The Love & Sex Issue 2024

I Find My Love Awake

The Ram-ifications of Breaking Your Own Rules

Love in Lockup

How I Proposed to My Wife from Prison

The Books of Love

A Poem Recommendation for Every Stage of a Relationship

Where to Pickup a Copy of The Stranger's Love & Sex Issue

It's Currently Available at Hundreds of Locations Around Seattle!

Washington Needs a Strippers’ Bill of Rights

New Proposal Reduces Fees on Dancers, Increases Security

The Stranger's Love & Sex Issue

Horny Poetry! Top Shortage Confirmed! How Sex Work Built Seattle! And Hundreds of Reader Valentines!

Take a Tour of Seattle’s Former Dens of Vice

Seattle Was Built on Sex Work—and Many of Those Buildings Are Still Standing

The Stranger’s 2024 Sex Survey Results

Orgies Slightly Up, the Binary Is Breaking, and Seattle’s Top Shortage Confirmed

Hundreds of Reader Valentines

Roses Are Red, You’re Looking Cute, One of These Love Notes May Be About You

Here’s how much sex work played a role in the foundation of the City of Seattle as we know it today: There was a whole-ass multi-season TV series about it. 

But let’s back up a bit, because this is a long story. 

Seattle is a relatively young city. Early colonizers were fur trappers, hunters, and those bound for the sea. Later, the West Coast became a place for people who felt constrained by Industrial-era city life. Men of all ages came toward the Pacific Ocean in droves to farm the rich land, fish in crystal-clear streams, and fell giant trees (with precisely zero regard for the fact that those streams were holy places awash in ancestral tradition by the people who had been and still were living on that land). 

This migratory pattern presented a problem to the men who called themselves “founders.” Most of the region’s new residents were young, single men—and there was no one for them to marry. Sure, there were Indigenous women—living beings whose names have been lost to history and were often treated with as much callousness as any of the other natural resources—but the settlers wanted to start families. And they needed good American (read: white) girls to make that happen. 

Asa Mercer—yes, that Mercer—was a young man when he came up with a brilliant idea: He would go back East to the towns ravaged by the Civil War and find eligible white women willing to move to Seattle with the promise of marriage. He received local and state dollars to make the pilgrimage and, after a few trips, returned with dozens of young women. 

The “Mercer Girls”—the founding mothers of Seattle—would definitely not have considered themselves sex workers. But what else could you call what was essentially state-sanctioned human trafficking for the purpose of “finding love”? Weren’t they just a kind of mail-order bride?

This period in Seattle’s history has some sticking power. A century after Mercer came back, ABC debuted a Western comedy show called …Here Come the Brides. The show, starring Joan Blondell, Bridget Hanley, Bobby Sherman, and David Soul, was on for two years and it featured guest appearances from both Bruce Lee and Barry Williams (from The Brady Bunch) and earned Blondell two Emmy nominations. 

Somehow, though, that’s not the wildest part of Seattle’s history. 

Word eventually spread about the favorable male-to-female ratio in Seattle and folks started coming out West to engage in the world’s oldest profession. As the Klondike Gold Rush began to hit a fever pitch in the 1880s, more came for the opportunity to warm the bed (and drain the wallets) of those coming and going to the frozen north. In many ways, the presence of white women in Seattle prior to the turn of the 20th century is largely due to sex work. 

A handful of Seattle buildings also wouldn’t have been constructed without the labor of those who worked the brothels. Lou Graham, a notorious and notoriously misunderstood madam, was one of the first property owners to build following the Great Seattle Fire in 1889. She and her colleagues/competition ran saloons in the lower parts of their buildings while charging men for a dance or a meal upstairs. It wasn’t secret business—everyone knew that’s how the area south of City Hall operated. 

Such was the presence of sex work in Seattle before WWI, that it became an elections issue—some lawmakers wanted to crack down on the “bed houses of the Tenderloin District,” while others favored an “open city” approach that would allow the businesses to continue, so long as they were contained in a specific part of town. Eventually, after dickering over the precise location of the “dead line,” the City completely shuttered the saloons, box houses, theaters, and any other location known to permit or harbor sex work in 1902.

In the proud American tradition of just shuffling undesirable people around, Seattle didn’t eradicate sex work. The laws just made it less regulated, less easy to monitor, and less safe. And yet, we still love to talk about the history of sex work in this region as though it’s a quirky little side-plot. 

But sex work is as much a part of Seattle as pretending not to like umbrellas (they’re actually really useful!) and taking visiting friends and family to the Public Market and correcting them when they say “Pike’s.” There is literally infrastructure that would not exist without the labor of generations of people whose names are almost entirely effaced from our collective history. 

