illegal activity.
About a month later, in an article titled, “Gambling Raid Angers Mining Town” (Special to the New York Times, 20 August, 1991, A18), Timothy Egan wrote:
it wasn’t exactly a surprise when, on the morning of June 23, Federal agents from all over the West raided virtually every bar here in Shoshone County and found more than 200 video poker machines.… What is so perplexing to residents of the panhandle of north Idaho, and to outsiders as well, is why the Federal Bureau of Investigation used such a show of force….
Not since the late 19th century, when Federal troops were sent here to battle union organizers, have so many Government agents moved so heavily against one community in the region.
The FBI’s interest was the result of disgruntled sheriff’s deputies going to the FBI with concerns about corruption. Sheriff Frank Crnkovich was tried twice for racketeering by the U.S. Justice Department’s well-funded Public Integrity Division.
When I asked Crnkovich’s defense lawyer, Sam Eismann, what his main argument was, he said:
They [the prosecution] had all this fancy gear. So the jury could listen to all the [surveillance] tapes, high-tech stuff. So in my argument I stood up and I said, “Well, I’m sorry I don’t have all this high-tech equipment, I can’t afford it, I guess the government can. But what this case is really about is,” and I wrote on the board that “Frank’s a scapegoat.” And it stayed there during the whole argument, you know, and a couple of jurors after the trial said, “That guy was nothing but a scapegoat.” So if you can put out a little keyword like that in some trials it helps.
Some others were prosecuted along these same lines. Terry Douglas, who began working for Prendergast Amusement in 1978, put his own case this way:
Now, I bought the business March 14, 1989. Three-fourteen-eighty-nine. And then on six-twenty-three-ninety-one, twenty-seven months later, the feds tried to blame me for a hundred years of gambling in Shoshone County.
And even though Crnkovich was not convicted (the first trial ended in a hung jury, while the second trial ended in acquittal), according to his lawyer, the whole episode
broke his spirit. You go through one of these graft and corruption cases, for some reason, it doesn’t matter if you’re found not guilty. It haunts them the rest of their lives. It’s just amazing to me. It just totally changes them. I think you go into a phase where you just want to be undercover because you’ve been through this whole public spectacle, and I bet you think everybody’s staring at you and talking about you, all this stuff, you know, even though you’re not guilty.
Eismann explained that he’d told one of the prosecuting attorneys,
what you really ought to do is get up there and get to know these folks. Get to know why they do what they do. Get to know the history of the community. Get to know why they have to have poker machines in their bars to survive. You know I said, ‘It’s a different world up there, and maybe that will help you understand this, and maybe we can get this case dismissed.’
“I don’t need to do that,” the Justice Department’s lawyer responded, “I’ve tried these cases [before] and I’ve never lost one.”
Apparently the trial didn’t discuss the women who worked in the brothels in too much depth, but they did talk about the houses as a part of the community’s willingness to accept illegal activity:
We went into what the gals did—the community accepted them up there. They served a purpose, I think, in the old mining days. And they gave band uniforms. They bought the police department a new police car. But it wasn’t the result of any graft, it was just being good to the community, really, for allowing them to be there. The madams did good public relations. I think something like that probably was necessary in the old days, you know, it kept the local gals safe. That’s what some of the old-timers told me.
Regardless of whether or not there was money exchanged, the graft allegation was not confirmed, and the interpretation more in line with the local community understanding is this: yes, the madams and the gambling contributed a lot of money to the community, in both official and unofficial ways, but it didn’t amount to corruption. Many people confirm the existence of a “golden fund” for the city that came from illegal activity, but it was a consensual sort of thing—there was no extortion nor secrecy about it. It was just the way things had always been done, and it was the expectation of the community that it would continue to go on as long as there was money in it.
During their two year surveillance investigation, the FBI apparently bought one of the brothels and was operating it themselves. The rumor is that this is how they caught one of the supposed pay-offs, that there is someone on video accepting an envelope from one of the madams. I don’t know if this is true or not, because I don’t yet have a copy of the trial transcript (if it exists) nor any of the FBI’s evidence or investigative documents.
The trial was well covered by the local papers, and I’ve been able to learn a lot from the people who were personally involved locally, but I’m trying to obtain a copy of the trial transcript and investigative records so I can discuss this whole episode with a bit more accuracy. In closing, I’ll share some of my Freedom of Information Act Request I submitted today:
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The date range of this request is January 1987-December 1995….
On June 23, 1991 there was a large FBI raid on the bars in the Silver Valley in northern Idaho. According to New York Times reporter Timothy Egan, it was the largest ever federal raid in the rocky mountain region. The raid, which had been preceded by a prolonged undercover investigation, involved 150 federal agents and targeted the towns of Wallace, Kellogg, Smelterville, and Mullan, Idaho….
I would like the opportunity to improve the historical accuracy of my book project and enrich its discussion of these events. Please search the FBI’s indices to the Central Records System for the information responsive to this request related to:
All available records and documentation leading up to the June 23, 1991 federal raid and two subsequent trials of Sheriff Crnkovich. Judge Edward Lodge presided over the trials, which took place in Moscow, Idaho. Dan Butler and Nancy Nukem were the prosecuting attorneys for the Department of Justice, and the late Sam Eismann was the defense attorney for Crnkovich.
When I interviewed Eismann in 2010, he told me that the investigation began sometime between 1987 and 1989, after five sheriff’s deputies took records from the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office and brought them to the FBI’s office in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho or Spokane, Washington. Eismann claimed that the FBI conducted a two-year investigation prior to the raid. I am particularly interested in following up on his assertion that the FBI “bought a tavern” and “bought a whorehouse up there…. And they had that all with videotape and were catching pay-offs and stuff…. And there were some people on there that shouldn’t have been, like law enforcement people…. a couple guys rolled over and said there was graft and corruption and payoffs….”
Eismann further claimed that “a few days before the trial, they [Butler and Nukem] brought in like 60 or 70 audio tapes and probably 40 or 50 video tapes and I had to review all those at the last minute to see what was on them.” Eismann recalled listening to these tapes, especially “some of the phone calls on the day of the raid. Like one person would call somebody: ‘Oh the FBI’s in town.’ And the other person would say, ‘Well don’t say anything, this might be taped,’ and then he’d still blab on, you know, it was really something.”
[Name omitted here], who pleaded guilty in an associated case, told me relevant names of informants for the prosecution in connection with the investigation include: [names omitted] (“confidential informant number 5”)…. If copies of their depositions and/or the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office records they provided are available, I would like to see these as well.
Thank you very much for any information you can provide regarding these subjects, which I am exploring for scholarly and educational purposes…
A Century of Brothels in Wallace, Idaho: An Overview
The podcast episode I’ve linked to above discusses some of the madams and brothels in Wallace, Idaho through the years, beginning in the early mining camp days and wrapping up with the early 1990s. Below is a transcript with pictures.
Some of the earliest evidence for the houses appears in 1890, in the form of sensational newspaper stories and even advertisements. In December of this year, an ad appears announcing a Christmas ball to celebrate the 1890 grand opening of Gracie Edwards’s The Star, a high-class brothel located at the corner of 5th and Pine.
The Star employed at least six women from 1890-1904. Gracie’s parlor house featured crystal goblets, satin spreads, and pillow shams on the beds, following the example of larger city bordellos. Two of her girls gained fame one night when Lulu Dumont stabbed Frankie Dunbar with her stiletto seven times while fighting over money. She survived.
