A MATTER OF CONVENIENCE
I’m sharing a couple of my photos and stories of the life in Placerville, California in the gold rush era that began around 1849 and, in some circumstances, is still alive now. These two buildings have quite an interesting history as one gave immediate gratification in the form of a drink and the second in the form of lust fulfilled.
The Soda Works building was constructed in 1852 and is one of the oldest buildings in Placerville. Soda water was bottled using a carbonation machine — which is still on display — and sold to miners as ordinary water was polluted due to the mining. The building is still open today and over the years it has seen many different types of businesses inside its doors. I had the opportunity to enter the tunnel that remains open at the back of the building. It is narrow with cold rock along the edges. I had to stoop over to keep from banging my head. There is a cool draft as you proceed deeper into the dark and I can imagine it might have been an unnerving experience for the men who headed to the other end to find the Chinese bordello. Up until a couple of years ago when there was a rockslide at the bordello end of the tunnel, it was till fully functional. The tunnel started at one end of town and went nearly the entire length of Placerville’s Main Street, inside a mountain of rock. If you didn’t know about it, you would never suspect it was there.
I stepped inside the bordello several years ago to have a video copied. That was the current business that was operating in the building. The owner showed me their historical holes in the wall. I wish I had taken photos, but at the time didn’t think to do it. Along a hallway there are niches cut into a rock wall that were about five foot long and maybe 2 1/2 to 3 feet deep. Apparently when the men finished with their drinks, they would walk the length of the tunnel from the soda works to visit the bordello. Now, I am not sure how long that walk was, but I’d guess at least a quarter mile. When the gentleman reached the end of his walk, he was expected to shower before spending time with the girl in that small cubby hole cut into the wall. What can I say except that they had to be tough and they had to be a bit desperate. The saving grace of visiting the girls in that manner is that nobody knew you were there, if that is something you wanted to keep to yourself.