PROSTITUTION has flourished in Cleveland since its founding, despite periodic outbursts of civic outrage and police activity directed toward its elimination. From its earliest history, Cleveland was an important shipping point on the Great Lakes, and until the Civil War prostitution flourished in segregated districts of the city's HAYMARKET area, where women attended to the needs of sailors and shipping men. A second district sprang up in the CENTRAL VIADUCT area for farmers and food merchants. After the war, the district moved up the hill from the waterfront, and by the 1880s the establishments operated openly in an area bounded by Ontario, Lakeside, Superior, and E. 12th St. in homes abandoned by the wealthy, who had moved farther out. Although police raided the premises monthly, they did not close them down. By the turn of the century, police sought to end streetwalking and to exert tighter control over the vice districts by limiting prostitution to the E. 6th and Superior area. The monthly raids were discontinued, and Police Chief FRED KOHLER, who had zealously raided the "tenderloin" district as a policeman, adopted a plan whereby patrolmen would be stationed outside the houses taking the names of all visitors. This ploy discouraged business, and the targeted operations shut down, at least temporarily.
In 1914 Mayor NEWTON D. BAKER closed down the segregated district, despite protests from his safety director and house-owners alike that eliminating an open red-light district would spread uncontrollable prostitution over the city. True to the predictions of Baker's critics, unauthorized prostitution districts developed around the city. In contrast to the 27 houses and 300 known prostitutes operating in the segregated district at its shutdown in 1914, an estimated 5,000 vice resorts (including speakeasies and gambling joints) flourished by 1930, and downtown Cleveland was a haven for streetwalkers. Sporadic crackdowns in the 1920s gave way to major raids in 1932-33 and houses in the Roaring 3rd Central precinct (the Scovill-Orange Ave. area) were closed down.
By 1940 downtown hotels along Prospect and Carnegie did such a brisk business that police had to break up traffic jams at 3 A.M. Vigorous raids by safety director ELIOT NESS in 1940 reduced known prostitutes to 100 by 1941, but the trade remained viable as the activities of the professionals were supplemented by "pickup girls" during World War II. In subsequent decades, prostitution moved in response to urban renewal, highway construction, and suburbanization. East side prostitution, however, remained concentrated along Prospect, Carnegie, Euclid, and Chester avenues, where the ever-present criminal element discouraged legitimate business activity. Prostitution became an urgent economic issue there in the 1980s with the Playhouse Square theater development, which attracted audiences to the area, and the formation of MID-TOWN CORRIDOR, INC., a redevelopment group promoting business activity in the vicinity. Police stepped up their enforcement efforts and by 1985 much of the open solicitation appeared to be closed down.