Madam Effie Rogan ran a house called The Reliance on Pine between 5th and 6th streets during the 1890s. In about 1904, she moved from Pine Street to the alley behind what is today the Oasis Bordello Museum. Effie’s housemates reported their occupations as dressmaker and hairdresser to the 1910 census taker, but they were probably both working girls because the following year, Effie was in court for keeping a house of prostitution. By 1912, she had been convicted of sex trafficking, which was referred to at the time as “white slavery.”
In 1908, the Daily Times features an ad for an establishment in the red light district called the Palm Garden, managed by a woman named Jennie Girard from 1906-1911. The ad is rather vague about what happened there, saying only that the house is “The Only Place of its Kind in Idaho,” and urges the reader to “Come and Be Convinced.” This theme was consistent with Jennie’s style: she also ran a variety show out of a place called the Surprise Theater.
In 1910, four women worked for madam Connie Foss, whose house was also on ‘the Alley’ of “Block 23.”After President Teddy Roosevelt’s visit in 1903, the city began relocating the working girls to the triangle piece of land north of Cedar Street, between 6th and the river. This area would eventually become the “official” restricted district. By 1904, Mayor Rossi had mandated that “all lewd women” would be confined “absolutely” to Avenue A, the alley located here. Rossi began to enforce this policy of separation and containment strictly in 1905, when he declared to the city council that prostitution was “a necessary evil,” but that it must be limited “to its present quarters with a strong hand.”
By 1911, much of the country had worked itself into a moral panic over prostitution, and many restricted districts closed completely. The Mann Act was signed into law one year earlier, and it prohibited transporting women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” It was meant to target procurers and aid in the prosecution of those engaged in human trafficking and sex slavery. In the rough mining town of Wallace, full of single men, the thinking went that as long as vice was limited to Alley A, it was okay for some women to sell sex in order to, as Rossi put it, keep “virtue in the highest esteem”—that is, prevent other women from getting raped. So the concerns shifted to public health and social hygiene instead, as they soon would across the rest of the nation as well. In 1913 the red light district financed local improvements and was the first part of town to benefit from paved streets and other upgrades. The city council voted in 1917 to grant the health officer oversight of the conditions there, setting the stage for medical regulation in the future.
By 1917, the United States government had declared a war at home as well as abroad, launching a comprehensive campaign to eliminate the remaining red light districts across the country. This attempt was successful in many cities, but in towns such as Wallace, prostitution was such a part of the culture that it would not be eradicated so easily. The War Department teamed up with Brown manufacturing company to distribute “educational” propaganda to sites of industry such as logging mills and mines. Fliers and pay stub enclosures, sent to the Potlatch Forests Company for distribution, were meant to curb the demand for sex work through fear mongering.
The government also included suggestions for rhetoric appealing to patriotism and loyalty to country when giving safety lectures to workers. One flier warns, “Keep Away from Prostitutes Priced and Private. Most cases of clap and syphilis come from sexual intercourse with prostitutes (whores). 70% of all ‘loose women’ have both.” This material seems a bit extreme, proclaiming that clap and syphilis “are among the most important causes of insanity, blindness, paralysis, impotence, barrenness, miscarriages, and many terrible diseases called by other names.” While some of this propaganda is factually inaccurate, syphilis was a serious problem.
Josie Morin was a well-known madam at the U&I Rooms. For a Red Cross fundraiser during WWI, she gave a little girl named Mary Gordon White $25.00, which would be the equivalent of about $450-$500.00 in 2014 currency. Gordon White, who grew up in the house on 301 Cedar Street, wrote about her experience years later: “I rang the bell and a very nice lady asked me to come in. Her living room had pink shaded lights and a lot of shiny satin pillows, and she seemed very friendly and very pretty. [… When] I told about my lucky afternoon at dinner that night, my father said he knew her. She was a very generous lady. She gave money and other helpful things when needed” and was “a very well-known madam who had a booming business in Wallace and the Coeur d’Alenes.”
Babe Kelly was one of forty-four indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy to violate the Prohibition law in the event that came to be known as the North Idaho Whiskey Rebellion. In November of 1929, two weeks after the stock market crashed, the paper reported the wave of arrests by federal agents: “Some of the defendants were visibly affected as they were brought into Commissioner Walker’s office, but the majority laughed and chatted.[…] Most jovial of all was fur-coated Babe Kelly, who draped herself in a chair, lit a cigarette, and began ‘kidding’ the officers and telling jokes.” These indictments were a pretty big deal at the time, and represent the second of three major federal raids in Wallace’s history, with the first being the intervention during the labor wars of the 1890s, and the third being the gambling raid in 1991. Local historian Dick Magnuson has pointed out that, when compared to other Volstead Act conspiracies, the unusual thing about the North Idaho Whiskey rebellion was that money paid to public officials went back to the local area, rather than into private pockets.
Anna Brass, aka Mrs. Julius Brass, was a madam on Avenue A during the 1920s. In August of 1931, The Health and Sanitation Committee, along with the fire chief and chief of police recommended to the city council that her brick building needed to be torn down because it was “so dilapidated and/or is in such condition so as to menace the public health and/or safety of persons and/or property on account of increased fire hazard and/or otherwise.” If she didn’t remove it within ten days, the city threatened to demolish it for her and tax her for the cost. She would, however, continue to run a brothel in the restricted district until at least 1937.
After prohibition ended, women began to return to greater leadership roles within the community. For example, women such as Bess Ricard owned and operated their own joints again. Ricard’s was called the Pepper Box during the 1940s. It may have simply been a bar, but was most likely a brothel that served beer and liquor and featured slot machines.
Gambling had been technically banned beginning around the turn of the century up until 1947, at which point in time the city council legalized “coin-operated amusement devices,” and during this first licensing period alone, brought in about $22,000 dollars, which translates to nearly a quarter of a million today. In 1938, the amount would increase to $38,000, or about $376,000 in today’s money. Then in 1949 the town expanded the ordinance to include “punchboards” and other “chance prize games.” A woman by the name of Ruth Poska also applied for such licenses under the name of an establishment called The Club, which was located where the Bordello Museum is today. She was likely the madam upstairs, which might have been called the Club Rooms at that time.
Dolores Arnold, was the “star” madam of the post-World War II era. She first came to Wallace from Bremerton, Washington in 1943, and by 1947 was in charge of the Lux Rooms. People say she could have been a movie star, ran her business in a “classy” way, and was both respected and beloved by people around town.
Like Gracie Edwards had done fifty years prior, Dolores hosted Christmas parties for local businessmen and community leaders, and like Josie Morin twenty-five years prior, she gave generously to charitable causes, even turning some causes into a double-benefit: she bought so many raffle tickets that she would win, and then she would give away the prizes to families in need. In 1972, she donated food baskets to the families of the 92 miners killed in the Sunshine disaster.
Luoma Delmonte was also widely seen as a community leader. She was close friends with Dolores and competed with her in the realm of charitable giving.
She came to Wallace in 1945 and had made over the Western Rooms into The Jade by 1953. Known around town simply as “Loma,” she had a reputation for being funny and for unleashing a torrent of dirty words if you pissed her off. Loma was a devout Catholic, and many of the profits from her house went to the St. Alphonsus church.
Dolores and Loma set the standard for the way the houses would be run in Wallace. They ensured that the women they employed would not solicit on the streets nor drink in the bars around town, although they were allowed to visit the drug store, bank, buy paperbacks and magazines, and wire money to their families using Western Union. Around town, the girls were never to speak to a man first, for fear the man might become embarrassed at being recognized in front of others, or perhaps also because people worried that could easily cross the line into solicitation. These women both donated liberally to the city coffers and special community events, such as prizes for the fishing derby, when the town drained the pool, refilled it with creek water, and planted fish.
