What we can learn from "The Barbary Coast"


Recently I finished Herbert Asbury’s 1939 book “The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld,” and it gave me an idea about stimulating Porn Valley’s economy.

The red-light district of San Francisco, known as the Barbary Coast for its lawlessness and vice, flourished from the time of the Gold Rush and for seven decades thereafter, finally succumbing to various acts of God (the 1906 earthquake and, later, religious crusades) and man (William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner).


During its decline, however, the brothels and dance halls of the Barbary Coast opened balconies to visiting tourists, who would each pay a dollar to watch the debauchery on the main floor below. Imagine a nice seniors’ bus tour taking a luncheon stop at the Lamplighter in Chatsworth, then motoring over to Osborn Street to watch the filming of “Barely Legal 102,” or maybe then heading to Penfield Ave. to watch AVN employees decide award nominations?

The horror, they’d say.


It is curious to note that religious leaders of the time vehemently opposed health clinics catering to San Francisco’s prostitutes, who in the 1910’s were required to get a blood test and a clean bill of health every four days to keep working (only people who work for Belladonna have to adhere to such strict guidelines now). For the blood test they paid 50 cents and, if they were found to be diseased, were treated for free.

But many local clerics felt that, since the city would not abolish the brothels, that fear of disease would keep men away from them. Church leaders were successful in shutting down San Francisco’s Municipal Clinic in 1913, just two years after it opened.

Here Asbury says, “they never seemed capable of realizing that vice regulated, even to a slight extent, was vice in retreat.”


But as more and more pressure was brought to bear on a government increasingly unwilling to be bribed, women were arrested or otherwise dissuaded from taking up prostitution. But one Barbary Coast “bagnio” started employing men and, by Asbury’s description from 80 years ago, we wonder if he’d be at a loss for words on visiting San Francisco today:

They discharged the dancing girls and in their places employed male degenerates who wore women’s clothing. From one to three of these creatures were always to be found sitting in each of the booths, and for a dollar they would perform in a manner which may be imagined, but which may not be described (emphasis added).

Thanks to Soiled Doves for the ancient prostie pix.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Westward Ho or: The Frog Pimps; The Upper Floor and underground of Kink.com
See also: Read “The Barbary Coast” on Google Books, Buy “The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld” at Amazon; Watch “Barbary Coast Bunny”

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Gram Ponante is America's Beloved Porn Journalist

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