Santa Cruz County History - Crime & Public Safety

Harlots and Whorehouses: Fallen Angels of Front Street, Part 1
by Phil Reader

"Stories of the World's Oldest Profession in 19th Century Santa Cruz County"

Fallen Angels of Front Street, Part 1


Practitioners of the world's oldest profession have always been found on the streets of Santa Cruz County. Neither the denizens of the law, nor the guardians of the public morals have been able to drive these painted ladies from our midst. The erotic "flesh-pots of Egypt" have been successfully transplanted to the placid shores of Monterey Bay. During the l9th century, the red-light districts were always among the most active spots in our little county.

At Watsonville the brothels were located along the river between Union and Rodriguez streets as well as just across the river in Pajaro. Freedom, then called Whiskey Hill, had more than it's share of such activities.

The Santa Cruz red-light district was always in the area of the lower plaza at the junction of Front Street and Pacific Avenue. After the devastating fire of 1894, the houses of ill- repute were moved further down Front Street to the new "Chinatown" just beyond Cooper.

During the early years, the leaders of the occasional moral crusade against prostitution were not the good folks from the local churches, but it was the grand jury. When they had finished looking into conditions at the poor farm or the jail, they would turn their attention to corruption and "moral decency." Their investigations usually ended with the issuing of a number of indictments against the saloon keeper and his girls. Such crimes were a misdemeanor and a small fine was normally levied, after which everyone went back to business as usual and the whole affair would be forgotten until the calling of the next grand jury. It became a time honored ritual.

The first known arrest for "keeping a house of ill-fame" took place at Watsonville on the afternoon of September 1, 1860, when Nuanor Samilla and Filleppe Escalante were jailed. Each was charged with a misdemeanor, found guilty, and fined $15. The next arrests occurred in Santa Cruz when two men, Malson and Shaw, were tried on July 6, 1868 on a charge of keeping a house. They were released after the jury failed to agree on a verdict.

The Grand Juries of 1872 and 1877 showed more determination than usual in striving to shut down the brothels. They adopted the motto "Let the Augean Stables be cleansed," showing a flair for classical literature in this reference to the legendary Hercules cleaning thirty years of refuse from the stables of Augeas in but one day. In 1872, sixteen people were indicted including the three most famous Santa Cruz madames: Emma Cooper, Maria McDermott, and Madame Pauline. The 1877 Grand Jury attacked with a vengeance and brought morals charges against forty-six citizens.

One of those indicted was a feisty Jane Allison, who was to mount a formidable challenge to the local system of jurisprudence. When Lady Jane was done, she left half of the male population in town blushing.

During the 1880s and 1890s, apex of the Victorian Age, local law enforcement officials turned a blind eye as Santa Cruzans continued on with their sinful ways. "Spanish Mary" Rodriguez held forth in Watsonville, while young Josie Lorenzana established herself at number ten Front Street.

Madame Pauline

There is a tradition in western lore telling the story of a golden hearted prostitute who had a soft spot for the poor and down trodden. This stereotype was recently portrayed by the character of "Miss Kitty" on the popular television series "Gunsmoke." She also had her counterpart in Santa Cruz history in the person of Madame Pauline.

For thirty years, she was a familiar figure on the streets of Santa Cruz. She owned a string of three brothels in the county. One was a two story structure on the corner of Knight and River Streets, another on Front Street, and a third at the intersection of Bridge and Main in Watsonville.

When she died in 1898, the normally chaste Santa Cruz Sentinel eulogized,

"In a quiet way she did many charitable acts. No poor person ever came away from her empty handed. More then one poor family she has assisted, and the world was none the wiser."

Two decades earlier, when the 1877 Grand Jury was attempting to close down all of the houses of prostitution, a group of prominent citizens, including a number of women, sent a petition to the District Attorney asking him to defer prosecuting Madame Pauline saying,

"that she was a liberal and public spirited citizen, contributing generously to charitable and public projects...and that she had given something to bring the Santa Cruz Railroad into our town..."