During this time prostitution was widely embraced and regulated by the town. Penicillin’s availability and effectiveness led to changing attitudes about sexuality nationally, and lessened the consequences of promiscuous or commoditized sex. Every woman who came into town had her picture taken by Nellie Stockbridge and also checked in and out with the police, who ran her rap sheet through the FBI records to see if there were items of concern and to double-check that she was over the age of 21.
People who grew up in Wallace didn’t know anything other than sex work as a fact of everyday life. The community embraced its wild “live and let live” mining camp attitude and the underground economy that went along with it. A New York Times article appearing during the 1973 shutdown confuses some things, but offers an example of the high degree of acceptance the community had toward the madams and houses, and illustrates how wide Wallace’s reputation had spread, noting that a bartender at Albi’s had fielded 14 long-distance phone calls that day to ask if it was true.
The truth was, state laws had been reformed in the early 1970s and the long-simmering differences in culture between northern and southern Idaho came to a head when Stanley Crow, a so-called “moral crusader” from the southern part of the state accused Governor Andrus of taking bribes to allow Wallace’s houses to continue operations instead of enforcing the new laws. Afterward, the story goes, local businessmen Harry Magnuson and Hank Day got on the phone to Governor Andrus and said, “You run your end of the state and we’ll run ours.” So the houses didn’t shut down for long, but the rooms on the second floors did operate more quietly for a while.
Police regulation appears to have ended in 1973, although the madams still enjoyed protection and continued donating money into a community fund managed by the chamber of commerce. Later claims that this amounted to bribery and corruption were not substantiated during two subsequent trials—it would be a misunderstanding of the community attitude and the legal evidence to interpret the arrangement the madams had with the town as anything other than mutually beneficial, reciprocal, and according to a 1977 study, was embraced by 75-80 percent of Wallace citizens.
According to police records there was a house called the Sahara that employed four girls during the year of 1973, but nobody really seems to remember this house, and it’s possible that the Arment operated under this name for a brief time of back-stairs-entry-only during the temporary closure of 1973. That’s just an educated guess. Dolores apparently operated the Lux as a “massage parlor” for a short period of time during this year, until concerns subsided and operations resumed as before, in an open secret, regionally accepted manner.
There were five established houses, all located on the second floors of downtown buildings. The Lux was at 212 ½ 6th St. with access from Kelly’s Alley, The Arment was above 601 Cedar St. until 1977, when it turned into the relocated Lux.
The Oasis was above 605 Cedar St, where the museum is today. Ginger, madam from 1963 until its closure, moved to Wallace from Hollywood, California.
Like Luoma, Ginger wasn’t very public around town, but she also donated to local causes such as the annual mining competition. She drank black velvet and wore three hundred dollar pajamas, leaving her house only to make trips to the bank and to sign legal papers from time to time. Her house, at 605 ½ Cedar, featured an incredible number of mirrors, following in the tradition of brothels like the Everleigh Club in Chicago and Babe Connors’s Palace in St. Louis.
The Oasis is now a museum and novelty shop, preserved in much the way Ginger left it when she and the girls left town.
611 ½ Cedar St. was home to the Western until 1953, the Jade until 1967, and then the Luxette until the late 1980s. The U&I Rooms, referred to by the University of Idaho college students in Moscow as the school’s “northern branch,” was located above 613 Cedar St. Lee Martin came to Wallace in the 1960s and ran the U&I Rooms at 613 ½ Cedar until its closure.
Once you were friends with Lee, you were friends for life—she was known for being loyal to her people, and once sent $500.00 to some local guys who’d run into trouble and gotten themselves stranded in Colorado. Her approach to keeping the girls happy was to ensure they had a social life, so it was common during the 1970s and 80s for locals to go up to the U&I just to hang out and drink. Some of them became so close that they called themselves “the family.” Although you didn’t see the girls out at the bars around town, they did socialize more during the later years, developing friendships with local women as well. Tanya arrived on the scene during the early 1970s. People talk about what a rookie she was when she first arrived but she was smart, liked her job, and had a head for business, so she advanced to a leadership role quickly, assuming most of the management duties at the U&I by 1985.
The U&I, in the written record as early as 1905, would hang on until 1991, outlasting the others. The Oasis shut down in January of 1988, the Lux and Luxette closed around the same time, due to Dolores’s Alzheimer’s disease increasing in severity, and finally in September of 1990 the U&I was mostly closed. It remained open in a quieter way until early June of 1991, when, according to at least one account, an FBI agent confessed to Tanya “in a moment of weakness,” warning her that a large raid targeting the illegal gambling would soon take place, and they should take the opportunity to leave town for good.
Word is everything had mostly died down anyway, that the local economy could no longer support the workforce it had previously (unemployment soared to between 20-40%) and AIDS had really put a damper on the demand for the girls’ work. The century of brothels in Wallace was over, and the town transitioned into a tourism community, moving from selling sex to selling the past.
By Heather Branstetter, with generous support provided by The Wallace District Mining Museum and Virginia Military Institute.
If you would like to learn about the locations of the brothels through the years, along with maps, you can find that information HERE.
Personal Interviews and Research Assistance
Thank you so much for your contributions to and participation in this project:
Katie & Joe Bauer
Ken & Joann Branstetter
Mike & Nancy Branstetter
Penny Caron Garr
Fred & Debbie Gibler
John & Sue Hansen
Jim & Peggy McReynolds
Bill & Karen Mooney
Julie Austin Stewart
I am also grateful to be surrounded by incredibly smart professional colleagues and mentors who have influenced and inspired my thinking on this project. Dan Anderson, Risa Applegarth, Gordon Ball, Kelly Bezio, Erin Branch, Julie Brown, Jameela Dallis, Jane Danielewicz, Sarah Hallenbeck, Jordynn Jack, Kristen Lacefield, Jim McReynolds, Chelsea Redeker, Lindsay Rose Russell, Rose Mary Sheldon, and Todd Taylor: thank you so much for your contributions, advice, and encouragement.
Bibliography and Notes
Abbott, Karen. Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul. New York: Random House, 2007. Kindle Edition.
“Board of Health Inspects City’s Restricted District.” Idaho Press, 12 October, 1911.
“Five Brothels Shut in an Idaho Town.” Special to the New York Times, 5 November 1973, pg 17, via ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Powell, Cynthia S. Beyond Molly B’Damn: Prostitution in the Coeur d’Alenes, 1880-1911. MA Thesis, Central Washington University, 1994.
Shoshone County Courthouse District Court Records.
Smith, Donna Krulitz. “It Will All Come Out in the Courtroom”: Prohibition in Shoshone County, Idaho. MA Thesis, University of Idaho, 2004.
Wallace City Council Minute Books.
White, Mary Gordon. “A Child’s Eye View” Personal Narrative. Wallace District Mining Museum Archival Collection.
 Powell 51.
 “The Stiletto. It is Used by One of the Fallen Sisterhood with Serious Result.” Wallace Press 10 October 1891, qtd. in Powell 74 and Moynahan.
 Shoshone County Court House, District Court Office, Index to Register of Criminal Actions; Proceedings Book B, No 497, qtd. in Powell 48.
 Powell 48 and 59.
 Tom Harman primary sources files in 2014 Wallace District Mining Museum (WDMM) Brothel Project digital repository.
 Spokesman-Review articles in Dick Caron files, 2014 WDMM Brothel Project digital repository. City of Wallace, City Council Record Book, 28 October 1901 to 10 September 1906, Minutes of Council Chamber, 24 April 1905, qtd. in Powell 104-105.
