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  • Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

    San Antonio's Blue Book

    by C. F. Eckhardt

    'The Blue Book.' Those three words stir up quite an image among those who delve into the more esoteric history of 19th and early 20th Century America. 'The Blue Book' is the legendary directory of a city's 'red light' district. Even the term 'The Blue Book,' for many years, took on an unsavory meaning. To say that someone was 'in The Blue Book' was to imply a sordid, certainly immoral if not outright criminal, lifestyle.

    There actually was a 'Blue Book.' There were, in fact, at least two major US cities in which 'Blue Books' were published in the early 20th Century-but, so far as has been proved, only two cities ever had real 'Blue Books.'

    One, of course, was the Queen City of the Big River, New Orleans, where the first 'Blue Books' were published in the early 1900s. When a reservation for the containment of prostitution-commonly known as 'Storyville,' much to the chagrin of the upright city councilman named Story who was trying to contain prostitution rather than immortalize it-was established, a directory with a blue cover, hence 'Blue Book,' was produced as a guidebook to the area.

    Numerous copies of the notorious Storyville 'Blue Book' have survived. They reveal it as quite an ambitious undertaking. Photos of the various parlor houses-and of their lavish interiors-are inside, but none of Belloc's celebrated photographs of New Orleans prostitutes made it within the covers.

    The other city known to have a 'Blue Book' was San Antonio. The San Antonio 'Blue Book' was a much less ambitious project. It was a pamphlet measuring 4¼" x 6". The cover was pale blue paper. Excluding the inside and outside covers, all of which had copy on them, it contained 28 pages. It was titled THE BLUE BOOK FOR VISITORS AND TOURISTS AND THOSE SEEKING A GOOD TIME WHILE IN SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS. The date was 1911-1912, and we are assured it was 'published annually,' but nothing indicates by whom. It was priced at 25¢ per copy-a substantial amount when most magazines sold for a dime to 15¢ and hardback novels sold for 75¢ to a dollar.

    In the edition at hand there are only two photos. The 'center spread' on pages 14-15 features a large touring car with the top down, and is an advertisement for 'Geo. Keene, Druggist' on Military Plaza. The car is evidently Keene's delivery vehicle, for a notation under the picture reads 'Free Automobile Delivery.' The other photo, on the back cover, features a fleshy-faced man in a coat, stiff collar, tie, and derby hat. It's labeled "For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me.' Below the picture is the legend 'MEET ME AT THE BEAUTY SALOON' followed by 'For Fine Wines, Liquors, Cigars, and Cigarettes of All Kinds,' and lines informing the reader that there is a 'First Class Restaurant in Connection,' along with 'Free Automobile Delivery, Open Day and Night.'

    On page 1 inside, the Preface reads: This directory of the Sporting District is intended as an accurate guide to those who are seeking a good time. To the stranger and visitor while in San Antonio, this book will be welcome, because it puts him on a proper and safe path as to where he may go and feel secure from 'Hold Ups' and any other game usually practiced on the stranger. Anyone perusing this booklet expecting to be regaled with lewd and obscene reading matter will be sadly disappointed, as outside of some harmless wit or toasts it contains only what necessary information is required to make it a directory.

    This Blue Book is at this writing the second one of its kind in the United States, (there being one in New Orleans, La.) and is issued strictly for information purposes, nothing more. - The Publisher

    DO NOT MAIL THIS BOOK


    The probable publisher of the book was William (Billy or Billie) Keilman, who was both the proprietor of the Beauty Saloon and from time to time, depending on the vagaries of city politics and the spoils system, a San Antonio city police officer. The section entitled 'A Straight Steer to the Visitor Within the Gates of the Alamo City, When the Lights are Turned On' describes the Beauty Saloon as a 'safe and sane thirst parlor.' It seems likely that the fleshy gent whose picture is on the back cover is Billy Keilman.

    Mr. Keilman was also, apparently, an inventor-on page 24 of the 28-page booklet, we find a half-page ad reading:

    STOP THAT
    MERRY-GO-ROUND!
    Do things revolve when you retire?
    Does your room whirl like a fly-wheel in a power-house?
    Does your trunk go by like the Twentieth Century Limited?
    Do you feel as if you were looping the loop?
    If so you can flag the merry-go-round with one of
    Billy Keilman's Patent Plugs For Pifflicated People
    One of these, inserted anywhere in the wall, will bring things to a standstill, or, put in place before
    retiring, will insure a quiet night's rest.

