Lambda Lore

The historic cultures of West Second South

For nearly 25 years, West Second South was a vibrant street within the Gay community of that period. The city blocks 63 and 64, which bordered the street between modern Fifth West and Sixth West, however, had a colorful history before Gay Bars began to locate there. Multiple generations of men, women and some children played out their entire lives on that street and a multitude of other people called the blocks their temporary home; frequenting the various lodging houses, saloons, and bordellos.

West Second South Street is filled with phantoms of past lives of hard-working, hard-drinking, mostly single men and  “soiled doves”; a euphemism for the sex workers, all of which are not normally recorded in local Salt Lake City histories but nevertheless they were there if one takes the time to look.

While this section of Second South today is designated as “Old Greek Town,” it was filled with such a diversity of ethnicity found nowhere else in Salt Lake City. Census records show that among the many Greeks who lived in the area, there were also Italians, Syrians, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, and Mexicans. The lodging houses on Second South were also some of the few places in Salt Lake City where African Americans could reside.

Salt Lake City reconfigured its west side street names in the mid-Twentieth Century and the original “Fourth West and Fifth West” became “Fifth West and Sixth West” of modern times. This is an important distinction for any historical research of the area as City Blocks 63 and 64 are bounded east to west by these streets. Early Salt Lake City Newspaper newspapers only cite Fourth West and Fifth West when reporting on incidents of deaths, suicides, fights, robberies, and rowdy behaviors among the mostly masculine population living in Blocks 63 and 64 of West Second South.

As residents and businesses expanded on the street, addresses were also realigned. For example, the Denver Beer Hall, built in 1888 and replaced by the Albany Hotel and Saloon, was on the northwest corner of Sixth West and Second South in Block 63. The address changed from 579 West to 599 West and then later back to 579 West.

Until the building was demolished in 2021, a saloon, beer tavern, a Gay bar, a dance club, and a music venue were on that spot for over 130 years. The site of 579 West was the Three Aces Bar in the 1940s, owned by the granddaughter of James Hegney and her husband. It existed for nearly forty years. Over the last 35 years, various venues existed at this spot. More recently the club “Bottoms Up,” which had to close due to Covid19 restrictions on social gathering in 2020, was located at this address. The old building was demolished in 2021 and is currently a construction site for a new high-rise apartment complex.

Over the decades, the sordid reputation of West Second South allowed gay bars to thrive in a part of the city where they could exist, basically sight unseen. The In-Between was the first to specifically cater to a Gay clientele on block 63, with a notice on the front door at 579 West that it was a Gay Establishment and if offended stay out. It was west of The Sun Club that had relocated from Fourth West and South Temple to 700 West Second South in 1982. Coincidently both properties once were developed by James Hegney as locations of saloons. The Sun Club was originally the Kozy Saloon and the In-Between was once the Albany Saloon.

Former Salt Lake Tribune owner Phil McCarthey’s family once owned most of Block 64 from First South to Second South, between 500 West and 600 West. Looking to the north side of Second South within Block 64 few can imagine that the middle of the block at about 544 West once contained a street called Electric Avenue, the entrance to a walled compound called the Stockade. The Stockade was Salt Lake City’ official “Red Light” District which existed from about 1908 to 1912.

In 2005 McCarthy at one time wanted to create “a smaller version of Tivoli, the famous amusement area in the heart of Copenhagen. He imagined, “It would be a place with restaurants and shops and green space and a Ferris wheel. Plans were derailed when the McCarthey fought and failed to retain control of the Salt Lake Tribune.

A Gay bar and dance club called Backstreet was established on the northeast corner of block 64, at 108 South Fifth West which later became Club 108, Kings, Club Axis, and Club Utopia. Today it is the site of an apartment complex called Gateway505.

Just to the east at 528 West on Second South, now a vacant lot was the three-story Macedonia Hotel complex which over its 70 years went by a variety of names and owners. It notably was the first location of Salt Lake City’s Mexican Civic Center in the 1940s and later still, a hotel that accommodated African American travelers passing through Utah in the 1950s.

Gone are any remnants of the Mormon Pioneers who laid out Blocks 63 and 64 and were the street’s first inhabitants. They were eventually replaced by the Chinese, Irish, Italian, and Greek workers of the Rio Grande Western trainyards. The Greek stayed for about 20 years owning saloons, cigar shops, coffee houses, and cafes. Gone are the Japanese who came afterward, and owned the rooming houses and laundries. Gone too are the Mexican cafes and the African American Jazz clubs.

Gone also are the houses of ill fame, prostitution, and gambling joints that made the Second South eventually associated with vice of all kinds. The last remanent of the old Stockade Compound, the Citizens Investment Building that once housed a Gay dance club was demolished in 2021 to make room for another high-rise apartment complex.

That brick structure was built for Mrs. Dora B Topham, aka Belle London a famous Ogden Madam, as the entrance to the Stockade Salt Lake’s Red-Light District. The building in the 2000s was the location of a Gay bar called the Metro and later the Orbit Café, a restaurant and dance club.

With the demolition of 579 West, 544 West, and 108 South, gone are the Gay clubs that helped bring a sense of community and belonging in an often-hostile world.

It is doubtful that any stretch of street in Salt Lake City had the cultural, ethnic, racial, and sexual orientation diversity as was found on Second South between Fifth West and Sixth West on city blocks 63 and 64.

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