 Powell 104.
 Powell 104.
 Powell 104.
 City of Wallace Council Minute Books, 1913-1916, pgs 30-36, 22 September 1913.
 City of Wallace Council Minute Books, 1916-1923, pg 167, 10 September 1917.
 Potlatch Forests Papers, MG 96 Box 4, “Military.”
 Mary Gordon White, “A Child’s Eye View,” personal narrative, WDMM archival collection.
 Wallace Press-Times 11/14/29, pg. 1
 Wallace City Council Minute Book 1931-1939, 24 August 1931, p. 423
 Ibid., pg 424. The legal description indicates this building was just behind and moving toward the East of where the Oasis is today.
 Wallace City Council Minute Books, 1931-1939, 14 December 1936, pgs 658-659.
 Wallace City Council Minute Books, 1939-1947, 8 January 1945, pg 958.
 Wallace City Council Minute Books, 1939-1947, Ordinance 292, 24 March 1947, pg 1024-1028. The State of Idaho and Shoshone County each received a quarter of this money, while the city kept half (pg 1026).
 Wallace City Council Minute Books, 1947-1960, Ordinance 300, January 1949, pg. 1085.
 Richard Magnuson told me (2014 interview) he thought the Oasis was called the Club Rooms. Police records document that it was known as the Oasis by 1952.
 Picture records, Barnard-Stockbridge Collection. Town of origin information, Lynn Mogensen and Eva Truean (2014).
 Personal Interview with Gary Morrison (2010).
 “Five Brothels Shut in an Idaho Town.” Special to the New York Times, 5 November 1973, pg 17, via ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
 Personal Interview with Richard Magnuson (2014).
 Reverend Dr. Jim Ranyon personal narrative (2008) in Dick Caron files, WDMM Brothel Project digital repository.
 Phone Interview with Penny Garr (2014).
 “Five Brothels Shut in an Idaho Town.” Special to the New York Times, 5 November 1973, pg 17, via ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
 Personal Interview with Richard Magnuson (2010 and 2014).
 Personal Interview with Dick Vester (2010).
 Buddy Miles Survey on Attitudes Toward Prostitution, MA Thesis, Washington State University, 1977.
 Personal interview with Penny Michael. The Oasis Rooms is listed, along with the Lux and Luxette, among the contributors to the first contest in 1984 (can be found in primary sources in the digital 2014 WDMM Brothel Collection).
 Personal Interview with “Art” (2010) and Richard Magnuson (2014).
 Abbott, Karen. Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul. New York: Random House, 2007. Kindle Edition. Chapter One, Kindle Locations 340-345.
 Personal Interview with Patti Houchin (2014)
 Story independently told during personal interviews with Bill Mooney (firsthand knowledge of the story, 2014) and John Posnick (secondhand knowledge of the story, 2010).
 Personal Interviews with Chuck Roberts (2014) and Bill Mooney (2014).
 Personal Interview with Chuck Roberts (2014).
 Kristi Gnaedinger (2014), Patti Houchin, (2014).
 Personal Interview with Kristi Gnaedinger (2010, 2014), Chuck Roberts (2014), and Bill Mooney (2014).
 Personal Interview with Sue Hansen (2010 and 2014).
Please tell me what you think:
This past Monday I drove to Charlottesville to be interviewed for the nationally-distributed public radio show With Good Reason. It was interesting—and a little weird—to do what the producer Kelley called “performing a conversation.”
You can listen to the show here (I’m the first 16 minutes or so):
And here is a transcript featuring my portion of that show:
“The Madam Next Door”
The town of Wallace, Idaho is like a lot of other mining towns in the West. It’s small, with old brick buildings and a beautiful mountain backdrop. But there’s something that makes Wallace a little different from other towns. Until 1991, prostitution was practiced openly and even embraced by the townspeople. I’m Sarah McConnell and this is With Good Reason.
SM: Today, Wallace, Idaho is home to a bordello museum which is housed in a former brothel. Heather Branstetter grew up in Wallace, where until 1991 prostitution was effectively decriminalized. She’s now a professor of English, Rhetoric, and Humanistic Studies at Virginia Military Institute and she’s been interviewing townspeople in Wallace uncovering what it was about that community that made it so accepting of its madams. Heather, tell me about the tiny town of Wallace, Idaho. It was a mining town, was it silver?
HB: Yeah, silver and lead and zinc. And there’s still a lot of silver there, but it’s just a matter of it being economical to extract.
SM: And you grew up in that area.
HB: I did, I was born and raised there. I graduated high school in 1999. And while I was growing up, the town was about a thousand people and now it’s dropped down in size to about seven or eight hundred.
SM: The amazing thing about Wallace is that the brothels and the whole culture of brothels in this tiny, mountain, beautiful turn of the century town, the brothels were embraced and even sort of regulated by the town.
HB: Yeah, that’s right. So Wallace wasn’t unusual in that it had brothels because most mining camps did, especially up through World War I or so. At that point in time the War Department decided to try and shut down all the red light districts, and many red light districts across the country didn’t make it through the time. The War Department was very concerned that the red light districts were spreading venereal disease and during that time Wallace did shut down for a little while or at least operated more quietly.
SM: What were the names of some of the most well known brothels?
HB: Well, the most well known brothel was called the Lux and that brothel was run by a madam called Dolores Arnold and she’s the one who everybody talks about. She was very beloved and she later expanded into another house called the Luxette. And there was also the Jade Rooms, the U&I Rooms, the Arment Rooms, and those were around for a long time.
SM: You were a very small girl before the brothels were finally shut down, but your father and grandmother had also lived in Wallace.
HB: Yeah, that’s right, my grandma was born and raised there. Dad lived most of his life and graduated from there. We had a lot of other family, too, in the area as well.
SM: What do you think they thought of the brothels?
HB: For most of the people growing up in Wallace it wasn’t any, we didn’t really recognize that we were any different than anybody else, basically.
SM: You were just a nice, small mining town.
HB: Yeah and it wasn’t as though the houses were like operating out in the open. It wasn’t as though the women were out soliciting on the streets or, you know, hanging out in the bars a bunch. It was just kind of like, you knew where to go, and we kids, you know, when I was a kid we definitely gossiped about it. I remember going to the city pool and someone would point at a window on the way there and be like, “that’s where so and so house is.” The kids had a fascination with it in the same way, I think, as some of the adults did, who weren’t actually involved.
But during the 70s and 80s there were a good deal of people from around town, like high school people, who would go hang out, especially at the U&I Rooms. They were pretty good friends with some of the women who worked up there. And Lee was the madam that ran that house and she had this idea that the way you keep your employees happy is to help them have a social life and not feel isolated from the rest of the community. But it was just sort of something that you came to understand was a part of the town and then what a lot of people told me was that they didn’t realize our town was any different until later. Of course, my friends and I, my generation, we realized it when we were about ten or eleven, because that was when the FBI came in and there was a big deal, it was a big deal.
SM: Do you remember the time the FBI came in, was it one big raid?
HB: It was one big raid, it was actually the biggest raid in the Rocky Mountain region, ever. So I don’t remember the raid itself. I remember the protests afterward. People took to the streets to protest the FBI’s presence and thought that it was really overkill the way that they’d come in. And this was around the same time as Ruby Ridge, and Waco, I believe, so it was kind of all wrapped up together.
SM: And what happened with the raid? This was when the brothels were completely shut down. Presumably, there were no brothels after that?
