Tag Archives: bordello

Unit Block Turk Street


“Turk and Taylor” (2007 Survey)

(340/12) 108-120 Taylor Street; St. Ann Hotel, Hotel Lennox, Bard Hotel, Notel Winfield, Hotel Warfield (1923). 1907.

(340/11) 76-80 Turk Street; Gaiety Theater, San Francisco Dollhouse. Stores and loft converted to theater. 2B stories; reinforced concrete with stucco facade and cast ornament; pilasters and pointed arches in second level; two-part commercial block composition; Gothic ornamentation; horizontal blade sign. Alterations: storefronts remodeled, decorative griffins and parapet removed. Original owner: H.B. Allen. Architect: Earl B. Bertz. 1922.

(340/10) 66-74 Turk Street; Hotel Taylor, Hotel Thames, Dahlia Hotel. 1907. Rooming house with seventy rooms and eighteen baths. 4B stories; brick structure; buff brick with darker brick trim, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: decorative arched entry with terrazzo floor; lobby: stair landing with wood paneling and cornice molding; blade sign. Alterations: one aluminum window, storefronts remodeled. Original owner: Margaret McCormick. Architect: Norman R. Coulter. 1907.

(340/9); Hotel Schwartz 1911, Hotel Tynan, Aranda Hotel. Rooming house with 123 rooms and thirty-eight baths, dining room. 6B stories; reinforced concrete structure; brick facade with imitation stone and cast cement on second level, galvanized iron trim including angled bay windows culminating in bracketed segmental arches and cornice, blue glazed tile base; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; lobby: ceiling beam and moldings intact. Alterations: aluminum windows, half ground floor remodeled. Original owner: Jacob Schwartz, owner of North German Hotel. Architects: George Streshly and Company. 1911.

(340/8) 50 Turk Street; Hotel Brayton, Winston Arms. Mid-priced hotel with forty-two two-room and bath suites. 7B stories; brick structure; galvanized iron cornice; three-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; lobby: not accessible. Alterations: aluminum windows, building vacant and boarded up, string course stripped. Original owners: Zellerbach & Levison (individuals associated with Zellerbach Paper Company). Architect: Absalom J. Barnett. 1913.

(340/7) 34-48 Turk Street; Hotel Dale (1910), Dalt Hotel (1984-2007). 1910.

(340/4) 2-16 Turk Street; Glenn Hotel, State Hotel, Oxford Hotel, Hotel Metropolis. 1911.

On the corner of Taylor and Turk is the 21 Club, a bar of local repute and one of the very few old Tenderloin establishments still in business. The Doll House was formerly the Gayety (later the Gaiety) Theater.

Source: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

Turk near Market, 1944.

Source: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library (Photo: Alan J. Canterbury)

Gayety Theater, 1964.

Source: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library (Photo: Larry Moon)

Turk Street east of Taylor, 1982. The sex industry that was once prevalent in the lower Tenderloin has in recent years largely disappeared. None of the businesses seen in these ’80s-era photos now remain.

Source: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library (Photo: Larry Moon)

Turk Street west of Taylor, 1982.


“Dahlia” (2003)

(340/10) 66-74 Turk Street; Hotel Taylor, Hotel Thames, Dahlia Hotel. 1907.

Much of the Tenderloin’s history is embodied by its blade signs. Inasmuch as they are links to the City’s time line, their removal diminishes our understanding and appreciation of the past. Though time-worn and neglected, the Dahlia’s sign was a nexus to days gone by—now gone forever.

Dahlia Hotel_1937
Source: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

Dahlia Hotel, 1937. Newscopy: “When hotel men tried to get the Dahlia Hotel at 74 Turk Street closed, they said it was a vice resort with ten girls. Mayor Rossi’s secretary said: ‘You run your hotels and we’ll run the rest.’”

Source: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

Unit Block Turk Street, 1944.


Filed under Tenderloin

The Parlor Houses of Jessie Hayman

“Her bottom was something to watch.”

Born 1867 in New Orleans, Annie May Wyant showed up in San Francisco sometime in the early 1890s. By 1895, using Jessie Mellon as her house name, she was boarding in Mrs. Nina Hayman’s “lodging house” at 225 Ellis Street, an address that later would become one of the best known in the annals of San Francisco prostitution. Opened in the late 1870s by Dolly Adams — former “Water Queen” of the Bella Union Theater — the Ellis Street establishment was taken over by Mrs. Hayman following Dolly’s retirement from madamship in the 1880s. Near the end of 1898, Nina Hayman retired to marry a wealthy San Francisco lumber dealer. As the house favorite, young Jessie took on her mentor’s name and business, and it was as Jessie Hayman or “Diamond Jessie” that she became famous.

Jessie’s full story has been told with great warmth and wit by Curt Gentry in his book The Madams of San Francisco.¹ Suffice for me to say that she was strict yet fair and generous with her girls, and her parlor houses were the most lavish and fashionable in the district. She was tall and elegant, a shapely redhead and a lover of diamonds whose charms (and prices) were legendary in her own time, as illustrated by the following anecdote.