    Despite an assiduous search by this writer-who has numerous acquaintances who would on occasion benefit from the device-no example of Billy Keilman's Patent Plugs For Pifflicated People has yet come to light.

    Apart from the introduction, which describes the boundaries of the 'reservation' or designated red-light district-"south on South Santa Rosa Street for three blocks, beginning at Dolorosa Street, thence from the 100 block to the end of the 500 block on Matamoras Street, thence from the 200 block to the 500 block on South Concho Street, and lastly the 100 block on Monterey Street. This is the boundary within which the women are compelled to live according to law.

    Take I&GN and San Fernando cars."-the majority of the book's 28 pages plus covers are taken up by advertisement. There are 12 saloons, four restaurants, two wholesale liquor dealers (one of whom advertises Old Crow whiskey at $1 per quart); a half-page ad illustrated with a cut of a Ballantine's Beer bottle and mentioning Sunny Brook Whiskey, Ballantine's Beer, Piper Heidseck Champagne (specifically the Brut); Cuesta Rey, Manuel Lopez, and Tom Moore cigars, and Apollinaris mineral water-the ad is not attributed to any specific business-two hotels, one drugstore, one bowling alley, one pool hall 'For Smokers and Poolists,' two livery stables, one taxicab company, three cab stands, Crystal Turf Exchange (a bookie joint) and eight business-card size ads of 'establishments' within the reservation.

    Otherwise the booklet contains a half-dozen or so somewhat tame jokes, the 'straight steer' section which describes saloons and similar places of refreshment, the 1911 schedule for the San Antonio Texas League baseball team, the addresses of two cockfight pits in the city (both on South Santa Rosa), a directory of Road Houses (saloons outside the downtown area), and, of course, the purpose of the book, a DIRECTORY OF HOUSES AND WOMEN. In all, 17 1/3 pages of the booklet's 28-plus-covers-better than ½ the booklet-are taken up with ads in no way connected with the avowed purpose of the publication.

    In the directory there are 106 separate listings, though several listings give the same address and telephone number. The listings are divided into Class A, Class B, and Class C. According to an elderly informant-who wishes to remain anonymous-Class A meant "$5 up," Class B was "$2.50 to $5, depending on the woman and what you wanted," and Class C was "whatever change you had in your pocket and anything you could think of."

    There are 24 separate listings under Class A, though The Arlington at 507 Matamoras (the name obviously borrowed from Josie Arlington's famous pleasure palace in New Orleans) and Mildred Clifton had the same address and telephone, as did Emma Wiley and Marguerite Williams at 316 South Concho. Beatrice Benedict is listed three times-at 421 Matamoras, 309 South Pecos, and 501 Durango-with a different telephone at each address. Unless there were three Beatrice Benedicts in the 'profession' in San Antonio in 1911-1912, Beatrice Benedict was a very busy woman.

    It is, of course, relatively certain that many of the names were assumed. Only a few women used their legal names in the trade, but 'catch names'-like the 1940s prostitute in El Paso who billed herself 'Pearle Harbour'-are notably absent. Only two such names appear, both Class C. A Class A woman calling herself Evelyn Thaw obviously assumed her nom d'amour in imitation of Evelyn Nesbit Thaw of New York and Harry K. Thaw-Stanford White murder fame. She was the most notorious prostitute in the US in the early 1900s. She is listed at 316 South Concho.

    Under Class B there are 20 listings, again with some duplication. The Saint Paul, El Toro, Edith Raymond, and The Three Twins are all listed at 309 South Pecos, and only The Saint Paul has a different telephone number. Belle St. Clair and the Silver Slipper are both listed at 410 Matamoras and have the same telephone, while Myrtle Singleton and Frances Pruitt shared quarters and a phone at 317 South Santa Rosa. Every Class A listing was telephone equipped. Only four Class B listings were without telephone service.

    The remaining 62 listings, all in the 200 to 400 block of South Concho, 200 block of Matamoras, 200 and 300 blocks of South Santa Rosa, and 100 block of Monterey are Class C. Apparently there were a number of one-room 'cribs' here, but in a number of cases we find women sharing quarters. Anita Dupree and Marian Durant are at 320 South Concho, Pebble Denman and Ada Davis at 224 South Concho, May Lomax and 'Maxine' at 403 South Concho, May Burkhart, Ione Marion, and Helen Jones at 205 Matamoras; Rafaela Cantu and Theresa Carrejo at 323 South Santa Rosa, Sallie Brewer and 'Legal Tender' at 216 South Concho, and Anita Stockbridge and Maria Rodriguez at 313 South Santa Rosa.

