As Olympia’s downtown grew south along Capitol Way, the older buildings nearer the Main Street wharf transitioned to a vice district. Saloons, brothels, gambling halls and clandestine opium dens ran at all hours, serving the large number of single males comprising the industrial labor force in the Olympia area. Many men lost their entire monthly paycheck in the course of an evening in the district. However, upstanding “family men” of Olympia were not immune to the lure of the district and occasionally found themselves caught in police raids.
The women engaged in prostitution were from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Ostracized by polite society, these “fallen women” were frequent victims of violence at the hands of their clients and employers and many suffered from poor health, alcoholism and drug addiction. In one instance, a jealous lover used an ax to kill Madame Lela Page, operator of a brothel named “The Jewel.” The perpetrator was convicted and executed at the state Penitentiary at Walla Walla. While civic reformers worked to stem the worst excesses taking place in the district, police mainly resigned themselves to containing “bad elements” to this part of town.
After Olympia banned alcohol consumption in 1910, the restricted district shut down and its residents dispersed. By then, the remaining historic structures on lower Main Street were in poor repair and suffered from the effects of time and neglect. An attempt to rescue the old Parker & Colter store, site of the first territorial legislature, ended in failure but the Washington State Historical Society later marked the site was with a bronze tablet. Over the next few years all the buildings were removed and replaced mainly by industrial businesses. By the mid-1900s, little remained of Olympia’s original downtown.
“Four Well-Known People Arrested in Raid on Chinese Opium Den” Olympia Record, 16 December 1907.
“Lela Page Murdered”, Olympia Daily Recorder, 20 January 1903.
Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: Norton, 1987, 49-52.
Newell, Gordon R. Rogues, Buffoons & Statesmen; The Inside Story of Washington’s Capital City & the Hilarious History of 120 Years of State Politics. Seattle, Wash: Superior Pub. Co, 1975.
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