The Tenderloin

By Doug Tracy

Toledo’s Tenderloin was located in the general area of Washington and Lafayette streets between St. Clair and Erie, with smaller clusters of ‘immoral houses’ nearby on intersecting streets. Newspapers of the day paint a picture of the Tenderloin District as an area “beneath the dead line” where thieves, gamblers, grafters, sporting women, degenerates and drunks ran free.  The police department did its best to control things, but could not keep up and often looked the other way.  In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there had been many efforts by Toledo’s leaders to clean up the area, but none were entirely successful until the United States entered World War I.

In the spring of 1918, concern expressed by national leaders about the effects of vice on the shrinking pool of draft-age young men and the factory workers supporting the war effort had escalated, so the pressure was on for cities to do what they could to protect these potential soldiers from the ravages of vice, venereal disease and crime that might keep them out of the army.  Cities were strongly encouraged to clean up their high-crime areas for both social health and patriotic reasons.  The call to action was seen as a mandate as well as an opportunity.

It was a sign of the prevailing attitudes of the day that city fathers and religious leaders felt that it was the young men, not the ladies, who were the hapless victims whose virtue was being ruined by the street women.  They needed to be protected from the evils of street life in the vice zone.  And so the end of April 1918 was chosen as the deadline to shut down the Tenderloin.

By midnight of Tuesday, May 1st, 35 resorts were closed and dark.  As the Toledo Blade reported in their late edition May 1, 1918,

“For the first night in years, excepting Sunday restrictions, the tinkle of the mechanical pianos and the skulking of women of the underworld, clandestine lovers, parasites, criminals, the occasional street fight or the back room brawl which brought policemen scampering, the coming and going of taxicabs with mysterious ‘fares,’ the savory odor of the sandwich man’s wares – for the first night in years all of these were gone.”