Monday, August 12, 2013

Dorothy’s Rooms Part 1

Prohibition and World War I brought reforms, and Helena, along with two hundred other American cities, closed its old red-light district in 1917. The women re-emerged in other locations billed as “furnished rooms.” Such places never mentioned exactly what was “furnished.” Madams Ida Levy, Pearl Maxwell, and a few others ran businesses above the Boston Block and the St. Louis Block on South Last Chance Gulch.

Ida Levy. Photo courtesy Susan Bazaar.
By 1927, Ida Levy operated her “rooms” upstairs at 19 1/2 South Last Chance Gulch. Ida was handsome, big-hearted, and fond of jewelry so gaudy it didn’t look real. But the diamonds and gems she wore were not only authentic, they were the best.  Ida bought distinctive, expensive neckties for her regular customers at Helena’s best stores. Employees noted Ida’s purchases, and waited to see what prominent citizens would turn up wearing them. After Prohibition, Ida’s Silver Dollar Bar (where the Windbag Saloon and Grill is today) was a favorite watering hole. Her upstairs “furnished rooms” had regular customers too. Marks in the flooring reveal that Ida’s rooms consisted of a long row of tiny cribs, one-room offices where prostitutes conducted business. In 1943, however, federal law banned cribs and Ida remodeled her upstairs into “proper” bedrooms. In 1954, Ida retired and Dorothy Baker took over as madam. She eventually purchased the property and leased the downstairs storefronts. Customers visiting Dorothy’s Rooms entered as they had during Ida’s tenure, at the back.

Dorothy's back door, where the Ghost Art Gallery is today.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives
Dorothy had no liquor license, but ushered her patrons hospitably into a small kitchen/bar where she sold drinks anyhow. Beyond the bar, a long hallway connected seven bedrooms, five sitting rooms, and Dorothy’s private apartments. Dorothy was a generous benefactor. She rewarded her paperboys with five-dollar tips and was a soft touch for youngsters peddling fundraisers. She donated hundreds of children’s books to local institutions; she wrote countless checks to charities; and she paid for several college educations. She loaned money without question, tipped off the police to drug pushers, and was polite to tipsy teenagers who knocked on her door. She sent them off with humor if they were underage. Little wonder the town was outraged when police finally closed her down in 1973.

P.S. Remember this Helena madam who operated nearly a century earlier?


  1. My Grandfather owned Weggenmans Market. When my father, Joseph was young he made deliveries to Dorothy. One Christmas holiday she ordered monogrammed luggage for each of her girls, my Dad made the delivery, and received a handsome tip.

  2. My Grandfather always claimed that he had delivered papers to the bordello, and that they tipped well!

  3. My grandmother bought at least one Boston Bulldog from Ida. She may have bought two. Very few people know Ida bred them.