|"Interior of The Senate, 1921."|
These women were an integral part of Telluride's economy in the early days. Until the temperance movement targeted prostitution, residents of Telluride did not pay any local taxes. Each madam was simply charged $150 at the beginning of each week. This money kept the town running (profitably!). The women worked out of "Female Boarding Houses" and/or "Cribs," which were mostly found on the south side of town. Some of the larger homes, like the Senate, also contained bars.
|"Popcorn Alley Cribs"|
The end of legal prostitution came from Denver in 1915, when Senate Bill 88 was passed. This bill made it possible for houses that prostitutes work in to be seized and closed for a year and eventually sold by the state. The bill passed the state senate on a vote of 26-7 and was signed into law by Governor George A. Carlson in April 1915. Several things happened as a result of this decision. The first was that city attorney, D.C. Stemen, made the point that the city council could no longer collect from madams without condoning illegal activity and having to bring a case against each one. In April 1916, a local, Al Boynton, became the first in Telluride to bring action against using Senate Bill 88. He presented evidence that George and Lena Rock were operating 6 houses of prostitution in town. Mrs. Rock turned on her competitors and gave evidence against Lena Taifni, Pete Silva, T.B. McMahon, B. Perino, and Matt Mattivi. Their establishments were closed under state law. The town council's attitude shifted towards the business with their inability to gain usable revenue from it. The prostitution that continued in the town was underground and untaxed from 1916 until the district disappeared.
See and hear more about Telluride's Red Light District in the new Telluride at Leisure exhibit, opening December 3rd.
Telluride Historical Museum