World War II restricted us, the kids of Madison Park, to the neighborhood. The only exception was if a seldom released movie came to Seattle — we were then given a day of freedom.
Our parents told us: “Enjoy the movie, have a snack afterwards — but do NOT go to First Avenue.”
Well, that was a mighty profound rule… the kind that begged to be broken.
After one Saturday matinee downtown we speculated on what fun there was to be had before we had to load back onto the Number 11 bus to Madison Park. How bad could a peek around the corner of First and Pike be? Amongst the plethora of neon lights was the sound of jukebox music, the aroma of fried foods and the sight of servicemen and their ladies.
We darted into a penny arcade for a quick look. Pinball machines lined the walls enticing us to plunk down pennies and even a few nickels.
In the rear of the building was a viewing machine with a picture of a young, appealing lady on the side. Two of us shared the viewer with one eye in each and the third turned the handle. By the time the lady removed a single garment a sign popped up reading, “Please deposit 10 cents!” Our allowance was nearly depleted, with little to show for it.
Our next supposed impropriety was to peer into a bar’s open door, wherein a lady danced in attire much like the fashionable one-piece bathing suits worn on Madison Beach.
Elsewhere, pawn shops teeming with merchandise left by desperate folks warranted more discerning looks.
If First Avenue was so bad, why did all the young ladies look like they felt quite comfortable there? Why was it so crowded? We had heard of ladies of the night but we liked to think of them more as friends of the serviceman.
In junior high a friend invited us to see an old building his father had bought near the Public Market. Upon releasing the chain lock, the door opened into a large lobby with plenty of seating. Our host smiled and said, “I’ll show you a room!” The room wasn’t much wider than the door — enough room for a single bed? Restroom down the hall? No view? This was once a brothel — one that may have dated back the gold rush. It was a bit of history about to meet the wrecking ball. The street ladies and the brothels just seemed to be a way of life.
To earn dollars for my first car, I worked as a bellhop in a leading hotel downtown. One night, as I carried bags to the rooms, I noticed an attractive lady that I had seen more than once. She smiled at the surprised look on my face, tipped me very well and winked. What a nice lady to help me with my first car purchase!
Seattle, like most cities, offered escort services. When I was pretty close to legal drinking age my friends and I hit private parties in certain areas of Seattle. They featured gambling, cards and dice. There were ladies there dancing or available to share a drink and it was accepted as a part of the social scene.
At some of the social gatherings in the neighborhood a particular fellow we knew would show up with really striking women. Where did he find them? Why did they find him to be so charming?
Joining friends at a stylish cocktail lounge, I noticed a gal who looked familiar but somehow different. I asked her if she had gone to Garfield High School. Although is she had, she certainly no longer sported braces or pigtails — she was dressed to the nines! I suggested dinner and we laughed at how life had changed for us. I asked if she was living in Seattle and when she mentioned the name of where she worked it sounded like a modeling agency. Not quite — she was now an escort living in New York. She owned her own condo and, by all indications, had done well for herself.
Someone came up and asked “Who’s your friend, Dick?” We had agreed not to mention her story and told him she was here to see some friends from school.
When I joined the Army, the first place we went was Monterey. Spiffed up with our short whitewall haircuts, we tried hard to look like civilians. College girls wearing shorts greeted servicemen with warmth, hugs and heavy eye contact. They were there on the premise that they were selling magazines. Many folks bought from them but I knew better; It was a special that started out free but ended up being a contract with a huge bill.
After basic training I decided to hitchhike to San Francisco with Bob Long, a fellow recruit from the farmlands of Ohio. We were destined for a thick steak dinner and our own rooms with real beds! As we walked along looking at all the sights we saw a big neon sign that read, “Come on in and learn your ABCs!”
An attractive girl grabbed Bob and another one grabbed me. Bob was ushered to a booth in the rear and I was stopped near the bar a good distance away. Before I knew it the gal who glommed onto me was buying two creme de menthes (Green Rivers, as I knew them), a pack of cigarettes and a beer (non-alcoholic). As more and more goods passed into my hands without my say, the Monterey magazine scam floated back into my mind.
I yelled, “Bob, we’ve got plans!”
It was too late: Bob’s new friend was all over him like a new appendage. When I grabbed him, a puzzled look crossed his face.
“Huh? Why?” he asked as I pulled him toward the door.
The imposing silhouette of the bouncer blocking all the sunlight from the doorway told us why. “Pay the bill or I’ll call the MPs!”
Once outside we noticed the small sign reading “Off limits to all service personnel!” Let the buyer beware. Clearly we weren’t the first military men they’d put over a barrel. It would have been a definite stockade stint had we been caught.
We counted our remaining funds and realized our deluxe steak dinner and big civilian bed had become a $1.19 steak special and an overnight at the YMCA. Our expectations for a tasty meal were deflated at the first tough bite. We tried to send them back — but the waitress informed us the next ones could be even tougher.
We laughed it off and returned to our own army cots.
If you think this type of thing was limited to seedy downtown centers and military life, our own Villa by the Sea had a bit of notoriety in the ‘60s for three pleasant ladies who discreetly lived amongst us as Madison Park’s little known secrets. When I tended bar at one of the taverns on the Ave they would come in, mix with the crowd and order a beer or wine flip just like anyone else.
But by the early ‘70s, Seattle had had enough of the call girl scene, and the police started to set up stings. Undercover female officers began to appear at some of the more notorious bars, dressed in evening attire to lure prospective clients. A friend was out one night having a cocktail when an attractive damsel sat next to him at the bar and offered an evening in her room.
Smiling, he said, “You’re very charming but I have plans, officer!” She smiled back, winked and left.
Just maybe, one of you readers are inwardly smiling at this remembrance. Seattle — and even Madison Park — kept up with the rest of the country in regard to risqué mischief.