Saturday, May 24, 2014

Port Angeles, WA - Brothels and Boardinghouses: The PA Underground

Amazing how many cities have an underground layer that you usually can’t see - unless you know what to look for. Towns often build near water, on lakes or rivers or near the ocean, and then decide that water isn’t static, rivers flood, tides ebb and flow and they need to change the city to account for these changes. Usually the towns build upward and the second story becomes the new street level. These towns now have an underground. You can take an underground tour in Seattle, which we will in a few weeks. You can take one in Portland. You can also take one in Port Angeles, which is our goal for the morning.

The tour is at 10:00, our usual 7:00 alarm time is fine. Usually, Gary gets up first while I’m still hugging the covers and turns on the heat. Usually, the heat comes on. Usually. Today it did not. Only cold air blew out and then it shut off. Hmmm - maybe I’ll hug the covers a bit longer while he figures this out. No, I’m up too, dressing fast in the cooler temps. We then began to check things: the stove lights up and the propane hot water heater does also so it’s not the propane. We’ve got enough propane. We try the heat again, cool air and then it shuts off. Well.

We eat breakfast while Gary reads about our furnace in the Winnebago books. It gives him some things to test, he does and sure enough, our furnace is not working.

Saturday morning.

Memorial Day weekend.

What are our chances of getting someone to look at this?

We go online to learn who does RV repair work in Port Angeles. I go to another source which I use that recommends repair and service facilities that others have used with success. I had no success with this list. We did find some names online but called and they were closed on Saturdays. We finally got a name, called and he will be available about 2:00. Great, we’ll be ready. And we were off so we could still make that 10:00 time.

Since we were late, Gary dropped me off to check in for the tour and he tried to find a parking space. He could only find a 2-hour spot so will have to leave before the tour is over.

Out tour guide was Bobby, a teacher in her previous life, very knowlegeable with a good sense of humor. We began the tour with a bit of history to explain why Port Angeles has an underground. Port Angeles has lots of creeks running through it and one ran parallel to the waterfront for about 2 blocks before it emptied into the ocean. It flooded periodically and those buildings built on each side of the creek were flooded out often. What they decided to do was to built the whole area up 15’, or one story, and put new side walks and streets up there. Those businesses that wanted to move upstairs to the new level could open up on what used to be their second story, but those businesses that did not want to, were allowed to stay on the original level. Thus they had 2 levels of front doors to stores and 2 levels of sidewalks. Confused? Well, I certainly was until we started walking around the old area and stopped at this mural. Here’s the mural or, at least, the part that is pertinent to the underground.
Now, here’s how it all worked. First they diverted the creek so that it would not flow through the center of Front Street, the main street. Then they built 15’ walls along the street which they needed to fill to the top of these walls to be the new street level. To get they fill for these they tore down the hill on the west side of town by shooting water at it to make it flow down the funnel into the piping and down into the street between the walls. Pretty clever how they did that. No modern tools, just ingenuity, shovels, wood and nails. (They did it in sections so they could control the flow better and because the street slopes a bit downhill. At the far end, the walls were only 7’ tall.)

In the mural, you can see them shooting water at the hill, the funnel they had build to take the mud slurry down to the street. You can also see the walls that they built between the sidewalk and the road. In this picture the artist has painted the taller stores on the right as using the second story sidewalks, while those on the left and going to use the lower sidewalks.

That mud was goopy with all the water in it so they had to wait for a while for the mud to dry out. With this new street level built, they built wooden sidewalks from the new top over to the buildings. But, what about the lower level? They built sidewalks from the bottom of the wall over to the buildings, and, for light, they put see-through glass in the top sidewalks - like skylights. Now, they’ve got sidewalks on two levels but the street is only on the top. (I would think walking on the lower level sidewalk might be like walking through a tunnel.)

Here’s another picture showing our tour group down on the lower sidewalk. You can see the upper sidewalk over us, some front windows and the front door of the store to the left and the cement wall on the right. There is also a section of the skylight on the left leaning up against the building.
As you might guess, slowly but surely, merchants chose the second level to have their front door on and the lower level was abandoned. And, there you have it - the underground.

Many of the lower levels, the basements, of buildings in this area still have remnants of the old front doors, the sidewalks and the lower level businesses still in them and these are what we toured. We saw what used to be a putt-putt (miniature) golf course with some great murals on the sides to make it seem as if you were golfing outdoors.
Here is a stairway down to the lower level. Mind you, if you walked down to the lower level, you needed to go a full block to get back up, or retrace your steps to the stairway you came down.
But I was really confused about what our tour guide, Bobby, was saying until we saw that mural and actually walked down the stairs, along the lower sidewalks and into the lower stores. Now, I understand.

