12 July 2021

The Stockade: SLC's Officially Sanctioned Red-Light District, 1908-1911

North entrance to the Stockade on 100 South of Block 64, 1911.
Dora Topham (Belle London) kept her office in the one story
building just left of the two individuals.
Photograph taken from 564 West 100 South. From UDSH.

In 1908, most of SLC’s Block 64 in the emerging GreekTown (see previous post) became SLC’s new red-light district known as The Stockade.

Prostitution was not new to SLC and an unofficially controlled form of prostitution (where sex workers were arrested, paid a monthly fine, and were set free to do it all again) was practiced in SLC since 1870.

What made the Stockade different was that it was officially sanctioned, developed, and protected by the Mayor, City Council, and Chief of Police; and it was run by a single Madame. That woman was Dora Topham, more popularly known as Belle London.

SLC Chief of Police, Thomas Pitt, first suggested formally regulating prostitution in his annual report of 1907. While the newspapers and anti-vice groups initially dismissed the idea, mayor John S. Bransford and the City Council (most were members of the American political party) quietly started implementing the plan.

Bransford said, at least publicly, that moving the red-light district from Commercial Street (now Regent Street) where it had existed since the 1870s would allow the downtown business district to thrive in more respectable endeavors. Privately, Bransford and some City Council members had plans in the works to profit from the move.

Block 64 (100-200 S / 500-600 W) was chosen for the Stockade as it was near the railroad tracks, away from schools, and had existing utilities and infrastructure within the inner block: namely Boyd Court and Carter Terrace.

In addition, the neighborhood was transforming into GreekTown and “most of the better class of residents were leaving” as more Greeks, Italians, and Japanese were moving in. Thus, according to SLC’s leadership the new immigrants had already destroyed the respectable nature of the neighborhood and establishing the red-light district would not harm it further.
Constructing the cribs in 1908.On 200 South looking into the interior of the block, from UDSH

Constructing the cribs in 1908.On 200 South looking into the interior of the block, from UDSH

In May 1908, parts of Block 64 were purchased or leased by The Citizens Investment Co, which was a newly created company almost entirely operated by Dora Topham (aka Belle London) who served as the President, Treasurer, and General Manager.

Topham was described as “an extremely clever woman” and brought in from Ogden where she was well known for being a Madame. More about her later.

The Citizens Investment Co began construction in the summer of 1908. A 10-foot wall surrounding the Stockade was built with entrances at the north and south sides of the block. Existing houses were converted into brothels and rows of new cribs were built. New buildings for saloons and stores were built primarily along 200 South, including the soon to be demolished Citizen Investment Co building at 540 W 200 South.

The existing residents of Block 64 opposed the new Stockade and they organized as the West Side Citizens League and made formal complaints to the City Council. They filed a lawsuit to stop the opening of the Stockade and won with an injunction being issued, which was then completely ignored by the City.

In Dec 1908 the Stockade formally opened and pressure was placed on the Commercial Street Madams to move locations. A few of the Madams moved to the Stockade, a few closed shop and left town, and a few persisted and remained open on Commercial Street through the Stockade years.

Those opposing the Stockade eventually won a legal battle that stuck and Topham was sentenced to 18 years of hard labor for inducing a woman into prostitution (later reversed by the Utah Supreme Court). In response Topham abruptly closed the Stockade in Sept 1911 and sold her property, eventually moving to California.

The occupants of the Stockade either returned to Commercial Street or remained on the west side of 200 South. Commercial Street remained a red-light district until the late 1930s and 200 South remained one until the late 1970s.

Map of the Stockade from Jeffrey Nichols book Prostitution Polygamy and Power.
Color highlights added for clarity. 

Overlay of the Stockade from 1911 Sanborn onto modern Google Map 2020.
 Green show modern landmarks; Yellow show Stockade features.

Sources: Prostitution, Polygamy, and Power: Salt Lake City 1847-1918 by Jeffrey Nichols; Red Lights in Zion: SLC Stockade 1908-11 by John S McCormick in UHQ V50, 1982, N2.

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