Santa Cruz County History - Crime & Public Safety

Harlots and Whorehouses: Fallen Angels of Front Street, Part 2
by Phil Reader

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

Fallen Angels of Front Street, Part 2


"Maria" was a tough little Irish lass who worked the saloons of Santa Cruz for a dozen years. Her free wheeling life style was a source of endless shame for her brother, a prominent druggist in the community.

Her real name was Mary McDermott and she was born at Stone Pew, Ireland in 1843. Her father died during the great famine of the 1840s and as a result, his large family suffered much privation. In 1854 several of the children migrated to America where they lived for many years in the Irish conclave at New York City.

In 1865, two of the McDermott's, Mary and William, moved to San Francisco and the following year made their way to Santa Cruz where William, a druggist, opened an apothecary in the Hugo Hihn flat iron building on the lower plaza.

Mary first found employment in a restaurant, and then went into a saloon as a waitress, but before long she found her real calling - Prostitution. At this she must have been quite good, for within a short period of time she had managed to accumulate enough money to open up her own house on Front Street next to Madame Pauline's. At this time she started to call herself "Maria" in deference to her many Spanish customers.

For a while she prospered quite well from the wages of sin. At one time she was able to send $3,000 to her mother in Ireland. In April of 1877, she bought a house on the east side of River Street (North Pacific) where she carried on her business. Later that month "Maria" was arrested during the crack down on prostitution and received a fine of $200.

In 1881, she met the man who was eventually to be her downfall. He was a good looking Irishman named Tim Collins and she called him "my nice young man." But it appears that Tim had a weakness for the whiskey and "Maria" definitely had a weakness for Tim.

She moved him into her house and continued to work her trade in order to support them. Tim acted nominally as the bartender, but in reality he was a pimp and gambler. Soon "Maria," too, was drinking heavily and they began to quarrel almost constantly. After one such fight during the month of March, 1882, they were jailed. She, for one hundred days and he for sixty. When "Maria" was finally released, she went home to find that Tim had left her, taking with him everything that he could carry. From this point on she slipped deeper and deeper into alcoholism.

On November 3, 1883, she sold her home to Dr. Benjamin Knight. A month later she entered the county hospital suffering from dropsy, there she died on December 11, a tired old woman at the age of forty.

The Trial of Jane Allison

Jane Allison was not the kind of girl who would take anything lying down. She was intelligent, well spoken and, in all, quite well able to take care of herself. She was also the most popular lady working at Emma Cooper's whorehouse.

Jane, a native of Pennsylvania, was the daughter of William Allison, who was an English immigrant. She spent her younger years in San Francisco, where her parents had moved while she was still an infant. After the death of his wife, William Allison went with his family to Aptos where he worked for many years on the farm of Thomas Leonard. There, Jane grew up aggressive and strong willed.

So it was on Wednesday, April 24, 1872 when at the recommendation of the grand jury, law enforcement officials swept through the red light district on Front Street, arresting fifteen girls on charges of prostitution and disorderly conduct. When two of the ladies appeared in court the following morning, they plead guilty and were fined $15.

The third case called was that of Jane Allison and she was to prove herself quite game, vowing to fight the indictment "if it took all summer." Pleading not guilty she asked for a continuance so that she would have the time to consult with an attorney. Trial was set for the following day, Friday, April 26.

To represent her, she hired the intrepid Joseph Skirm, a determined champion of the underdog and perhaps the most brilliant barrister to ever practice in Santa Cruz County. The two of them were to make a formidable team which was to totally disrupt the local system of jurisprudence.

After Judge Albert Hagan called the court to order, the defendant and her lawyer sat quietly as the jury was impaneled and District Attorney John Logan presented the people's case. Then Joe Skirm approached the bench and informed the Judge that he had a list of witnesses that he wanted subpoenaed.

When his honor asked for the list, Jane stood up, took out her "little black book," and began reading the names of her clients - a total of one hundred and forty, including most of the prominent male residents of Santa Cruz.