HB: Well, so I should say, most people in Wallace don’t believe that the FBI raid was actually responsible for shutting down the sex work and the sex industry there. Basically most of the houses were shut down before. I think that they shut down in connection with the FBI actually arriving in town and they were in an undercover sort of way surveiling. But Dolores’s houses shut down because she had Alzheimer’s, and Ginger and the women from the Oasis left around the same time and that was in 1988. So there was really only one house in operation; it was the U&I Rooms, and that one continued until just a couple of weeks before the raid.
SM: So why did Wallace embrace the sex industry for so long? Why was it any different than any other tiny, successful mining town?
HB: Well, I think that’s it’s the power of small talk and gossip and storytelling with a moral component. So people were repeating phrases over and over again until they sort of stuck. So some examples of those are, “oh well, live and let live, we’re an old West mining town,” or “the houses prevent rapes and they serve a community need because we can’t have these miners with their needs unmet running around town and we need to keep the quote good girls safe.” Things like that would circulate around town and it cultivated pretty widespread acceptance of the girls and their business.
After World War II, you see the madams really pretty proactively connecting themselves to civic values and to philanthropy and then you hear phrases like, “oh they gave a lot back to the community,” or “they take care of the kids.” You hear people repeat that they gave money for band uniforms. What you don’t hear as much and what I think was really important was that Dolores also gave food baskets to the families of the miners who died in a mining accident during the 70s. People really liked the idea that the madams were giving back to the community and taking care of the kids in ways that women traditionally do.
SM: Is it true that the police actually sort of regulated, as opposed to police the brothels?
HB: Oh yeah, that’s right. They supported the industry. So basically, when the women came into town to work in Wallace they had to go to the Sheriff’s Office to get fingerprinted and have a background check run, and they had their photos taken. And so I have copies of those files from 1952 until 1973. So you can see they made notations of the women’s appearance. They made notations of their history and their background, who they were associated with. They wanted to make sure: a) that they weren’t associated with organized crime; b) that they were over twenty-one. They also wanted to find out if according to their rap sheet, whether or not they’d run into some sort of trouble. It was also to communicate with other police departments across the country, too, in case there was some kind of case they could assist on.
SM: Wasn’t there an FBI background check on some of them?
HB: Yeah, that’s right. Most of them were corroborated by the FBI, they would take the files and they would send a copy into the FBI and I think also to immigration as well.
SM: Isn’t that crazy?
HB: Yeah, yeah, so Hoover’s stamp is actually on these files, I mean it wasn’t as though—it was very openly operated—it wasn’t as though anyone was pretending that it didn’t exist.
SM: And what do you think the Sheriff’s Office got out of this, favors in exchange for this sort of cooperation with the brothels, or money, or what?
HB: Throughout time you can really document the way that the madams and the houses interacted with the other civic organizations and government around town, right, so in the very beginning in the mining camp days, the saloonkeepers were sort of supervisors and they served that protective role, to some extent, and then they were also directories for people coming into town. Then after you had more regulation, after people got scared, after there was a moral panic about trafficking, and after there were fears about venereal disease, then it shifted a little bit so that the town’s health and sanitation committee was really more involved with the brothels. And at that point, the women were paying to say, pave the streets and create a sewer system. So basically there was a reciprocal exchange all throughout history.
SM: You’re saying the madams were big businesswomen in the small town.
HB: Yes, and they especially rose into power post-WWII, so previous to WWII, the madams had limited power, but after WWII when Dolores Arnold and Luoma DelMonte (she ran the Jade), when they came on the scene they were able to really become united with the city government. And it wasn’t the case that bribery needed to happen. That was the federal government’s allegation in 1991, that basically the women and also the bartenders and bar owners who were running gambling out of the back rooms were bribing the sheriff, but that would be a misunderstanding of the case. Basically, the sheriff wouldn’t get elected unless they were able to say, “no I’m not going to shut down the houses.” The mayors wouldn’t be elected unless they said, “yeah, we’re going to let the houses continue to run the way they have been.
SM: Are many of the women still alive?
HB: Yeah, yeah. The women who were the last madams are around 70 years old. Grandmothers, basically. Then some of the other women are still rather, you know, still rather young.
SM: Where did they go? What jobs did they find?
HB: In the service industry, mostly, so, like food service. Some of them moved to Nevada, because as you know brothels are still legal in most counties in Nevada, or many counties in Nevada. But yeah some of them, I think, retired, too. So… But others of them have had hard lives. I know one woman was in and out of jail afterwards and I know another woman has suffered from some addiction. So there’s that, too.
SM: Who were the women? Were they local?
HB: No, Wallace didn’t like the idea that local girls would become sex workers. So even though people talk about it like, “it was a business like any other,” the reality is, it was mostly women from out of town who were on what was called “the circuit.” The miners during the 50s, 60s, 70s, into the 80s, were more transient, traveling from town to town doing their specialty jobs. And the women did that too. They would travel from town to town depending on where business was booming more.
SM: And what about the men, these were mostly miners working fairly nearby, or did they come from far and wide, many states over, other than the transient miners?
HB: It was both the local men as well as truckers, men from Canada, some universities from around the area, so it was really a wide variety of people.
SM: Was there violence, and was there violence toward the women?
HB: Sometimes. The fact that the police were regulating meant that they did have some level of protection, but it also doesn’t mean that things didn’t happen sometimes. One of the women I talked to, she was a maid up in the houses and she spoke about the madam’s husband or boyfriend coming in and he pushed her down the stairs trying to get at the money that was in the lock boxes. And she was pregnant at the time. She ended up in the hospital as a result. And so there were definitely incidents that happened.
SM: So now that you’ve learned from a grown-up’s perspective and done all the oral history recordings and research, what’s your take on this tiny town where you grew up?
HB: I think there was really a reciprocal relationship and I think that the situation in Wallace was much better than in many areas. On the other hand, I also believe that there were lots of women who came from really rough backgrounds and who were probably coerced into sex work or were perhaps made vulnerable to a pimp, by running away from home, and ended up in Wallace in that way. So some of the girls had pimps who were in other cities, which doesn’t make any sense. If you’ve got a madam then you don’t need protection from a pimp. So I have a lot of, I just have really mixed feelings about it, I guess. I don’t think that freely choosing to engage in sex work is a moral failing, and I think that most of the town would agree with me on that.
I think that what I really noticed was: if we want to answer this larger question about how we create culture and how we change culture and how we negotiate our values, then we should really take a look at these seemingly insignificant things that we say to each other in passing, or little stories that we tell each other that have this moral content to it. One thing that you’ll notice if you spend any time in Wallace is that people are great storytellers there. It’s the way that the town transmitted—and continues to transmit—information about who we are and how it is that we come to a collective sense of ourselves.
Right after doing the interview I came down with the flu or something like that, so I’ve been unable to write much this week, but I’ve been working on another post I’ll publish by next weekend that returns to the sheriff’s office files like I promised in my last post!
“About the widest open, most flagrantly and shamelessly wicked city for its size in America.”
— Idaho Press, 3 September 1908,
qtd. in Cynthia Powell’s Thesis,
Beyond Molly B’Damn (1994), p. 144.
sanborn fire insurance maps of wallace through the years, with brothel locations in purple:
transcript of podcast (and citations–see bibliography page for more information):
“Liquor licenses were required and several women paid the standard fee of fifty-one dollars for a peimit. In Wallace, Grace Edwards, Ione Skeels (Broncho Liz), Lottie Wilmington, and Lizzie Williams all purchased liquor licenses that year.”[i] The one on the south side of Cedar at 7th was Carrie Young’s house, which was pretty big, comparably, employing eight women, according to Powell.
