This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

The prostitutes of old-time Phoenix - 1890s


Phoenix has always had prostitution, from the days when it was "the Old West" until present day. It is, of course, a taboo subject, and it's something that seems to be the oldest profession, and it probably always be around, in some shape or form, whether it's called "The Red Light District" or "Street Walkers", "Ladies of the Evening" or "Escorts". I'm sure that you can think of many more names, but for the purposes of time traveling to 1890s, Phoenix, I will use the term "prostitute".

In the 1890s, the prostitutes were mostly in the area around 1st Street south of Monroe, along what was called Melinda's Alley. It went past the Adams Hotel, where presumably some of the clientele stayed, and was just south of Millionaire's Row. The Rosson House, by the way, which is on Monroe and 6th Street, was at the eastern edge of Millionaire's Row. In the 1890s that stretch from Central Avenue to 7th Street, is where the big mansions were, where the rich people lived.

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You can still see Melinda's Alley, which is just an alley now between Monroe and Adams. Back in the 1890s, while it wasn't actually a Phoenix street, but there were houses and businesses on it. And prostitutes, lots of prostitutes. Nowadays there's a bar with the name "Melinda's Alley" in the back of the Renaissance Hotel, with a red light showing where the door is. That's a smile and a wink to the original Melinda's Alley, the original Red Light District of Phoenix, which is where the prostitutes were.

After the 1950s, the prostitutes moved up to east Van Buren, and for most of the people who have lived in Phoenix since then "Van Buren" is virtually synonymous with "Prostitutes". A kid might insult another kid by simply saying that their mother worked on Van Buren. In the 1890s, it was Melinda's Alley.


Image at the top of this post: Looking northeast from the Adams Hotel along Melinda's Alley. The building there that spans from Monroe to the alley is where the girls lived. Camelback Mountain is in the background.