During the course of the following week they were called in one at a time and examined extensively. The testimony of the witnesses was mixed. There were those who claimed that they had never been to Emma Cooper's and could only swear as to it's general reputation in the community. While those who had visited the place never saw anything wrong.

The somewhat bombastic Mr. Skirm had a virtual field day, turning the trial into a farce. His cross-examination of the witnesses, who were both intimidated and embarrassed by Jane's presence in the courtroom, were case studies in the use of non-sequitur semantics, which the press labeled "the senseless twaddle from a well-paid lawyer."

In time, all of the arguments were heard and the jury retired to an anteroom for deliberations. After half an hour, the foreman rapped loudly at the door. But when it was discovered that they had agreed to disagree, neither the court nor the lawyers were in any hurry to let them out, and kept them locked up for another two hours.

Meanwhile, Judge Hagan, and lawyers Skirm and Logan, together with a radiant Jane Allison, all adjourned to a nearby restaurant for a leisurely supper, after which they returned to the court room. Hagan called in the jury and listened to what the foreman had to say. Following much discussion, both pro and con, he declared a mistrial and sent the somewhat frustrated panel home.

A vindicated - and well fed - Jane Allison returned to work at Emma Cooper's and the Santa Cruz Sentinel announced that "at present all is quiet and pure on the banks of the San Lorenzo."

Josie Lorenzana and Number Ten Front Street

Josie Lorenzana was indeed a handsome young woman, a dark eyed beauty who inherited, not only, the good looks of the Lorenzana family, but she also seems to have inherited the family's proclivity for mischief. Early in life she realized that all men found her quite attractive, so she took full advantage of he natural attributes and became a prostitute.

One of her paramours was a wealthy Santa Cruz merchant that she charmed into setting her up in business in a house on Front Street - number 10 Front Street to be exact. The always clever Josie named her new house "Number Ten Front Street" and commissioned a wooden sign to that effect to be placed over the entrance in her den of sin.

Quickly, Number Ten Front Street became the most popular brothel in town, but it also gained a reputation as being the rowdiest. Her girls were not only quite lewd, but they were also quite crude.

On July 17, 1884, two of her damsels attacked a group of the more genteel ladies from the community with a barrage of the most vulgar language. The fine ladies, which included Mrs. Frederick Hihn, took great exception to the choice of verbiage and proceeded to register their displeasure with Sheriff Elmer Dakan, who noted their complaints and confronted Miss Lorenzana.

Josie turned one of the offenders, Delia Hart, over to the good sheriff, who proceeded to charge Miss Hart with a misdemeanor. The following day she was tried in Justice Roger Conant's court and promptly acquitted by a jury.

At the next session of the county board of supervisors, a highly agitated Frederick Hihn pushed for a motion to urge the sheriff and district attorney to enforce an old law against landlords who allow their premises to be used for purposes of prostitution. His special target was, of course, Number Ten Front Street.

Meanwhile back at the brothel, a customer who was roaring drunk, attacked one of the girls, slashing her face with a knife. These acts together with the general nature of the place caused a number of citizens to prompt the district attorney to arrest Josie Lorenzana on the charge of keeping a house of ill fame. So it was not long before Sheriff Dakan was back down at Josie's. Only this time he was carrying a warrant for her arrest.

On the day of her trial, Josie put on her finest dress for her appearance before Judge Conant. In her most demure voice she assured his honor while under oath that she, of all people, would never operate such a place. But Conant would have none of it. He simply added the charge of perjury, a felony, to her docket. Then in the next breath, he fined her $300 and assured her that if she closed down Number Ten Front Street and left the county, and promised never to return, he would drop the perjury charge.

Young Josie, with a ten year prison sentence hanging over her head, acquiesced to Conant's demand. Within minutes she went home, packed up her belongings, took down the still new wood sign, and bolted forever the door to Number Ten Front Street.

On Thursday, August 7, 1884, the 2:30 train, crowded with vacationers on holiday, pulled out of the Santa Cruz station. Seen among the passengers was a beautiful, dark eyed, young lady named Josie Lorenzana.

Fallen Angels of Front Street, Part 3.

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, trials


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