Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dorothy’s Rooms Part 2

The demise of Dorothy’s business partly came about because of her civic conscience. Downtown Helena was seedy and deteriorating, and Dorothy hoped to set a good example. In the fall of 1972, she received a $500 federal Urban Renewal grant to refurbish her building. Aspiring politicians saw publicity about Dorothy’s property as detrimental to Helena’s reputation. An undercover officer visited Dorothy’s Rooms. He maintained that she sold him a drink without a liquor license. He then paid twenty dollars to watch a girl “take off her clothes and roll around on the bed.”  That was enough for the county attorney, who alleged that Dorothy Baker’s rooming house was being used “for the purpose of lewdness, assignation, and prostitution.”

Vintage clothing owned by Big Dorothy's employees from the Montana Historical Society collection.
Dorothy had survived other raids in 1963, 1969, and 1970 by simply ignoring the charges. The district judge therefore ordered law enforcement to remove the occupants and secure the premises.  One outraged citizen blamed the afternoon raid on the “the asinine morality of a pipsqueak.”  Letters supporting Dorothy poured in to the Helena Independent Record.  “You lost your best tourist attraction,” one out-of-towner lamented, “and a true asset to your town when you put the heat on the law to close Dorothy Baker’s.” One woman voiced her own father’s observation that “a town without a whore house [is] a stupid place in which to live.” But on May 14, before Dorothy Baker could have her day in court, she died suddenly in a Great Falls hospital. Her passing was widely noted, and a female legislator, also named Dorothy, proposed designating Dorothy’s Rooms an historical landmark. By 1976, Ida Levy’s old Silver Dollar Bar had become Big Dorothy’s Saloon. Today, the popular Windbag Saloon and Grill and the Ghost Art Gallery in the St. Louis Block, and Lasso the Moon toy store in the Boston Block, are downtown anchors. Offices and a frame shop now fill Dorothy’s Rooms where one spectacular treasure remains. Big Dorothy Baker’s private bathroom is a 1960s showplace, done up in black plastic tiles with green fixtures. It is a rare and well-cared for survivor of a legendary place and a bygone time.

Big Dorothy's bathroom, Ghost Art Gallery
P.S. You can read the earlier history of Dorothy's Rooms in part 1.

1 comment:

  1. Wonder if we go to the Ghost Art Gallery if we can see the bathroom?!? I knew a lot of this story but not all of it. Thanks.