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A short history of bordellos in San Francisco, part 3

Stanford also told her own story photo: PUTNAM

Lest readers think this series on the bordellos of San Francisco is never-ending, let me assure them that I am running out of madams and this will be the end of it. Unless, by popular demand, I am bidden to engage in further research by my esteemed editors.

“Diamond Jessie” Hayman

Another madam who stands out during the period just before and after the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire was “Diamond Jessie” Hayman. She was fond of calling her parlor house on Ellis Street “an oasis from cares and time.” The story of New Orleans-born Diamond Jessie spanned a period from the 1890s up to the time of Prohibition in 1919. At the time, she called herself Jessie Mellon and was a “boarder” at the Ellis Street house of a madam named Nina Hayman. Later, after the tall, slender and raven-tressed Jessie had a series of trysts with a Russian Grand Duke on a world tour, she took over the madam’s name and the business and became wealthy, always believing that diamonds were a girl’s best friend. Arnold Genthe, the San Francisco photographer who seems to have arranged a liaison between the royal Russian and the engaging prostitute, described her by saying “She had the face and figure of an empress, and the pose and manner of
one as well.”

Diamond Jessie operated what amounted to a chain of parlor houses. It wasn’t until 1917 that she was forced to close them down by a combination of social reform legislation and a crusade against vice by religious interests. She retired gracefully.  She died in a London hotel while on a world tour.

“I shot him because I loved him …”

A native San Franciscan born in the Mission District in 1869, blonde and flamboyant Tessie Wall became a madam in the City’s Tenderloin early in the 1900s. She apparently had a tremendous capacity for champagne and once is reported to have outlasted world champion boxer John L. Sullivan in a drinking bout while she worked as a dancehall girl in a Market Street dive. Her parlor house, first on Larkin Street, then on O’Farrell, was popular with the young college boy clientele. She later married gambler Frank Daroux. After a few years of marriage, Daroux and Tessie Wall were divorced, but she continued to carry the torch. When he refused to return to her, she shot him, but he survived. When arrested she cried out, “I shot him because I love him, God damn him!” Tessie retired with a fortune and
died in 1932.

From Madam to Mayor

In her book The Lady of the House published in 1966, Sally Stanford said, “Madaming is the sort of thing that just happens to you — like getting a battlefield commission or becoming dean of women at Stanford University.”

Mabel Janice Busby, who would become the idiosyncratic and famous madam Sally Stanford, was born in Oregon in 1903. Later she said she took the name because Sally was a good hooker name and because she had seen the headline “Stanford Wins Big Game.” Dysfunctional marriages led her to San Francisco, where in the 1930s and 1940s she operated a series of high-class parlor houses.
The most famous of these was at 1144 Pine Street, furnished in Sally’s favorite elegant Victorian style. It featured a marble bathtub said to have belonged to actress Anna Held who enjoyed herself in it with milk baths. Not exactly your shy and retiring madam, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once referred to her operations as “Sally Stanford’s School of Advanced Social Studies.” There was also a short-lived marriage to Robert Gump, a member of the prominent Gump family of oriental art objects emporium of the same name. Sally Stanford finally retired in 1949 following numerous police shutdowns.

The following year, she opened an opulent Victorian restaurant across the Golden Gate in Sausalito. Its appointments reminded patrons of her former bagnios. In 1962 she ran for a Sausalito City Council seat. After a spirited campaign in which she hammered home her political slogan, “Live and Let Live,” she finished third among the eight candidates. But not one to let adversity get her down, she repeatedly ran again and was finally elected. Then, having become a wise and even beloved figure, in 1976 Sally Stanford was elected mayor of Sausalito. She died in 1982 at age 78, and flags were flown at half-staff in Sausalito.

Brandy After Lunch

We conclude this pantheon of San Francisco madams with Marlene Brandy Baldwin, a resourceful creature who retired in Northern California. Brandy was the most well-known madam of the 1970s and 1980s. For a madam that can be both good and bad. Good, because there was never a dearth of customers; bad, because the prominence led to frequent police busts. Brandy Baldwin’s high profile, sporting life prompted the San Francisco Chronicle columnist Charles McCabe to write “She is a by-word in some of the more posh of the bars and restaurants of the financial district. When the meal is consumed and the dice cups put away, the frequent query, accompanied by the appropriate leer is: ‘Brandy after lunch?’”

On the negative side, in one highly-publicized police bust, Brandy either fell while trying to escape or was pushed from a third floor window and was severely injured. This did not stop her true calling; she continued to be a parlor-house operator. She did some hard time, and following one conviction was sentenced to 90 days in a nunnery. Yes, that’s a true story.

To be sure, there have been other madams and other parlor houses worthy of consideration in this account of the San Francisco demimonde. From time to time we hear about what the newspapers sometimes call “houses of ill fame” surfacing here and there. But these discoveries are like the anxious birdwatcher’s sighting of a rare woodpecker. There are no parlor houses in San Francisco today.

Or so we believe.

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For those interested in further research on this subject, contact our Back Story columnist Ernest Beyl at [email protected].