Have you heard the story of Tessie Wall, one of San Francisco’s most famous madams of the 20th century?
Despite her shortcomings (like murdering her second husband Frank Daroux in a fit of passion back in 1917), Tessie Wall managed to win the hearts of San Francisco’s residents and become one of the pioneering female entrepreneurs of the 1900s.
Tessie Wall grew up in San Francisco (SF), married a fireman and was all set to live a boring middle-class life… Until her first husband passed away unexpectedly, leaving her to raise their son alone.
Tessie started working as a servant for a Nob Hill family. Then, she soon realized she could make a much more comfortable living as a “dancehall girl” on Market Street.
She was paid to dance, get men drunk, and, for an extra special fee, accompany them to the bedrooms upstairs.
The blond, blue-eyed vixen was very popular with Market Street’s clientele, especially because she could hold her liquor better than most other harlots.
But a girl who managed to drink the heavyweight boxing champion, John L. Sullivan, under the table couldn’t stay a simple harlot, could she?
No, fate had something much bigger in store for Tessie Walls.
By 1898, Tessie Wall had amassed enough money to open her own “parlor house” on O’Farrell Street.
It burned down during the San Francisco fires of 1906, but that did not stop her. She soon opened an even grander brothel down the street. In the same year, Tessie married her second husband, Frank Daroux. He was a political figure who owned many gambling dens and pool halls in San Francisco.
Located in the middle of the fashionable Tenderloin district, her brothel was the epitome of class and elegance. The first floor was devoted to a beautiful saloon. Whereas, upstairs was comprised of a large, mirrored ballroom, dining room, kitchen, twelve bedrooms, and several parlors.
Tessie usually had between ten and fifteen girls on call at any given time, charging around $20 a “trick”. Tessie also had strict rules regarding manners and a very particular procedure for greeting her clients.
Clients were met at the back door by a black maid who ushered them into the parlor to meet Tessie herself.
As they entered the main receiving room, they would be confronted with a needlepoint motto that read: “If every man was as true to his country as he is to his wife – God help the USA”.
Tessie’s sinister influence grew so large that her arch nemesis, Lizzie Glide, actually built a giant church on the other side of the street from one of her brothels to spite her.
But neither that nor the murder of her second husband could stop Tessie Wall’s rise through the rank of San Francisco’s society.
Men fawned over her.
Women looked at her with jealousy.
And the police force?
The police force crowned her the unofficial Queen of the Policeman Ball, a title she retained until her death in 1932.
The story of Tessie Wall’s notorious brothels is just a small part of San Francisco’s dark past. The shadowy figures of murderers, cultists, and other nefarious folks still loom over our city today.
If the dark side of San Francisco is calling your name, check out our Haunted San Francisco Ghost Tour.
With tales of gruesome murders, ruthless cult leaders and ghostly apparitions, it’s bound to make even the bravest souls feel a little uneasy.
Ready to discover the dark side of San Francisco?