Sunday, April 08, 2007

A different kind of red-light issue (2 of 3)

(Catch up with part 1 here.)

So why was Houston's segregated vice district created?

According to a report by the city's ordinance committee, the city had received numerous complaints from residents of the First and Second wards and the school system.

"There exists at the present time in our city a most deplorable state of affairs with reference to these women," the 1908 report stated. "This unfortunate state of affairs has not existed in Houston until lately."

The committee's report hints at an unofficial vice district that previously existed in the city:

"During a great number of years, probably as many as 25 years, the majority of these women lived to the exclusion of other residents within a district or reservation which, while not declared by law or ordinance, existed in fact."

Actions by the courts and the state Legislature did away with that older vice district and caused many prostitutes to spread throughout the city, which eventually led to the complaints.

But in advocating the creation of the segregated vice district, the committee concluded that:

"The successful and permanent exclusion of prostitution from the limits of a city the size of Houston is impossible. It is a fact of general knowledge that the successful permanent exclusion of prostitution from any city of large size has never occurred in the history of the world...."

Kicking prostitutes out of the city limits would "form clusters on the outskirts of the city, most probably on the principal avenues and street car lines leading out of the city. Electric transit has carried a large portion of the residences of the people to the outskirts of the city. These citizens would have these offensive establishments brought in close contact to their homes and would have the lines of street car communication to their homes ruined by the presence of immoral men and women."

And what about those Fourth Ward residents living near the vice district?

"The district selected is considered from all points of view the best selection that could have been made. The property is of very little value and will be increased rather than diminished in value by the ordinance. No public school is situated in or near it, nor is there any occasion for school children to pass through it in going to school. It is not situated on any public thoroughfare in general use and largely the land is vacant and unoccupied by residents and is of little value, situated in the bends of the bayou and cut up by gullies."

Think about that the next time you drive down Allen Parkway near Eleanor Tinsley Park.

Actually, the whole idea of a segregated vice district wasn't exactly new to anyone. Chicago, New Orleans and Des Moines, Iowa, were a few of the cities to have their own districts. In Texas, "Guy Town" in Austin, "Frogtown" and "Boggy Bayou" in Dallas, the Utah Street reservation in El Paso, "Hell's Half Acre" in Fort Worth, the Post Office Street district in Galveston, the "District" in San Antonio, and "Two Street" in Waco were each of those town's vice districts, according to the Handbook of Texas.

Houston's was referred to as "Happy Hollow."

But as the city geared for war and as attention turned elsewhere, the city's vice district would come to a close in about 10 years. By that time, according to the Handbook of Texas, 60 percent of the women who led households of prostitutes in the vice reservation were Anglo, 35 percent black, and 5 percent Hispanic.

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