In the late 1890s, photographer Arnold Genthe introduced Jessie to a Grand Duke of the Imperial Russian Empire, who wanted to take her back to Russia with him. When Jessie politely declined, the Grand Duke commissioned Genthe to make a life-size enlargement of her portrait. At a Newport luncheon honoring the Grand Duke the day before he returned to Russia, His Royal Highness proposed a toast.

To the most beautiful woman I have met in your country. She shall be nameless. Even if she were not many miles away, she would not have been included in this gathering. I ask you all to drink her health.

Thus it was that ladies of unquestioned virtue,* the cream of American society, raised their glasses and drank to a demimondaine, for a request from a Grand Duke was a command.

*or so we must suppose

The ultimate fate of the portrait is unknown. Perhaps it was destroyed by Bolshevik Red Guards during the 1917 October Revolution; or maybe, along with other detritus of the fallen empire, it was hidden in a cellar only to be forgotten and left to molder in darkness. No matter what actually happened to the enlargement, we know the negative was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and thus the only known photograph of Diamond Jessie is as good as forever lost.

Dawn Over Taylor Street

“Dawn Over Taylor Street” (2003)

(340/14) 136–142 Taylor Street; Dunphy Building. Stores and offices/lofts. 4B stories; brick structure; decorative window frames including third level arches, bracketed cornice and pediment; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vestibule: tile floor, sign painted on north wall: “United Railways Telegraph Schools”; alterations: ground floor, storefronts, aluminum windows, vestibule. Original owner: P. Dunphy. Architect: E.A. Bozio. 1906.

Several months after the the 225 Ellis establishment was destroyed by the 1906 fire, Jessie moved with her girls into the top two floors of the newly-constructed Dunphy Building. There they stayed until the fall of 1907, when she acquired a new lodging house on Mason Street and furnished it as a deluxe bagnio.


“Famous Polo’s” (2004)

(341/7) 34-48 Mason Street; The Glenwood (1906); parlor house (1907); Polo’s Restaurant (1952). Storefront and loft. 3B stories; brick structure; decorative brickwork including rusticated piers, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical composition; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation; vertical neon blade sign. Alterations: ground floor remodeled. Architects: Meyers and Ward. 1906.

From 1907 till 1912, when she moved her girls and furnishings to Eddy Street, the Glenwood was Jessie’s parlor house. Much later it would become Polo’s Stadium Club, for many years one of San Francisco’s most popular meeting spots for fine food and drink.


“Crystal Hotel” (2011)

(331/7) 128-132 Eddy Street; The Gotham Lodgings, parlor house, Belva Hotel, Crystal Hotel. Rooming house with forty-seven rooms and twenty-eight baths. 4B stories; brick structure; rusticated second level, upper level with decorative panels, bands, window surrounds, galvanized iron cornice; two-part vertical block; Renaissance/Baroque ornamentation. Alterations: ground level completely remodeled, lobby remodeled. Original owners: Daniel O’Neil, contractor, and Cora M. Twombly. Architect Charles R. Wilson. 1908.

130 Eddy was the last of Diamond Jessie’s brothels, from 1912 until her retirement in 1917. The first floor was leased out as a saloon, the parlors and madam’s suite were on the second floor, and the girls’ suites, dining room and kitchen were on the upper floors. With the help of Jessie’s backing, one of her girls later became a leading Hollywood madam under the name Beverly Davis. In her autobiography Call House Madam,² Ms. Davis devotes several chapters to her mentor that include a description of the Eddy Street brothel.

Jessie’s prices were staggering. She had a champagne cellar with wines from all parts of the world. Whoever furnished the house knew his Place Pigalle stuff. There was the red room, the gold room, the Turkish room, the French room, the blue room. oriental couches and shaded lamps, plush parlors one after the other with deep carpets on the floor. The bedrooms upstairs were done in the best style. It reflected ‘tone’ for a parlor house all the way through.

When she died in 1923, Jessie’s net worth in diamonds and Tenderloin real estate was one hundred thousand dollars, the equivalent in 2009 dollars of well over one point two million.


“Joy of Life” (2003)

Crystal Hotel, 128-132 Eddy Street.

One of my germinal photographs, the Crystal Hotel viewed from Mason Street is also one of my favorites. It captures the essence of the Tenderloin as a many-layered source of fascination. I was captivated by these walls long before I had a camera to photograph them. The faded advertisements afforded a glimpse of the past, but the peculiar, limpet-like annex was a real enigma. Could it have been a meat locker for the brothel’s kitchen? No one seemed to know. Near the end of 2005, an acquaintance told me of a former tenant who had used the tiny space as an extra bedroom by cramming a folding camp bed into it. Alas, this anecdote is all I have gleaned. The little annex and lovely ghost signs are now largely hidden, eclipsed by a new housing development, thus bringing to a close this page in Tenderloin history.

Joy Eclipsed

“Joy Eclipsed” (2011)

1. 1964, Doubleday and Company.
2. 1942, Martin Tudordale Corporation

Leave a comment

Filed under Local Characters, Tenderloin