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Prostitution provided city merchants with a economic base that helped it through the Great Depression. There were rumors that actor Gene Hackman earned money in San Bernardino as a youngster by running errands for the ladies of the night.
First hand reports put actress Carole Landis working in one of the houses that lined every downtown city street. For years San Bernardino City officials passed ordinances, laws, injunctions and acts in an effort to eradicate prostitution. The Weekly Courier reported a token arrest in of an owner of a opium den and house of prostitution. The building sits there to date. Kassel told benefits of the prostitution trade that trickled down to him. As an 8-year boy, he told of selling newspapers on the corner of 3rd and D Streets and having men asking him where they could find the ladies.
Jobs were hard to find. Kassel said the madam paid faithfully every Friday. I was to send the men to the yellow house across from the lumber yard. He said thousands of military personnel crowded streets every weekend.
But resistance came from the highest places. Superior Court officials dismissed the Grand Jury when it heard the business of prostitution was being investigated. Grand Jury Foreman Elmer C. Kassel described an era when San Bernardino was still operating like the wild west where everyone knew that vice was going on, but looked the other way when it came time stop it. Poor people went to the police.
The police would then go to the prostitutes for money. It was the prostitutes who funded our public assistance programs. He estimated there were usually a population of about prostitutes working in private houses. Ivan Finkleberg. Van Lueven, Mayor James A. Cunningham and other locals were joined by the FBI. The Associated Press reported that San Bernardino enacted the Mann Act, a federal law prohibiting human trafficking for immoral purposes.