One of the Pine Street houses—on the southwestern corner of fifth and Pine was The Star, a high-class brothel owned and operated by Gracie Edwards and Jerome B. Smith, who also operated houses in Wardner. The Star on Pine Street [which employed about six women, according to Powell] in Wallace “entertained customers in an environment of relaxed luxury.” Edwards knew how to create “the ambiance upper-class brothel patrons required.”[ii]
11-13 women worked in Wallace’s brothels. Nine of those businesses were along Pine Street and they mainly “catered to a mining and logging population.” Between 40-60 women worked in town during this time.[iii]
By 1895, madams were increasingly subjected to arrests and routine fines and “several showed up in arrest records between 1893 and 1904. Wallace madams arrested for keeping houses of prostitution included Blanche Burnard, who was arrested four times, Effie Rogan who was arrested five times, and Jessie Stuart who had just one arrest.”[iv]
Between 1896 and 1901:
A large Saloon and Public Hall on the east side of sixth street near the river will turn into “The Coliseum,” operated by Richard Daxon. It actually had a carousel stage, and men watched burlesque entertainment from a horseshoe-shaped gallery.[v] It was the largest of the theaters in town and could probably hold about one hundred people. “The Trilby,” “the Wigwam,” “the Arcade,” and “the Show Shop,” were other disreputable theaters during this era [1893-1904].[vi]
“In November 1900, a deliberate attempt to alter the location of prostitution was evident in the city council records. ‘Reverend Brown appeared before Council and presented a petition signed by one hundred two residents of the city, asking that all houses of prostitution be removed from Blocks Fifteen and Sixteen.’ [Between Cedar Street and the River, between 4th and 5th street. The fire maps don’t indicate any houses on block sixteen, but Gracie Edwards’s higher end one was on block fifteen.] It is likely that churches and schools, which had previously moved into that area of town, were finding the brothels and cabins frequented by prostitutes intolerable.”[vii]
Is the first time Avenue A, the alley north of Cedar Street in Block 23, is featured on a map, although it’s probably the case that the Alley already had cribs established in the early 1890s.[viii]
Carrie Young’s house on 7th and Cedar where Samuels Hotel would later be is now gone, and she’s probably relocated to a “dressmaking” shop in the place where City Hall is now.[ix]
Around the turn of the century much of the sex work took place within the context of bawdy theaters and dance halls, which had high turnover rates and alcoholism.[x] “[M]adams lost their control over the sexual trade. Once allies and business associates of madams, powerful liquor dealers began to distance themselves from overt associations with madams. Mortgage records no longer evidenced madams borrowing money from liquor dealers. By 1901, county liquor licenses were prohibitively high at five hundred dollars per year.”[xi]
Most of the brothels have relocated to Block 23, the triangle patch of land north of Cedar Street between the river and sixth. It does appear that President Roosevelt’s 1903 visit was a catalyst for the geographical movement, but there had been a general movement of the town toward a more grounded and less transient lifestyle—churches and schools were moving into nearby areas on Pine Street near 5th and several petitions had already appeared before the city council during the preceding years, so it appears that the President’s visit was the excuse the town’s leaders needed to finally take action.
By May of 1903, an article in the Spokesman-Review would melodramatically proclaim:
The ‘fairies’ of scarlet color and deep shame have but one day more to reside in Wallace. Then Pine Street redlight district will be no more. The danger signal lights which hang out in front of the houses will be turned off; red curtains will be torn down; carousing, drunken men will be no longer heard in this portion of the town, which has long been filled with the lowest kind of life. All will be silence and darkness.[xii]
The headline and opening paragraph of this article suggest the complete closure of the red light district, but a careful reader from those days would have noticed the emphasis on the particular section of town. The final paragraph quietly adds that “The latest rumor, and it is believed to be true, is that the city officials wish to only change the redlight district to another section of the city,” mentioning block 23 as the future location.[xiii] The article ends by saying that because the city leaders don’t want to be in the business of determining who is allowed to live in Wallace and who isn’t, and “it is generally believed they are willing to allow these women who ply their trade to establish in a new district.”[xiv] It’s unclear exactly what this concession accomplishes, aside from countering the idea that the mayor can and should run some women out of town on the basis of their moral character; the paper now appears to be making a “live and let live” sort of argument to the reading public.
A May 22 article more explicitly connects vice district reformation to Roosevelt’s visit, giving the impression that the houses are shutting down temporarily—most of the girls have been instructed to leave town with the understanding that construction for housing will begin along the river east of 6th street, “immediately after the reception of the president next Tuesday.”[xv] The paper adds that the “landladies say they will willingly move to another section if lodging apartments are provided.”[xvi]
(Confinement within block 23 might not have been complete until the next few years. Even though there was movement toward establishing the new district as early as 1903, there were probably still some stranglers in other parts of the city. By 1905, Rossi declared to the city council that prostitution was “a necessary evil” that it must be limited “to its present quarters with a strong hand,”[xvii] recommending that ‘a sectional high fence permitting the passage of teams, be erected in the alley landing east from Sixth below Cedar Street.’ Within a month the matter of the fence, which would obscure prostitution from the rest of the city, was set into motion, and the overseer of streets had instructions to “construct said fence at once.[xviii]
In personal interviews, I’ve heard its existence independently asserted by Dick Magnuson, Archie Hulsizer, and Justin Rice. Mary White Gordon mentions it in her narrative, “A Child’s Eye View,” which is in the archives at the Mining Museum. It’s not something that was featured on the Sanborn maps, though, and it’s not the kind of thing that would be featured, according to Magnuson.[xix])
More houses appear in Alley A, and a big building with skylights and cribs (Surprise Theater and Palm Garden) shows up between the east end of the alley and the river. It was the largest of all the Wallace bawdy theaters at this time, and “in one raid, sixty people scattered when the police entered the premises. Twelve [women] worked in the Palm Garden portion of the business.”[xx]
The attitude of the community members against the dance halls was catalyzed by the Feburary 1906 suicide of a young man in connection with the Arcade. For the first time in the city’s history, “moral concerns rather than business interests were emphasized”: The reformers’ arguments relied on the position that “young men are, and have been, debauched, even into suicide,” and that “young women are being imported for immoral purposes,” simultaneously proposing that the women were victims as well as predatory seducers. [xxi] Wallace businessmen agreed with the reformers’ arguments, although they were probably mainly interested in protecting the commercial interests of the town, which had, by 1908, been declared “about the widest open, most flagrantly and shamelessly wicked city for its size in America.”[xxii]
(The city passed an ordinance preventing doors from opening into areas of prostitution: “In December of 1908, the Council voted to close all doors that connected saloons to ‘rooms occupied for immoral purposes.’”[xxiii] And by 1910, men were in charge of all disreputable dance halls, bawdy theaters, and saloons in Wallace. “Madams running small brothels were relegated to Avenue ‘A.’ Located behind a fence which obscured them from Sixth Street, a small number of madams operated from buildings behind saloons.[xxiv]…. Although women still sometimes managed the prostitution, they lost most of their economic and political power and would not get it back until after the repeal of prohibition.[xxv] By 1909 the only disreputable dance hall left in Wallace was Dan McInnis’s Arcade, on the northeast section of 6th Street near the river. It closed in 1911: “With the closing of the bars in the Arcade Theater today, one of the last of the west’s notorious dance halls passed into history…. Like the dance halls which have gone before it, the Arcade was a combination of women, wine and song. It consisted of its bars, its dance floor and stage and its curtained boxes.”[xxvi])
“Mary Bessette managed the greatest number of women on ‘the Alley.’ Six women who ranged in ages from twenty to thirty-one worked for her. Only four women worked for madam Connie Foss, also on ‘the Alley.’ Another woman, Hellen Temple, managed two prostitutes. Effie Rogan, a long-time Wallace madam and former proprietor of ‘The Reliance,’ lived with two other women on the alley.[xxvii] One, Daisy Brown, claimed her occupation as a dressmaker. The other, Jeneva Black, reported herself to the census taker as a hairdresser. They were probably both prostitutes, for within a year, Rogan was in district court on charges of keeping a house for the purpose of prostitution.[xxviii] Rogan ran into further trouble in 1912 when the District Court convicted her on a charge of white slavery.”[xxix] …A total of ten other women worked either independently or with a prostitute partner on ‘the Alley’ in 1910.[xxx]
Throughout Prohibition and the depression eras, according to Mary Gordon White (whose parents built the Richard Magnuson home at 301 Cedar St), the restricted district had a high fence around some of the buildings. In a personal narrative, she wrote that this section of town was quiet and unnoticed: “I don’t remember at all how I eventually found out that this was a thriving red-light district and had steady business, but when it was payday at the mines the place was really jumping.”[xxxi]
Wallace’s brothels mainly remained in the restricted district, although there were some outliers in canyons as well as in reputable hotels through town. One of these was called The Metropolitan. Located at 411 Cedar, just west of the Elks lodge, it had a reputation for being the kind of place where you could go for sexual favors.
