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Historical Article Reno News and Review

January 20, 2015

Reno Torn Over Tenderloin

A Dilemma over Prostitutes Has City Leaders Wringing Their Hands

By Geoffrey AltrocchiJan. 24, 1902

Courtesy Of Nevada Historical Society
Controversy surrounds these Cribs at 100 E. Commercial Row.

The citizens of Reno are divided on what to do with the darker side of the city, the city’s tenderloin district.

Some wish to purge the city of its vagrants by arresting and prosecuting to the fullest every last warm body within the boundaries of Lake and First streets and Second and Evans streets. Others wish to contain the madness within those very areas and tax the houses of ill-repute so as to make a profit.

Everyone agrees that prostitution is the base of it all. The houses of ill-repute draw men of equally low design. This is where disreputable persons shelter and fester and occasionally erupt in murderous violence.

Those in favor of purging the city scoff at what they call the “short memory” of those in favor of keeping the district.

Earlier this month the “red light” district was red with bloodshed in intensifying race wars. This senseless violence culminated in the near fatal shooting of the heroic Constable Charlie Leeper by a vagrant Negro, Mr. Bill Scott, on Jan. 9.

Mr. Leeper, who was with his son Ed Leeper and two other friends, was himself responding to an earlier shooting that evening by Scott in the very area in question. When Leeper found Scott in front of the Cottage corner and told him he was the man he was looking for, Scott emptied his .38 caliber on Leeper, shooting him once in the hand and another time in the navel.

Leeper stood his ground and shot back at Scott. He is considered by most a hero. Reno later rejoiced to learn that Leeper, who in the past had devoted much of his time to cleaning up the tenderloin, would survive. Scott died soon after of wounds from the shot.

Following this incident, District Attorney W.H.A. Pike and Washoe County Sheriff McInnis finally showed some initiative and tried to use state law to rid Reno’s bowels of some of its worse characters.

On Friday, Jan. 17, Pike and Washoe County Sheriff McInnis served upon property owners in the Tenderloin notices in the form of an ultimatum regulated by state law. The notices cited Sections 1 and 3 of the Nevada Legislature’s “Act to regulate houses and houses where beer, wine or spirituous liquors are sold,” which states that it is illegal to locate prostitution within 400 yards of any school or school room. Disobeying this law would be punishable by up to a $300 fine and up to 60 days’ jail time.

The results of this are yet to be seen, but the action is much more aggressive than the district attorney’s and the sheriff’s usual “laissez-faire” philosophy. Hopefully, even they have finally realized that arresting the vagrants and setting their bail at $20 is not strict enough. For under that gentle practice the bail is posted by one of the vagrant’s favorite harlots, and they are back swilling their favorite ale by the next evening.

Tensions over what to do with the Tenderloin that have been rising since the turn of the century. The attack on Leeper brought the controversy to a boil.

“Keep the social evil in a heap where it can be watched. That is better than disseminating that element throughout the town,” said Postmaster H.P Kraus on the question of what to do with the “red light.”

Former chief of police Harry Brown agreed with Kraus. He said that, six years ago, when he was Reno’s chief, he purposely put the town’s “demi-monde” where it is now.

“Prior to that time they were scattered,” Brown said. “The women are in the proper locality. They can be controlled and kept under the constant surveillance of the officers where they are.”

Regent of the State University J. N. Evans said he would err toward cleaning the whole place up as long as it’s done thoroughly. “Yes, provided they are removed entirely from the town. If not, leave them alone.”

“It has never struck me that [the prostitutes] are in a very conspicuous place,” countered Rev. Samuel Unsworth.

In almost a concession of victory to the side that favors keeping the girls in town, the City Council on Thursday considered taxing the houses of ill fame. They discovered during the meeting that this measure is provided by state law and would not require a city election. They said creating an ordinance would be all that was necessary.

Reno currently has about 60 prostitution houses, and the money derived from the taxation would go a long way toward providing municipal revenues, they figured.



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