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Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: The Second Street Houses were closed... but not for long

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Red light window

This second story window at 79 E. Second St. commemorates the years when the  building at the corner of Second and Lafayette streets in downtown Winona played hostess to one of a number of bawdy houses that made up the notorious Second Street Line -- the city's widely renowned Red Light District. 

This story originally appeared on Nov. 21, 1976, in the Winona Daily News.

The Houses of Ill Fame on 2 Street were closed for a time in 1914 following a war against vice and lawlessness.

Scott Laird, editor-manager of the Winona Republican-Herald, spearheaded the crusade on the editorial page.

A Vigilance Committee for Winona was formed after a letter to the editor appeared in the July 23 issue asking the editor to use his influence toward abolishing “street traffic,” specifically “traffic in girls, both on the public streets and in the deas of iniquity.”

The war also was waged on saloons on 3rd Street that sold liquor on Sunday.

The Vigilance Committee consisted of preachers and laymen (“including the good and influential women”) of all the churches and officers and members of the many organizations and institutions that “stand for the advancement of this beautiful, happy, growing city of ours.”

Various sections of the city ordinances were quoted, stating it was against the law to maintain or assist in keeping or maintaining any house of ill fame assignation or be an inmate or patron of any such house, or visit any such house for any lewd or immoral purposes.

The Republican-Herald solicited expressions from those “who may be acquainted with conditions as they exist in Winona today, those who are disturbed by the insulting street-corner loafers, and by the profanity and other offensive language that emanates from not only the houses of ill fame in their PROTECTED district but also from the pool rooms and saloons along The White Way.”

For the next few days, the entire editorial pages were devoted to letters to the editor.

Orders were issued July 25 to close the saloons on Sunday, July 26, and on that Sunday the ministers took a stand for law enforcement.

Excerpts of what was said from one of the pulpits:

“At 12:30 we passed by the building at No. 217 W. 2nd St. There were 15 or 16 men standing about the doors of this building, trying to gain entrance. Several men and women could be heard on the inside using language of the vilest character.

“After a time these men who were unable to get in left this place and went two blocks away to what is called the Tremont House. They raised some disturbance, seeming to be under the influence of liquor until a policeman came down from Second Street and took two of them away with him.

“The others went to the back door of the Tremont and said to the women who opened the door, ‘Are you going to lock us out, too?’ She replied: ‘No, we can accommodate you.’

“They all entered. About this time a young man on the corner a block away was cursing with a loud voice and using the vilest and most obscene language I ever heard. He could have been heard two blocks away. But a policeman was less than half a block of this young man during all this time and never attempted to arrest him.

“At 10 minutes to one, we again passed the house at 217 W. 2nd. The language we heard here was of the vilest kind. The voices of girls were mingled with the voices of men. Beer was being sold in large quantities. In looking through a small opening we saw men and girls in the most indecent positions with reference to each other than it is possible to imagine. The language was heard on the opposite side of the street.

“After passing this place we went by the National Hotel, otherwise known as Lina Kettle’s place. Two women came from the side door out into the sidewalk in front, dressed only in what appeared to be nightdresses.”

An addendum stated: “A church-going people are praying that the police department will cease its ‘hedging’ and make an effort to enforce the law.”

The July 30 ordinance stated:

“It is time Winona served notice to the world at large that prostitutes and criminals must buy their tickets to some place other than Winona, Minn. Other cities are making efforts to rid themselves of their houses of ill fame and are supported by respectable public press.”

A roll call that was printed, showing where persons stood, listed the names of persons, organizations, churches and business places who openly endorsed or identified themselves with the campaign for the enforcement of law and suppression of vice, as well as those “who were opposed and those who had not taken any action.

The editorial page of Aug. 7, 1914, reported that the energetic and educational campaign conducted by the Republican-Herald for law enforcement in Winona had borne fruit.

“The disreputable houses are gone and we have it on absolutely good assurance that the saloons of the city will observe the laws of Minnesota and the ordinances of the city by closing up on Sunday at two o’clock at night.

“This paper has conducted its fight for a ‘cleaner Winona with malice toward none and has at all times endeavored to keep it free from personalities.’”

The houses, of course, reopened. But no information is recorded about when the reopenings occurred.

Winona was considered a good recreational area when Second Street “was busy,” maintains a former city councilman, “The town had a damn sight more conventions then since the chippies were the biggest lead-ins!” he said. ‘’We used to have at least a half dozen a year.”

In the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, according to the former councilman, the council used to adjourn meetings for inspections of the houses since it was the regulatory agency for the Second Street recreational area.

Now and then there were sporadic raids, he said; when it was brought to the council’s attention that too many cars were being stopped. Some people also were annoyed by the numerous window tappings.

“If the guys didn’t go in the houses the women sometimes dragged them in,” he declared. “When too many complaints were heard from ministers in town there would be a raid.

“Then there might be an arrest and a $10 fine. The women were picked up In the morning so they wouldn’t lose any working time.”

The councilman, who wished to remain anonymous, recalled the houses had waiting rooms for men who were awaiting late trains that came in on the North Western. Fees varied: $2 was the going rate but $1 or 75 cents was acceptable, In those years people didn’t have a lot of money so 35 cents or even a quarter was all right. The hourly rate for the big spenders was $5.

Every week the girls had regular checkups by the “Winona city health officers, Dr. William V, Lindsay and Dr. Hans M, Lichtenstein.”

The hookers served miniature drinks of beer and liquor to their customers, he recalled. But they were very careful not to get their paying customers drunk because they didn’t have a liquor license.

The former city councilman charged police and city officials got payoffs. When the alderman asked why they couldn’t get in on the “license fee” he said they were told there were “too damn many aldermen.”

Visits by police officers to the houses on Second Street didn’t cost anything, according to the former city father. “They went in free anytime.”

The most famous lady entertainer was a madame known as Queenie LeVaque. She was the oldest and stayed the longest.

Another was Jackie Goodheart. “Jackie wound up giving 200 men V.D. in less than a week and she was run out of town on a rail,” said the former alderman.

A. J, “Gus” Bingold, 82, a retired Winona chief of police who is now living in Trempealeau, Wis., maintains Winona had houses of prostitution “before I was born.” The veteran officer said that back in the ‘40s when the war was on soldiers were swarming to the houses and some of them got sick.

“We got tired of it and raised hell with them,” he stated, “All of the boys were cleaned out during a secret raid.”

He explained that in January of 1943 he and Sheriff George Fort got in contact with the state and had a State man come down to set up a deal to “knock them off.”


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