Main Street once dominated by bars
When I first came to Porterville in 1983, Main Street still had that old west feel. No, there were not a bunch of hitching posts downtown, but the city still had its bars and saloons, many which looked like they just came out of the old Wild West.
I have heard Porterville described as one of the last old west towns in California and in 1983, the number and type of nightlife establishments downtown would make one believe that claim.
Today, as most will notice, there are not many bars in the downtown, or even in the community. About the mid-1980s, efforts were made to get rid of many of the Main Street bars, and for good reason. They were not the image one wanted for downtown Porterville.
In 1983, if my memory serves me correctly, there were no fewer than 15 bars, or restaurants with a bar, along Main Street. Some of the more famous were the Mountain Lion (where the Jackass Mail Run committee would select their wagonmaster), the Frontier Club, the Mecca (which is the only one left today), the Palace, Gang Sue’s, the Eagle, the Hi-Lo Club and the Hofbrau to name a few downtown. There were others in town at that time as well — the 7-11 club, Primetime Lounge, the Trail’s Inn, the Paul Bunyan and a few others.
In Jeff Edwards’s book, Main Street book 1, he notes Porterville’s Wild West reputation and its fascinated with bars. In fact, The Recorder has it roots deeply in the bar history. It was a paper that opposed the proliferation of bars and editorialized the city should shut them down in the early 1900s. He noted that in early 1900 that every other building downtown was a drinking establishment.
Edwards’ book also notes the city’s history with prostitution and what were commonly referred to as Cat Houses. Again, The Recorder has a connection here. The site of The Recorder office today is in the area that was known as the city’s red light district, with one famous brothel located just east of The Recorder office, but there also was a house just east of the Porterville Hotel that was frequented by more than one gentlemen over the years.
Prostitution probably continues today, but where I don’t know, although a few people were arrested on that charge just the other day at one of the local motels. When I first came to town, prostitution was a alive and well on Main Street.
I recall driving down Main Street one warm day and heard a woman’s voice yelling at me. It was one of the girls at the Porterville Hotel hanging out the window and yelling at men that drove by.
That prompted us to do a story on the girls and one of my reporters had already interviewed several and the story was ready to run. However, because it was Easter weekend, I decided to hold the story until the next week, feeling it was an inappropriate subject for the Saturday before Easter.
That plan, however, went out the window when the police department rounded up the girls on Good Friday. Much of our story ran on Saturday with the story on the arrest of the girls and I don’t think we’ve seen prostitutes on Main Street much since then.
Porterville has a very colorful history and Jeff Edwards has caught much in his books. Bars and prostitution probably cannot be found in any Chamber of Commerce brochures, but they are definitely a part of the city’s colorful past.
Contact editor Rick Elkins at 784-5000, ext. 1040.