From The Archives – Palo Alto’s Own Sex In The City

Her habit of rubbing people the thong / wrong way goes back a long time….City Attorney Donald Larkin may have the upper hand!!

Former PAPD Chief Lynne Johnson

By Matt Bowling / Daily News columnist

According to the late newspaper editor and historian Ward Winslow, Palo Alto once had an “unwanted reputation as the Peninsula’s largest sex-shop center.”

These days that may seem a little hard to imagine, but in the mid-1970s, the El Camino Real strip through Barron Park was lined with massage parlors. And as it turned out, they were offering a little more than just your basic stress-relieving rubdown.

The onslaught of adult fare came to Palo Alto in 1972 when a few mature bookstores moved in to empty properties along El Camino Real. They were soon joined by the X-rated Copenhagen Theatre at 3898 El Camino Real, the same building that later held the Santa Clara County Democratic Headquarters.

Before long, a number of massage parlors began to pop up throughout the city and by the winter of 1974, 10 massage parlors with names like “The Streaker” and “The Foxy Lady” blanketed an eight-block stretch along the old King’s Highway.

Crime and blight soon followed. Women complained of being propositioned while walking down the street and more family friendly businesses struggled to survive. Crime reports in the area were up, and sales were down. And by 1974, questions were being raised about what was really going on inside those massage parlors.

The Palo Alto police, at no small cost, organized a sting operation. Using mostly undercover officers from cities nearby, police confirmed that most of the parlors were little more than houses of prostitution. They accumulated more than 100 sworn statements that they then took to court.

As was later reported to the press, various sexual services were being offered as “extras” at the parlors with prices ranging between $30 and $100

Police spokesmen were quick to add that undercover officers had turned down all such offers.

Many of the parlor owners were actually legal Nevada brothel owners importing registered prostitutes to offer their services in Palo Alto.

Following the precedent set the previous year in Fremont, the Palo Alto police sought to close the parlors under the Red Light Abatement Act – a state anti-prostitution law dusted off from 1913. Armed with a court order from Judge Peter Arnello, the police acted quickly and decisively. At dawn on Friday, Dec. 3, 1976, teams of police officers, locksmiths and movers closed down most of the parlors down in hours, padlocking all 17 illegitimate massage parlors in Palo Alto.

In so doing, further evidence collected essentially ended any real hopes for the parlors to reopen in the city. Operators and masseuses were fined and, in some cases, put in jail. The police also went after some of the “Johns,” as well.

Current police Chief Lynne Johnson even donned “appropriate clothing,” as she put it, and posed as a masseuse, catching men on record asking for services which were not quite legal. One arrested attorney allegedly intended to pay for the services with a check from his wife with a note that read “Happy Birthday.”

Following the raid, the Palo Alto City Council put heavy restrictions on adult businesses that wanted to set up shop. A string of tight controls were also put on massage parlors – including bans on halter tops, tipping and massages after 11 p.m. Such rules have sometimes made business more difficult for legitimate relaxation centers. However, it’s been more than 30 years since the massage parlor crackdown, and there has not been much X-rated activity about the city since.

POLICE: Battle over message therapists renewed

The Massage Parlor Crackdown: Palo Alto’s Prostitution Problem

Palo Alto won’t ask for massage-client info

Palo Alto revives cry of ‘Lust, say no’ “It was a place to come for a message – Plus”  Bob Moss

California Senate Bill 731 – State of California

“It’s for police official use only,” Wagner said. “It’s not something that would be published anywhere.”

April Chan Wagner Client List Gate Keeper


Update: Email received from Bob Moss – ‘Lust, say no’
Apr 22, 2011
“Yes, it was quite an effort getting rid of the whore houses posing as massage parlors on El Camino and a few other locations some 35 years ago. I recall when the council voted on the final ordinance there were about a dozen women from various “massage parlors” at city hall objecting to the ordinance.
One of them confronted some of us in the city hall lobby and shouted “Do I look like a whore?”   I told her I wasn’t expecting her to look different from anyone else, just as long as she didn’t act differently – when she went to work. The articles about amending the massage license law reminded me of those awful days.  I worked with 6 or 8 others from Barron Park and Ventura drawing up the ordinances and getting the cops to enforce them and shut all those places down.”

One Reply to “From The Archives – Palo Alto’s Own Sex In The City”

Comments are closed.