    The directory reveals that telephone service was extremely important to the business of prostitution even as early as 1911-1912. Many Class C women shared telephones. Though 21 entries are followed by telephone numbers, only nine numbers are listed in the Class C section. Only Aleese Duval at 307 South Concho, Julia Garcia at 216 Matamoras, and Catarina Rey at 114 Monterey had telephones to themselves. Anita Stockbridge and Maria Lopez, at 313 and 315 South Santa Rosa, shared a phone, as did Sallie Brewer at 316 South Concho and Anita Dupree at 320.

    Marian Durant, who shared quarters with Anita Dupree, had a different telephone, which she shared with Grace Jennings at 305 and Lea Mack at 303. May Lomax and 'Maxine' at 403 shared their phone with Bessie Edwards at 405 and Crickett Sullivan at 407.

    Both the Spanish Club at 316 South Santa Rosa and The Dixie at 209 Matamoras had telephones, but the Spanish Club's was also listed to Adele B. Rice at the same address, while The Dixie's phone was also listed to Belle Wilson, who had the same address as the club. In all likelihood these women were the madams.

    Of the 24 Class A listings, four are houses or clubs. Of the 20 women, none has an ethnicity-revealing name. Of the 20 Class B listings, there are four positive houses or clubs and one inconclusive that may or may not be-The Three Twins. Of the 15 women listed by name, only two have names that are even vaguely ethnicity-revealing.

    In Class C only two houses or clubs are listed. Of the remaining 60 listings, 'Legal Tender' and 'Maxine' are certainly noms d'amour. Twelve-slightly more than a fifth-of the remaining 58 are definitely Hispanic, while two-Tama Kato and Sada Yoshima-seem to be Japanese.

    About 1910 there was an influx of Chinese into San Antonio, driven north by the 1910 Mexican Revolution. These two women may have been ethnic Chinese who adopted Japanese-sounding names to disguise their actual ethnicity and avoid loss-of-face for their families. It would be extremely unlikely that any patron of a Class C prostitute in San Antonio in 1911-1912 would be able to distinguish between Chinese and Japanese.

    Among the ethnically-uncertain names-they may belong to Anglo or Black women-by far the largest majority are native to Britain, with France running a close second. Many of the French names may be noms d'amour. The use of a French name-and often a faked French accent as well-was very popular among prostitutes in the period. Three names-Mary Schwartz, Annie Schneider, and May Burkhart, are identifiably German. Two, Vera Meyer (Class B) and Rosie Friedman (Class C), may have been Jewish.

    Proprietors of the bars and other establishments advertising in the 'Blue Book,' though, are about equally divided between the British Isles and Germany, reflecting the majority of the non-Hispanic population of San Antonio. Only two real outsiders, both Italian, appear. Some rather surprising business partnerships for the era do turn up, as in the Elite Hotel at Main Plaza and Commerce, owned by Kehoe (Irish) and Limburger (German, likely Jewish). The German Kitchen at 117 Avenue C, entirely outside the reservation, was certainly a Jewish restaurant. The proprietors were Jacobson and Ginsburg. In addition to listing 'a full line of cold meats and delicatessen,' it offered 'Special Dishes at Noon,' which would be kosher food.

    Documents like 'The Blue Books' are invaluable to historical study. These documents, called 'ephemera' by collectors, help build an accurate picture of life as it really was in what is, all things considered, a poorly studied, usually badly documented part of society-for reasons of the moral standards of the period. Things like 'The Blue Book' and their associated paper and solid artifacts are slowly helping to build an accurate picture of a side of life well known to those who lived in the era, but often deliberately denied and artfully concealed by the era's survivors. It is a pity so few such artifacts survive today.

    © C. F. Eckhardt June 14, 2006 column
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    Forum
    Subject: San Antonio's "blue book"

    In regards to article written by C.F. Eckhardt about San Antonio’s Blue Book. My aunt just recently showed me a copy of the “blue book” dated 1911-1912. Her father-in-law’s father, Italian immigrant living near downtown
    San Antonio on or about that time passed the ‘book” down to her late husband, Robert Turella. She found it with his personal property and brought it over for me to look at, since I enjoy history! Any idea of any more books or persons who may have these books? Any other information you may have or any person in San Antonio who may have more details. Thanks, Felix Rosel 210-355-7957, February 06, 2012
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