(On October 2, 1922, a case was dismissed by District Judge Featherstone because the prosecutor declined to pursue it. The case notes have Anna Watson accused of “maintaining a common nuisance within a prohibition district. Her crime was: “That heretofore, to wit, on or about the 20th day of January, 1922, in and at the County of Shoshone, State of Idaho, the said Anna Watson did then and there knowingly, willfully and unlawfully occupy, maintain and control a place, to-wit, that certain building known as the ‘Metropolitan Hotel,’ located upon Lot Fifteen (15), Block Fifteen (15) [between 4th and 5th street], fronting on Cedar Street, in the City of Wallace, Shoshone County, Idaho, where intoxicating liquors were sold, delivered, furnished, given away or otherwise disposed of in violation of law, and where persons were permitted to resort for the purpose of drinking intoxicating liquors as a beverage and where intoxicating liquors were kept for sale, delivery or disposition in violation of law” …)
In general, though, Wallace working girls would remain on block 23 until the last house’s closure in 1991. A man named Henry Kottkey, interviewed in 1980 regarding the depression era for an oral history collection project, said “Wallace has…deserved a lot of credit for their management of the prostitution set up. They have…it has been very much controlled, they don’t have any problem on the streets…”[xxxii] When asked if prostitution is illegal or quasi-legal, Kottkey responded that “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think the law enforcement people—your leadership in the community, has, has, might say, tolerated, under certain restrictions—with certain restrictions, the existence of them.”[xxxiii]
(Maidell Clemets adds that Kellogg didn’t have much prostitution, but Wallace did. […] And ah, they ah, they had a lot of prostitution there. That’s right. It was wide open. Even held on through the ‘30s there were prostitutes in the community.”[xxxiv])
(In August of 1931, The Health and Sanitation Committee, along with the fire chief and chief of police recommended to the city council that the brick building on Avenue A owned by Anna Brass, alias Mrs. Julius Brass, should be torn down.[xxxv] The committee explained that the property “is so dilapidated and/or is in such condition so as to menace the public health and/or safety of persons and/or property on account of increased fire hazard and/or otherwise.”[xxxvi] The council ordered Anna Brass to have the building removed within ten days, or else the city would demolish it for her and tax her for the cost of the destruction. At this same time, the city also drew the same conclusions regarding the “Frank Flood Estate,” also on Avenue A.[xxxvii])
By 1933, Prohibition had been repealed and the town’s taverns were once again able to operate more openly. Bar owners were required to buy bonds at $250 dollars apiece [, along with a fee of $6.25, ] for the privilege of selling beer again.[xxxviii] During this period of time, the brothels seem to be pretty much under the purview of the Health Officer and the Street & Alley Committee.
The second world war meant that the economy was thriving once again, and the invention of Penicillin meant that venereal diseases could be treated with a simple course of antibiotics. Even though Wallace was off-limits to the military men during the war, they found ways to get around this rule: the sailors would get a bus pass that said they were going to Missoula and then instead of going to Montana, they would get off in Wallace so they could visit the houses. Then they would catch the bus back to the base as it came through again on its way back from Missoula.[xxxix] The sailors were not allowed to wear anything but their issued uniforms and the madams wouldn’t let them upstairs unless they were in street clothes, but again, they found a clever way to subvert the rules while still maintaining appearances otherwise. The dry-cleaning business in the vacant lot next door to the brothels would rent civilian clothes, so the sailors would go in the back door with their uniforms on and then go out the front door in their rented clothes. Most the people in town knew exactly what was going on, but nobody really disapproved of this arrangement, because everything looked very proper on the surface.[xl]
Slot machines appeared in about the 1930s, which was when “people really went to gambling.”[xli] Licenses for the machines, called “coin-operated amusement devices” and off-limits to anyone under 20, were accepted as legal after March 24, 1947, with the State of Idaho and Shoshone County each receiving ¼ of the money, while the City of Wallace kept ½.[xlii]
[The License fees collected totaled $21,750.00, and the following people/establishments applied: Albertini’s (4), Louviers (5), Armani (2), Vets Club (8), Dom Feroglia (5), Wallace Corner (8), Elks Club (9), Streeter & Johnson (3), James Lynn (3), Eagles Lodge (6), M.J. Savich (1), Ruth Poska (2), and Bessie Ricard (2).[xliii]]
These events led to a renaissance of sorts in the business; the houses did very well after the war ended, and so this time period was more or less the post-pioneer era “heyday.”
During this time prostitution was widely embraced and regulated by the town. Penicillin’s availability and effectiveness led to changing attitudes about sexuality nationally, and lessened the consequences of promiscuous or commoditized sex. [xliv] Every woman who came into town had her picture taken by Nellie Stockbridge and she also checked in and out with the police, who ran her rap sheet through the FBI records to see if there were items of concern and to double-check that she was over the age of 21.
Photographic records indicate that Dolores Arnold first came to town in 1943, but she wouldn’t begin operating the Lux until 1947. Luoma Delmonte first came to town in 1945 and began running the Jade in 1953. Dolores and Luoma ensured that the women they employed would not solicit on the streets nor drink in the bars around town. The madams donated liberally to the city coffers and special community events, such as raffle tickets the kids would sell for various fundraisers, bicycles as prizes for fishing derbies held in the city pool (which had been drained, filled with creek water, and planted with fish), and band uniforms, which is the thing that everyone mentions the most. Dolores was most known for her generosity to the kids around town, while Luoma gave a lot of money to the Catholic church.
In the late 1960s-70s, the structure and physical locations of the brothels began to change, making way for Ginger of the Oasis and Lee Martin of the U&I to assume greater leadership roles. Ginger took over management of the Oasis in 1963, and by 1966 she was also at least half owner of the Arment, although management there turned over and she remained madam at the Oasis. Luoma sold the Jade to Dolores in 1967 (she got married and moved to Seattle, Tacoma, or Portland, depending who you talk to), and Dolores expanded there, calling her new house the Luxette, causing people to joke that she now had a franchise operation.