On May 12, 1877, following a raid on the Front Street brothels by Sheriff Bob Orton, a newspaper article appeared supporting her.

"Pauline, proprietress of a house of prostitution, has kept a very orderly and quiet house, this house was completely unobjectionable to even the nearest neighbors."

Madame Pauline was born Florinni De Paulinni in 1847 at New York City. Two early marriages, one to George Prince and a second to Jim Ogden, ended in divorce and left her with three small children to support. In 1867 she came west and first settled at Watsonville where she went to work in a brothel on Pajaro Street.

Pauline was a very shrewd business woman. By 1871, she had parlayed enough capital to buy the house where she was employed. After putting it on a sound financial basis, she invested in other real estate in the downtown area. The following year Pauline moved her operations to Santa Cruz while retaining her interests in Watsonville.

For the next few years she rented a large building on Front Street from E. L. Williams which she converted to a saloon and whorehouse. In the adjoining storefront was her main competition, a brothel which was maintained by her close friend, the redoubtable Emma Cooper. During the 1880s she bought land on Water Street as well as Front Street. She now found herself well established in, and accepted by the local business community.

Meanwhile Pauline managed to successfully raise her three children. Her son, Pearly Prince was a land agent for the Southern Pacific Railroad and settled in the Los Angeles area, while a second son became a well to do real estate man in San Francisco. Her third child, a daughter, Edna Ogden entered a convent at San Bernardino and later rose to the position of Mother Superior of her order. Madame Pauline always remained close to her family through out her lifetime.

During her years in Santa Cruz, she attended services at Holy Cross church on a regular basis under her married name of Mrs. P. Ogden.She was a conspicuous figure about town with her flamboyant wardrobe, including a menagerie of colorful hats much to the delight of the local milliners with whom she carried on a brisk business.

Newspapers of the time abound with stories about Madame Pauline. Many was the under aged male miscreant who crept timidly into her parlor in search of erotic adventure only to be greeted by a bemused Pauline,who would grasp them firmly by the nape of the neck and escort them rapidly down the back stairs.

It was during the month of October, 1885, that her neighbor, Dr. Benjamin Knight came to her with a particularly tragic tale of woe. Knowing of her many charities, he hoped that she would be willing to help. It seems that he had been called to a house not many miles north of Santa Cruz where he was to attend to a woman about to give birth. What he found upon arrival surprised even a hardened veteran like himself. The house was shabby and in a state of complete disarray. The pregnant woman lay on a pile of blankets in the middle of the floor in very critical condition. Everywhere he looked he saw dilapidation and want. The only furnishings in the one room house were two chairs, a rickety bench, and one worn out table upon which rested three potatoes - all the family had to feed upon.

What had touched him the most were the six small children standing silently about the room. All of them were in need of clothes. The eldest, a girl about eight years of age, was arrayed only in an old grain sack. The father was out in the woods splitting shakes in order to get a few dollars with which to feed his destitute family.

Dr. Knight in describing the scene said that it was the worst that can be imagined. He was giving his medical services gratuitously, but he feared for the children.

His pleas did not fall upon deaf ears. The next day, Madame Pauline hired a buggy, rode out, and brought the family back to town. She moved them into a wood framed house which she owned on Water Street and put the father to work doing maintenance on her properties.

Over the years she took a special interest in the eight year old girl with the sack dress. Pauline kept her well dressed and saw to her education. When the young girl grew up, she married into a prominent Santa Cruz family and retained the most pleasant memories of the "Golden hearted prostitute" who had come to her rescue so many years before.

Madame Pauline died of apoplexy at her home on January 16, 1898 at the age of fifty one. Her remains were taken by train to southern California were she was buried at the Prince family plot in the cemetery in San Bernardino. When her will was probated, it was found to be worth in excess of $40,000.

Fallen Angels of Front Street, Part 2.

Harlots and Whorehouses: Notes and References

Excerpted from: It Is Not My Intention to Be Captured. Copyright 1995 Phil Reader. Reproduced with the permission of Phil Reader.

View similarly tagged articles:

brothels, prostitution, Watsonville


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