To keep these stories alive, we have to talk about them with the intrigue and reverence they deserve. So if you’d like to take yourself on a date this week (or any time), here are some of the locations in and around Pioneer Square that are intimately linked to Seattle’s very own soiled doves. Of course, these aren’t all of them—it’s safe to assume that just about any place where two people could reasonably fit has been used for this purpose—but these are a few that might be a little surprising. 

Lou Graham’s Sporting Club

221 South Washington Street

Ignore the plaque on this building—it’s all wrong. Just focus on the surprisingly detailed architecture and the funny door on the corner. Look up and imagine ladies of the night waving down at you.

Lou Graham was a mysterious and powerful German immigrant who sort of appeared in Seattle and opened a brothel. She was, by all accounts, a fierce businesswoman (she had so. much. jewelry) and an employer of all sorts of folks. She had this building constructed after her previous location, which was across the street, burned down during the Great Seattle Fire. The downstairs of this building was a saloon and, unlike most of the other proprietors of “dens of vice” in the Tenderloin, Graham maintained a tight ship. She did not tolerate fighting, stealing, or stabbing, which is saying something, because pretty much all her competition did. 

The People’s Theater

164 South Washington Street

Did you ever hear the story of John Considine and how he killed the former Chief of Police? Considine basically got the guy fired and, when the man came to exact his revenge, Considine’s hat was pierced by a bullet and he ultimately murdered the ex-cop. Anyway, he was a real dandy, Considine, and he ran a number of businesses, including several “theaters.”

But the People’s Theater wasn’t exactly a family-friendly place. This was the kind of place—called a “Box House”—where, if you danced with a girl, you would likely wake up with a bad headache and no money. According to a newspaper article that was mostly just designed to scare the normies, “the women are told not to rob men who would likely report their loss to the police, but to lay their nets for those who would not dare make their loss public.”

The theater was in the basement underneath the bar formerly known as the Double Header, which was one of the best bars to ever exist and is still sorely missed. 

The Klondike and the Paris House

300 Second Avenue South and the NW corner of Second Avenue South and Main 

You have to use your imagination with this block because, believe it or not, the parking lot, the little food hut, and the Waterfall Park are not from 1900. But if you squint toward Good Bar, you can get an idea of what used to be here because the buildings all looked like that. 

On the site of the parking lot, Charley Shomo ran the Klondike. It was what we would call in today’s parlance a “nuisance property.” In addition to the sex work—and there was lots of it, by all varieties of people—a number of other bad things occurred here. There were numerous stabbings, a lot of fights, and, at one point, Shomo’s girlfriend (who worked there) drank carbolic acid to end her life. Shomo, despondent, attempted to do the same… but he ended up shooting himself through the neck and surviving. 

At around the same time, on the same block but kitty-corner, a woman named “French Camile” and her associate Lila Young ran the Paris House, once called “the vilest dens in the country” by the Seattle Daily Times. People really hated this joint! Which is perhaps why it was so cheap for a then-19-year-old to get storage space in the basement and create a little business that would come to be called United Parcel Service. 

Dead Line

114 First Avenue South 

This bar isn’t named for journalists who are in a crunch. It’s named for the arbitrary and extremely moveable line that Seattle politicians drew and redrew to delineate where saloons and bordellos could or could not operate. And it used to have a kind of weird story about it on the website but that’s not what we’re focusing on right now. 

Dead Line is located in the historic State Hotel building (called the Delmar in 1900) which, as you might have guessed from the still-existing neon signs for cheap rooms, was home to some sex work. They even mention it on their website, though the whole “seamstresses” thing is a rumor. No one was bothering to conceal the work they were doing. 

If the impermanent nature of this “dead line” solution sounds like a problem, it was! People who owned properties, such as Lou Graham, would find themselves on the wrong side of the law (literally) one day and then perfectly legal the next. Most often, though, because Lou knew everyone, her building was specially carved out. 

Diller Hotel

1216 First Avenue

The Diller Room has been a downtown staple for years, but few know that it was named for an actual person! Leonard Diller was a butcher-turned-Council member. He commissioned his new fireproof-ish brick hotel following the fire in 1890 and touted its high-end, luxurious offerings like toilets. 

Many known madams worked from this location and they enjoyed an amount of protection; at least once, Diller blocked a rival from getting a liquor license because his establishment was too close and would provide too much competition. But this hotel did numbers with regular guests; it was common practice at the turn of the century to publish who was visiting the city and many guests were booked at the Diller. 

The Diller became especially popular with sex workers, though, after 1902, when the dead line flushed them out of Pioneer Square and up First Avenue. Some of the known brothel owners, like French Camile and another woman, Rae McRobert, began operating at the numerous hotels on that block.