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Red Light District

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10/21/03  Everything Old is New Again?

Did you know Dallas had a city sanctioned red light district in the early 1900's? 

I didn't either, but Stan Aten remembered reading about it in SMU Professor Emeritus Darwin Payne's wonderful book, Big D, Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century, Revised Edition.   Donna Blumer:
Thanks for making this latest (stupid) proposal an issue.  I knew about the early red light district, too.  Heard Darwin Payne talk about it at a luncheon hosted by Friends of the Library back when I was a new council member. 
   Generally, the idea was received by the audience as an antiquated oddity.  Wouldn't you know our liberal council would think the idea is "progressive."


It so happens I have a copy signed by the author himself.  He spoke at a meeting I attended in October, 2000, and autographed my copy with a special note.  I had been keeping the book in a special place -- always intending to pick it up and read it cover to cover.  Now, I will for sure because there is just so much juicy history in this book.   James Northrup:
I can't believe they are seriously considering a red light district for the Naval Air Station.
   This may be where the City Council finally "jumps the shark". Where they are so devoid of judgment, ideas and leadership that they just lose it.
   If they can't come up with their own revitalization plan, they should simply copy another city.
   Preferably not Amsterdam.

Anyway, starting on page 48, "Fallen Women", through page 56 "Breaking up the Reservation" is just heart-break reading.  We never learn, and much of the bad that has happened in this city was done to us by the forebears of Our Downtown Betters (the ODB), whose names are plastered on our parks and high schools.

You really have to get a copy of this book, but here is some really good stuff from it:

Fallen Women, page 48-53
Neither moral, nor civic nor government leaders ever spoke publicly of one very visible aspect of Dallas:  its flourishing trade in prostitution.  The "social evil," as it was called, operated openly with official city blessings in a designated "reservation" a few blocks away from where John Neely Bryan had settled in 1841....  City police and county officials permitted prostitutes to practice their trade in this designated location without interference.  The number of "fallen women" living and working in this area was estimated to range between 240 and 400, with the higher figure the most commonly accepted one.  The rationale behind concentrating the prostitutes was to prevent them from contaminating the rest of the city....

   The first area set aside for prostitutes by the city had been in the "South End."  The new charter of 1907 condoned its existence, ...  Because that property now was being taken up by the expansion of railroad property, prostitutes were dispersing to different parts of the city, inflicting a condition" on reputable families which should not be tolerated.  For the public good, then, the "social evil" again needed a precise, controlled location.

   In 1910 Dallas' city commissioners adopted an ordinance specifically designating new boundaries for the prostitutes in Frogtown....  "We find that under the existing conditions bawdy houses and bawds are promiscuously scattered throughout the City, greatly menacing the decent neighborhoods and offending decent and respectable....

   A preacher/reformer named J. T. Upchurch .... observed in scathing terms the contrast between Dallas' public proclamations of civic progress and this hideous, accepted evil in its midst.  "Some hundreds of girls are kept in this district as White Slaves; ..."

... Upchurch went into the district to conduct an open-air service, accompanied by his wife and several supporters.  Two skeptical police officers asked why he would bring his wife into such a disreputable area.  Upchurch responded with his own question:  What right did Dallas have to tolerate any street within its city limits where his wife could not go with perfect safety? ...

   If the vice district were truly a necessary adjunct for advancing the city's general welfare, he wrote, no one would raise objections if he reproduced in his publication photographs of some of the houses and the names of the absentee owners of these houses, ... the "two immoral resorts" at 2116-2114 Griffin Street were said to be owned by the aforementioned Chastain and a local physician, W. W. Samuell, ...

... the city faced condemnation as well at a meeting of the American Medical Association.  In a speech to this influential organization Cincinnati's health officer said that the "
Dallas plan" places prostitutes in the heart of the city and invites the world to come in and contract horrible diseases.

I had never heard of Rev. Upchurch until Monday, October 20, but he must have been sitting on my shoulder when I wrote "Throw Away Women" over the weekend.  He was right to call prostitutes "White Slaves", and I am right to call our current sex club industry "
America's last slave trade".

Did you find it interesting that some 70 years later the ODB and Belo created another "
Dallas Plan"?  The first modern day Dallas Plan director was a tall fellow from New York, who spent most of his time interviewing community leaders.  In those days, I was on the A-list of community leaders and had my requisite interview.  He was replaced with another out-of-state person, Karen Walz. 

Jim Schutze describes one of her meetings:

Big Brother does Dallas
Jim Schutze unmasks the Orwellian Dallas Plan Inc
... It's a community meeting sponsored by the "Dallas Plan," and on the surface, it's the kind of earnest town-hall public hearing--let's all skip dinner, swill weak coffee, and talk about curbs and gutters till we're dizzy--that seasoned reporters rank right up there with a root canal in terms of how to spend an evening.
... There are bunches of chairs up front. A podium. An easel for the Dick-and-Jane visuals.
   But something is seriously amiss. First of all, when they start the meeting and everyone is up at the front of the room, people aren't allowed to speak.
This is a public hearing that appears to be put on by the Dallas planning department and the city council, and it has a lot to do with the proposed $2 billion reconstruction of the Trinity River, which runs right through this part of town. But people are told they cannot speak.
... Then you're ordered to go to your "discussion group."
... Yes, there are monitors. With clipboards and stopwatches. And they scold you if you try to talk about things that aren't on the list.
...At one table sits a very suave, sharkish young woman in black pants and a black top, almost certainly not a neighborhood mom. She is way, way ahead of the curve on everything, but tries to come across like just another interested citizen who's wandered in off Westmoreland Road to chat about the Trinity River project.
... You've suddenly passed into Dallas' version of George Orwell's Ministry of Truth, where nothing is quite what it seems to be and the truth is whatever a passel of shady, spooky characters tells you it is.
... Out of this process will come something that will be presented as a consensus on the Trinity River plan.
... "The committee's consensus-building process was immediately halted when Ron Kirk became mayor," Pelon said in her letter.
... Her group was supposed to produce a consensus report stating what people believed should be the economic development philosophy of the Trinity River project.
... Seemingly out of the blue, and with no reference to what the subcommittee had said it wanted, a new draft of the consensus report appears in the files at one point....  The author of this new version of the report was Pelon's co-chair of the subcommittee, Karen Walz, who happens to be executive director of a private foundation called "The Dallas Plan Inc."
...  the sponsor of all these "community review" sessions is not the Dallas plan department at all. But the Dallas Plan.
   The Dallas Plan Inc.
   What on earth is that?
   The Dallas Plan looks and smells a lot like a city agency. It occupies rent-free office cubicles mixed in with the rest of the cubicles in the city plan department. It has used the official city of Dallas logo in public presentations in the past. It has a city of Dallas phone number....

Well, after November, it won't have a city of Dallas phone number because The Dallas Plan will be no more.  Most of its funding came from Belo Corp because other ODB commitments dried up.  Belo must have got all they wanted from it or not enough.  It's still ironic the ODB pulled up a name for their "control the masses" vehicle that was used in 1912 to describe the city's codified Red Light District -- the "Dallas Plan" (
Big D, p. 53).

Professor Payne has more on the subject in:

Breaking Up the Reservation, page 53
 The Rev. George W. Truett was featured speaker the first mass meeting at the First Methodist Church. ...
Truett castigated men who were unwilling themselves to operate houses of prostitution but were perfectly content to reap profits by permitting others to use their properties for such immoral purposes....  A prominent member of Dr. Truett's congregation was Dr. W. W. Samuell ....

I am still a Methodist, just taking a sabbatical this year.  I believe in church parishes, because churches duplicate each other's efforts and pull membership back and forth -- waste money and members' energy.  I had intended to move my membership to a large Methodist church near my neighborhood until I heard the wife of a sex club operator attends that church.  Unless the church's members never read
The Dallas Managed News (and you can't blame them), some of them must have recognized the last name of one family that was much in the news with various lawsuits against the city trying to keep some sex clubs open on Northwest Highway.

For the same reason that two Red Light Districts were not good for the city's image in the early 1900's, there is no place in this city to collect all the sex clubs and designate a Red Light District.  Even if there were such a place, like Rev. Upchurch asked in 1912:

What right did Dallas have to tolerate any street within its city limits where his wife could not go with perfect safety? . . .


  What right does City Hall have to force any part of the city to tolerate what NW Dallas experiences with sex clubs in our area?    NAVEL Air Station?
ecognizing your frustration in dealing with people who would propose a Red Light District anywhere in Dallas, I'd like to remind them that the air station you mentioned is next door to Grand Prairie. 
    The good people over here west of Mountain Creek Lake deserve better from our eastern neighbor than to keep collecting Dallas' refuse.  It's hard enough for Grand Prairie fathers to keep that portion of the city from being a 'ghetto' only then to have it next to a  Red Light District.
 Excuse me, but people do live over here and more new homes are coming into the area of the old station.  The location might not affect Dallasites too much but Grand Prairie doesn't want your problems. 
   Dallas won't run these people out of town but might want to put them on your neighbors' doorstep. 
Citizen of Grand Prairie (125,000 people, with a bright growing future)
  What right does City Hall have to allow massage parlors and bathhouses in our city limits? 
  What right does City Hall have to allow Silver City to violate its certificate of occupancy and remain open?
  What right does City Hall have to consider turning the former Naval Air Station into a Red Light District? 
  Shouldn't our elected officials be looking for development that will add to our tax base?

Here's an interesting response to
Throw Away Women:

   The first time I heard the Naval Air Station/Red Light District proposal was from Ed Oakley, about a year and a half ago.
   I predict the Naval Eight might be Oakley, Hill, Fantroy, Garcia, Miller, MTR, Loza and Salazar.

The reader may be right with his prediction, but I doubt Councilmen Rasansky, Loza or Salazar would support a Red Light District anywhere in Dallas.  It's their hometown -- unlike Oakley, Lill, Miller, Greyson who come from points North of the Red River. 

We cannot let our current elected officials repeat mistakes made 90 years ago.  There's a test to determine if you're "crazy" -- when you do the same thing over and over expecting the results to be different.


Special thanks to Prof. Darwin Payne for allowing to use citations from Big D, Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century, Revised EditionOrder your own copy at Alibris






  Ward politics is the Devil's key to the soul of the city council.  It is how some council members got themselves in trouble in the past.  It is the bait that will get others in trouble in the future. 4/6/8