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LA Times Today: Patt Says: Bordello antique guidebook

LA Times Today: Patt Says: Bordello antique guidebook

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Vegas has the lock on the Sin City brand, but every city has a little touch of turpitude … even the one named for angels, which is just asking for contradiction.

This is not new.

Much as I love the cover of this book, it turned out to be just a cheeky aboveboard history of L.A.

But this is about a much smaller and rarer book, more of a brochure, really.

A hundred, a hundred fifty years ago, men visiting cities like L.A. often carried a little yellow directory … not to public and civic attractions, but to those of the flesh.

Los Angeles’ version was published in 1897 and republished within a 1967 book called “Tarnished Angels.”

It told Victorian visitors how to find the city’s bordellos, brothels, sporting houses — so many synonyms for houses of prostitution.

Old L.A. had a lot of prostitution. The 1836 census listed 250 nonnative American women, and 15 of them were marked “MV” — mala vida, bad life.

We even have maps showing where they were, block by block, and that’s because fire insurance companies laid out the dimensions and the use of every building.

The places identified as “female boarding” were places of prostitution.

Most of these women were unknown, despised and marginalized. Over a century, a few, a very few, became celebrities.

Pearl Morton, the millionaire madam, took her “girls” out for showy carriage rides. When she left L.A. during a period of puritanical prosecutions, other madams succeeded her.

Ann Forrester, called the “black widow,” went to prison before World War II.

Brenda Allen, the notorious Hollywood Madam, had friends in the LAPD.

Madame Alex, with Arab sheikhs and movie moguls as clients, got arrested in spite of her LAPD contacts. Back when I interviewed her, she looked me up and down and said, if you’d come to me a few years ago, I could’ve made you some real money. It was her idea of a compliment. And the notorious Heidi Fleiss, Madame Alex’s less subtle successor.

As for this book, “The Souvenir Sporting Guide,” it opens with saloon ads, then gets to Madame Van, who runs “the oldest and best establishment in the city … she has ten beautiful young ladies to assist her.”

The pages extol the virtues of the Little Brick … the Oakwood Inn … the Octoroon, a 19th century insult word for mixed-race women, with, quote, “finely shaped bodies moving with undulating grace.”

Page after page of bawdy house … and lists of independent contractors, women who probably paid to have their information published in this very different kind of yellow pages.

And at the back, a shop for pills for ladies to, quote, “cure all local inflammation,” and a barber open until 4 am to restore the evening’s ravages.

As an artifact of old L.A., it’s rare and fascinating. Anyone who came across such a book today might riffle through the pages wondering, where are their apps?