So during this time, there were five established houses: The Lux, on 6th street with access from Kelly’s Alley, The Arment at 601 ½ Cedar, The Oasis, The Jade and then Luxette at 611 ½ Cedar, and the U&I Rooms above 613 Cedar.
[According to police records there was a house called the Sahara that employed four girls during the year of 1973, but nobody really seems to remember this house, and it’s possible that the Oasis operated under this name for a brief time of back-stairs-entry-only during the temporary closure of 1973. That’s just an educated guess, because during this year, there was a change in Idaho law and federal policy, which led to a brief shutdown. So-called “moral crusaders” began in southern Idaho and worked their way north to enforce new anti-prostitution laws on the books. The houses shut down for a while, taking their signs down and putting padlocks on the doors for show. They reopened quietly after a short time, and operated in a more underground way for a while. Dolores apparently operated the Lux as a “massage parlor” for a short period of time during this year, until concerns subsided and operations resumed as before, in an open secret, regionally accepted manner.]
Police regulation appears to have ended in 1973, although the madams still enjoyed protection and continued donating money into a community fund managed by the chamber of commerce. Later claims that this amounted to bribery and corruption were not substantiated during two subsequent trials—it would be a misunderstanding of the community attitude and the legal evidence to interpret the arrangement the madams had with the town as anything other than mutually beneficial, reciprocal, and according to a 1977 study, embraced by 75-80 percent of Wallace citizens.
In 1977, the State of Idaho bought the building the Lux was in, because there were talks about the freeway coming through town there, and so that house moved to 601 ½ Cedar St., causing the permanent closure of the Arment Rooms, which Dolores remodeled using gold-colored paint for the trim. Lee Martin assumed management of the U&I in the 1960s or early 1970s and her approach to keeping the girls happy while working was to provide them with a social life[xlv]; during the 1970s-80s she ensured the boys around town would come up and hang out in the kitchen, and some of them became so close that they called themselves “the family.”[xlvi] Although you didn’t see the girls out at the bars around town, they did socialize more during the later years, and developed friendships with local women as well.[xlvii] Tanya took over most of the management work at the U&I by 1985, and this house outlasted the others. The Oasis shut down in January of 1988, the Lux and Luxette closed around the same time, due to Dolores’s Alzheimer’s disease increasing in severity, and finally in September of 1990 the U&I was mostly closed. It remained open in a quieter way until early June of 1991, when, according to at least one account, an FBI agent confessed to Tanya “in a moment of weakness,” warning her that a large raid would soon take place, and they should leave town for good.[xlviii] Word is everything had mostly died down anyway, that the local economy could no longer support the workforce it had previously (unemployment soared to between 20-40%) and AIDS had really put a damper on the demand for the girls’ work, so the time was over, and Wallace transitioned into a tourism community, moving from selling sex to selling the past. Later that year, as the freeway began moving in overhead, the town buried its last literal red light and hauled the depot across the river to the area formerly home to its last figurative red light.
[i] Powell, 41. She cites: Wallace Press, 7 February 1891.
[ii] Powell, 40. She cites: Shoshone County Court House, Mortgage Books J and K; Coeur d’Alene Miner, 25 October, 1890; “Delinquent Tax List,” Coeur d’Alene Miner, 27 December 1890; “Delinquent Tax List of Wallace,” Wallace Press, 28 February, 1891; and Wallace Press, 20 December 1890. Wallace Press, 20 December 1890; and Mortgage Book J. Shoshone County Court Houses, Mortgage Books I, J, and K. Wallace Press, 20 December 1890 (Powell 94).
[iii] Powell 51
[iv] Powell 43. She cites: City of Wallace, Idaho, Police Record Journal, April 1893 – June 1908.
[v] Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Wallace, Idaho, 1901 and City of Wallace, Journal of Council Proceedings, March 1897 to 14 October 1901, Council Minutes for 27 May 1901.
[vi] Powell 99-100. The Arcade” was a combination of a bawdy theater and dance hall. See also Powell chapter five.
[vii] City of Wallace, City Council Proceedings Journal, March 1897 to 14 October 1901. Minutes of Council Chamber, 26 November 1900, qtd. in Powell 104
[viii] Powell 96
[ix] Powell 46 and 99
[x] Powell 43
[xi] Powell 43. She cites: Wallace Press, 30 March 1901.
[xii] “To Shut Off Red Lights.” The Spokesman-Review, 19 May, 1903.
[xiii] “To Shut Off Red Lights.” The Spokesman-Review, 19 May, 1903.
[xiv] “To Shut Off Red Lights.” The Spokesman-Review, 19 May, 1903.
[xv] “Obey Order of Wallace Mayor” The Spokesman-Review, 22 May, 1903.
[xvi] “Obey Order of Wallace Mayor” The Spokesman-Review, 22 May, 1903.
[xvii] Powell 104
[xviii] City of Wallace, City Council Record Book, 28 October 1901 to 10 September 1906, Minutes of Council Chamber, 24 April 1905, qtd. in Powell 104-105.
[xix] 30 July 2014, Wallace, Idaho, Personal Interview.
[xx] Daily Idaho Press, 3 May 1909, Powell 100.
[xxi] Powell 143
[xxii] Powell 144, see also Smith’s thesis
[xxiii] Daily Idaho Press, 6 November 1909, qtd. in Powell 107
[xxiv] Powell 48.
[xxv] Powell 47-48.
[xxvi] Spokesman Review, August 1909, quoted in Hart and Nelson, Mining Town: The Photographic, Record of T.N. Barnard and Nellie Stockbridge from the Coeur d’Alenes, 138.
[xxvii] Idaho Press, 6 December 1906, qtd. in Powell 48.
[xxviii] Shoshone County Court House, District Court Office, Index to Register ofCriminal Actions; Proceedings Book B, No 497, qtd. in Powell 48.
[xxix] Ibid., Proceedings Book B, No. 495 and 496, cited in Powell 48.
[xxx] U.S. Census, 1910: State of Idaho, cited in Powell 48.
[xxxi] “A Child’s-Eye View,” April 29, 2001, Wallace District Mining Museum Archives, “History of Wallace” folder, filing drawer labeled “Historic.” Justin Rice described the restricted district behind a gate during this time as well. He also mentioned a place called the Metropolitan Hotel as a brothel, and there is some evidence for that in the court records.
[xxxii] Barton, (Henry Kottkey) “Appendix B: Informant Transcriptions,” p. 151
[xxxiii] Barton, “Appendix B: Informant Transcriptions,” p. 152
[xxxiv] Barton, (Maidell Clemets) “Appendix B: Informant Transcriptions,” p. 323-324
[xxxv] Wallace City Council Minute Book 1931-1939, p. 423
[xxxvii] Ibid., p. 424. The legal description for the Flood properties was, “partly on lot 7 and on an unnumbered lot in rear of lots 5, 6, and 7 on Block 23,” which would make these buildings right behind and moving toward the East of where the Oasis (lot 5) is today.
[xxxviii] Wallace City Council Minute Book 1931-1939, p. 501
[xxxix] Mike Feiler, Telephone Interview, 16 August, 2010.
[xli] Barton, “Appendix B: Informant Transcripts,” 39
[xlii] Ordinance #292, Wallace City Council Minute Book 13 February 1939-16 September 1947, 24 March 1947, pgs 1024-1028.
[xliii] Wallace City Council Minute Book 13 February 1939-16 September 1947, 24 March 1947, pg 1028
[xliv] Francis, “Wages of Sin.”
[xlv] Mooney Interview
[xlvi] Roberts Interview
[xlvii] Kristi Gnaedinger 2014
[xlviii] Sue Hansen Interview—both 2010 and 2014