Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A different sort of red-light issue (1 of 3)

On March, 30, 1908, Houston City Council passed an ordinance establishing a segregated vice district.

The Houston Post reported the move was in response to the petitions of several residents throughout the city that action needed to be done to "relieve their surroundings of the immoral element that has overflowed from the places formally understood to be set apart for them."

The City Council resolution states that "such houses are scattered throughout the city and in many cases in residence sections and in the neighborhood of public schools." It went on to conclude that prostitution was creating a "menace to public order and decency, to the sanctity of the home and to the moral welfare of the young."

So where was this segregated vice district?

Rather than list the convoluted boundaries City Council created, I've drawn it out on various maps. This is a Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1907. Look familiar?

Of course, it's the Fourth Ward. Long before Buffalo Drive, which later became Allen Parkway. The area, made up of mostly scattered dwellings inhabited by blacks, later became San Felipe Courts and the Allen Parkway Village apartments.

Here's how the area looked in 1913:

Note that the district's boundaries changed somewhat between 1907 and 1913. By 1911, the district expanded slightly to include the intersection of Howard and Lamb streets.

As you'd likely guess, hardly any of the streets that made up the sex district exist today with the exception of Crosby, Lamb Street and Nash Street. Both Lamb and Nash barely exist as streets today, as this next image shows:

Once enacted, the ordinance made it illegal for anyone to rent, lease or hire any house, building or room to any female "notoriously abandoned to lewdness, or for immoral purposes" outside the district.

It also was illegal for prostitutes to stand on the sidewalks near the premises, to beckon any person walking by, to walk around the city indecently attired or "to behave in public as to occasion scandal or disturb or offend the peace and good morals of the people."

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