One of the city's top tourist attractions at the turn of the 20th century wasn't the river or the Missions, but the downtown vice zone known as the Sporting District.
Booming with saloons for gambling and brothels for "sporting," the city's red-light district was so bustling that a guide book was published in 1911, directing gents to all manners of establishments.
"This Directory of the Sporting District is intended to be an accurate guide to those who are seeking a good time," states the 25-cent booklet. In addition to listings of taverns, it included advertisements for road houses, cock-pits and prostitutes.
The District contained approximately 10 blocks of the city. Its boundary was described as follows:
... south on South Santa Rosa Street for three blocks, beginning at Dolorosa Street, thence from the 100 block to the end of the 500 block on Matamoras Street, thence from the 200 block to the 500 block on South Concho Street, and lastly the 100 block on Monterey Street. This is the boundary within which the women are compelled to live according to law.—The Blue Book for Visitors and Tourists and those Seeking a Good Time while in San Antonio, Texas.The District was established in 1889 by the San Antonio city council to contain and regulate prostitution. The area became home to brothels, dance halls, saloons, gambling parlors, and other illegal, or at least vice-oriented, businesses. City officials did not officially condone the activities but rather unofficially regulated them. The area also included many legitimate businesses including hotels and restaurants.
Between the world wars, particularly during the Depression, the District deteriorated as higher-class prostitutes abandoned the area in favor of working as call girls in hotels.Violent crime and theft in the area grew. With the arrival of World War II the District gained the disapproval of the local army leadership, particularly Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was then the Third Army's chief of staff at Fort Sam Houston from August to December 1941. The District was finally shut down in 1941 by San Antonio Police Commissioner P.L. Anderson, with the strong approval of Major General Richard Donovan. In July 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed into law a federal ban on prostitution near naval and military bases. San Antonio, however, continued to be a major center of prostitution until well after the war.
For excellent pictures of San Antonio's red-lit past, check out My SA's article here.
Scott, J.M. 2016. "San Antonio's Sporting District was once the largest red-light district in Texas." My SA.com.
"The Sporting District." Wikipedia.