One of Porterville’s most respected women — and maybe one of the most notorious — will finally receive the recognition she deserves.
Nettie Smith, who owned a place that was a restaurant, bar and dance hall and several rental cabins reputed to be used as a brothel will be honored with a granite marker by E Clampus Vitas, known as the “Clampers,” which works to preserve the heritage of the American West. E Clampus Vitas member and local historian Bill Horst said it’s planned for the granite marker being made by Porterville Monument Works to be dedicated the second weekend of October.
Smith owned the restaurant-bar-dance hall and small rental cabins from 1895 until the late 1920s. The restaurant-bar-dance hall was located where the Porterville Recorder office is now located at the corner of Oak and Third. The rentals were located where the east parking lot is now adjacent to the Recorder. The marker will be placed just to the northeast of the Recorder building.
Horst shared numerous stories about Smith including one where a young man and his friend who weren’t old enough came in to try to buy a beer and Smith chased them off and told them not to come back or she would call their mothers.
The story goes the places used as brothels would be raided once a month but the police chief would call ahead before the raids to make sure any local people of prominence could vacate before the raid would happen.
One of the women who worked for Smith named Rosa, went on to become a madame and operate her own brothel just on the other side of the right field fence of what was then Porterville Municipal Ballpark where the South County Justice Center now is.
Porterville actually had a Class D minor league baseball team that played at the ballpark in the early 1950s. The story goes any player who could hit a ball into Rosa’s place would receive a free night there.
Another local well-known long-time resident, Jeff Edwards, told a story about one game in which Porterville was down by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning with a runner at first and no outs but the next batter struck out.
When the manager was asked after the game why the batter didn’t bunt, the manager replied of course when you receive a free night at Rosa’s place you’re going to swing for the fences.
The marker honoring Smith will include an image of a cowboy dancing with a woman. It will state:
“At this location from 1895 until the late 1920’s Mrs. Nettie Smith had a dance hall, bar and restaurant with several small rental cabins reputed to have been a brothel. Mrs. Smith was, for years, accepted as a businesswoman in this town. She was from a much respected ranching family from Michoacan, Mexico. She was a good friend and benefactor of the Mexican Quarter of this city. Mrs. Smith came to Bakersfield in 1875 and to Tulare in 1888 where she marked Joseph Smith, then to Porterville in the 1890’s. Her brother Frank De La Mora had a horse raising and training business in the area. There was an extensive and respectful article on the front page of the Porterville Recorder at the time of her passing in September of 1944 at age 84.”