The History of the Bell Rooms Part II

The "Q.T.," from an aerial photo by Chester Mullen taken between 1908 and 1915. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.
The “Q.T.,” from an aerial photo by Chester Mullen taken between 1908 and 1915. Tehama Street runs along the bottom and California Street runs diagonally from the top to bottom. Courtesy of Shasta Historical Society.

After Redding’s red-light district was rebuilt following the fire of September 1908, things continued much as they had in previous years. There were attempts to regulate the saloons and occasional attempts to close down the cribs and bordellos, but not much came of it. In 1914, the people of California passed the Red Light Abatement Act by ballot measure, but Redding’s red-light district continued merrily along, occasionally closing briefly under state or local pressure, but rarely for long.

Accounts of thefts, fires, and violence in the red-light district were a staple in newspapers throughout the years. Interestingly, unlike many of its neighboring saloons and hotels, Chadwick & Freitas’s little two-story brick bordello kept a low profile, and rarely appeared in the papers. Perhaps that’s how it got its first known recorded name: The Q.T. 1

Block 13 as it appears on the 1912 Sanborn map. "F.B" or "female boarding" was the company's euphemism for bordellos.
Block 13 as it appears on the 1912 Sanborn map. “F.B” or “female boarding” was the company’s euphemism for bordellos.

In 1919, the 18th Amendment was ratified, and prohibition went into effect in January of the following year. It was about as effective locally as Red Light Abatement Act. In July 1927, the little two-story building made the front page of both of the local daily papers for a Volstead Act violation 2 3. According the articles, the building was occupied by a man named George Peck and his wife or housekeeper (accounts vary) and, according to the Searchlight, the building was operating as a blind pig 4. Two local law enforcement officers had obtained a search warrant and knocked on the door. When Peck saw the officers, he called “just a minute” and secured the heavy chain on the door.… Read the rest

The History of the Bell Rooms, Part I

A southerly view of Redding's red-light district after the fire of 1908, taken near the corner of Division & California Streets.
A southerly view of Redding’s red-light district after the fire of 1908, taken near the corner of Division & California Streets.

The history of the latest building threatened with demolition in Redding goes back to September 23, 1908, when a massive fire swept Redding’s red-light district, causing $70,000 in damages 1 . Several blocks of buildings were leveled, among them warehouses, breweries, saloons, hotels, and a group of “ramshackle crib buildings” that were the property of Freitas and Chadwick 2.

Block 13, the area outlined in red, was removed from Redding's fire limits in 1900 following a petition presented by Frank Chadwick.
Block 13, the area outlined in red, was removed from Redding’s fire limits in 1900 following a petition presented by Frank Chadwick.

These ramshackle cribs dated back to 1900, when the area outlined in red in the adjacent picture, known as Block 13 on Redding’s original plat, was removed from Redding’s fire district following a petition to the city board of trustees by Frank Chadwick. 3 Soon afterwards, it was announced that the existing red-light district and its inhabitants would be relocated from  their location on the alley of the block bordered by California, Market, Shasta, and North Streets to tenements hastily constructed on Center Street 4. Less than three week later, a mysterious fire leveled The Alley 5 and the few “dressmakers” that weren’t burnt out were forced to move by the city attorney 6. Although accusations of arson and slander flew fast and furious, and property owners adjacent to the new cribs on Center Street initially objected, this arrangement continued until the fire of September 1908.

Within a day or two of the 1908 fire, the city board of trustees was talking about requiring the property owners to rebuild in brick 7 Insurance adjusters arrived in Redding on September 26, but the property owners could not clear their lots and start rebuilding until the adjusters’ work was done.… Read the rest

Historic Bell Rooms Threatened With Demolition

This is not exactly the note we wanted to begin on, but we think it is important to discuss that yet another historic building in Downtown Redding is threatened with demolition.

Location of the Bell Rooms, indicated by push-pin.
Location of the Bell Rooms, indicated by push-pin. Imagery via Google Earth.

The latest structure to be menaced by the wrecking ball is the Bell Rooms building, a 107-year-old, two-story brick building located on the southwest corner of Shasta and California Street. The building is part of a small complex of newer buildings that includes a cinderblock addition and a row of auto repair bays directly south. These buildings were most recently home to Bing Automotive, B&R Radiator Service, and American Lock and Key.

The property is owned by RABA (Redding Area Bus Authority) and is scheduled for demolition this fall. According to a city official, the building is “in severe disrepair” and it is being demolished because of “liability and to provide space for transit expansion or parking.” Please note that as of this moment, the building has not been determined to be structurally unsound—just in ”a state of disrepair.”

The two-story building dates back to the fall of 1908, making it one of the oldest surviving commercial buildings in Redding—older than the Cascade Theater, Redding Hotel, Pine Street School, the downtown post office, downtown fire house, and veterans’ memorial hall.

The Bell Rooms building (built 1908) as it appears in 2015.
The Bell Rooms building (built 1908) as it appears in 2015.

Over the years, this building has been slightly modified from its original appearance—some of the windows have been partially or entirely bricked up and it originally had a peaked roof, porch, as well as a two-story balcony; but underneath the drab paint is some beautiful locally manufactured brick. The interior, by several accounts, is surprisingly intact.

Please take a look and imagine this handsome little building with the auto bays and recent cinderblock addition removed, its natural brick exposed (or at least painted red like the Lorenz Hotel), and its original windows and balcony restored.… Read the rest