The sultry past of the Gaslamp

The names William Heath Davis and Alonzo Horton may be widely known and associated with the founding of San Diego, but the lesser known names and exploits of Wyatt Earp and Ida Bailey significantly shaped the historic Gaslamp Quarter that we are familiar with today.

While Horton may have funded the wharf and the adjacent streets of the Gaslamp Quarter, the gold rush and subsequent boom of the 1880s led to the prosperity and a quick rise in less than savory characters in San Diego. What is known today as the Gaslamp Quarter was during this time known as the Stingaree District.

The Stingaree District, which encompassed the streets south of Broadway, was a red light district that housed 71 saloons, an estimated 350 prostitutes and gambling halls. Four of the gambling halls were leased by Earp, who is known for the infamous OK Corral shoot-out. Earp’s most famous gambling hall was the Oyster Bar located at 837 5th Avenue. The building still exists today!

A street down, Ida Bailey, a fiery red-head and San Diego’s most successful and well-known madam, ran the most respectable brothel. The brothel, known as the Canary Cottage, played home to tastefully-dressed and lightly made-up prostitutes, who entertained San Diego’s most respectable men. Let’s not forget to mention that among those men were the mayor and chief of police. Scandalous!

Curious about the colorful history of San Diego? Get the dish on our walking tours!

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