We also saw some other neat things. Here’s a mural of the first ferry that went from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC. Up to date for the time but it looks like a submarine now. Those kids are actual kids that lived in PA - if you donated a certain amount to the mural fund, you could get your kids in the mural. Isn’t that the strangest looking ferry - looks like a submarine

I decided to donate too, and look who we got in the picture.
When a current clothing store owner began to tear into her building to remodel, she discovered that she had an old theater. She found the projection room.
Since they showed not only the main movie but newsreels, cartoons and ads, they needed several reels and thus several projector holes in the walls. There was a chance of fire in the old projection rooms with all the heat that they walls were made of tin. Note the old reel on the rack here. She also found part of the old theater area with its decorated walls. The rest of it is gone since they put in a false ceiling for the store.

Then we toured an old boarding house/brothel with 18 rooms down the street. PA used to be a military base for both navy and army. I’m sure it would shock you silly if I told you that brothels and military bases seem to go together but I’m going to have to let you in on the cold hard facts. So, this building used to be an old boarding house but, when the military came, it became a brothel.

We looked at what was a typical boarding house room, small and pretty colorless. There was one kitchen and one bathroom for the 18 rooms here. Imagine the scheudling for those showers. Luckily most only showered on the weekends.
Then we looked at what would be the brothel rooms. A few years ago, when one of the tour guides was telling about the brothel, two older guys in the back of the tour group were snickering and talking back and forth. After the tour, the guide told the two that he’d take them out for coffee and they could tell him their stories. Great bargain. So, now here’s the story about how this Madam ran her house. Let me start with the room for the #1 girl, the one who made the most money. Nice room.
When a guy came here, he paid in a $2 bill, the girl would tear off a corner and put it in her vase to show how many guys she had ‘met.’

The madam would then count the corners each girl had and who ever had the most got the #1 girl room. With a window, with a nice bed, with a dresser. What an incentive. The other girls had small windowless rooms.

The story goes around that at one time there were NO $2 bills in PA that had any corners.

The madam did not take the best room in the house, she left that for the #1 girl. She did take the room that had the peephole overlooking the stairway so she could see who was on the stairway wanting to gain entry. The ‘gentleman’ would stand on the stairway while the women would parade by this barred window and then he would make his choice. Our tour guide asked if I would like to have a face behind the bars for my picture. Sure, I said, so here is Bobby, our tour guide, as Lola in the afore-mentioned barred window. I told you she had a sense of humor. The ‘gentleman’ would choose which girl he wanted, slide his $2.00 through the slot under the window, she would tear off the corner for her vase and the madam would let him in.
However, there is more to the story of why women would choose to work in a brothel. Imagine a women whose husband has died in a lumbering accident (not uncommon since they had no safety equipment, no gloves, no safety belts when they climbed a 200’ tree, no hard hats, etc.) and she’s left with 3 children to raise on her own. No money, no family in the area, no education to speak of, no property ownership since she was a woman and no jobs available for women. There weren’t many choices for unmarried or widowed women. Women’s only choice was marriage and sometime, she couldn't choose that.

Actually, the brothel was over what is now a shoe store that has been in the same family for 3 generations. The current owner has refurbished the store with a lot of what he found in the attic after his father had done a previous remodel. Here is the children’s section - note the cute bench.
Here’s an old display case with shoes that had never been sold, just piled and stored in the rooms of the boarding house above.
But, what a neat tour, what an excellent tour guide. Knowledgeable, funny and full of energy. If you are ever in Port Angeles, take this tour and ask for Bobby.

Remember that furnace problem? Gary left the tour to move the car and got a call from the repairman who was on the way to our RV. Gary rushed back to the RV, met the guy and we now have a new $268 circuit board. Just what we needed. Just what we wanted.

And, me, I’m still in town, wondering where he is. I was still in the tour when he left town and I do not usually carry a phone with me. I got out of the tour and went to the place we agreed to meet. No Gary. I went back to the tour starting point. No Gary. And I rotated between them for about 10 minutes, looking down one street and then another. No Gary. Hey, why don’t I borrow a phone from someone and call him? Great idea, Nancy. When I called, he was on his way back to PA, the furnace was fixed and he met me at the Art Festival which was going on this weekend.

Liked the entertainment. Does this guy look like a violinist?
Looks like someone got a bit tired waiting.
We had a chicken salad wrap and then walked back to town so I could show Gary some of what he had missed. We saw this marvelously painted home with the matching flowers.

Great view of Canada across the Juan de Fuca Straits with freighters in the harbor.
And, that was our day. Whew. No wonder we’re tired. And, it’s easy to see why people envy our lifestyle. Nothing but fun, fun, fun. No worries, no cares, just leisure.

Looks like our campground is a bit tight.


  1. Hi Nancy,
    I linked to your blog in my own blog post because you took a picture of the underground mural, and I didn't! It was a fun tour - we had a different guide than you did - and I was too distracted to take many. :)

  2. Hi, Glad you like the photo. It was a fun tour. What is the name of your blog so I can read it?

    1. Here's a link right to the post!