Cape’s House of Ill Repute

The sign on the front of the three-story brick building on the southwest corner of Independence and Frederick proclaims that the Cape Girardeau Historic Preservation Commission has deemed it “One of Cape’s Original Treasures c. 1910.” (Click on any photo to make it larger, then you can click on the left or right side of the image to see the rest of the photos.)

Looks pretty ho-hum to me

Ho-hum. Looks pretty much like a bunch of other old buildings in Cape. Still, on a visit in the fall of 2009, I felt somewhat obliged to knock off some record photos of it.

While I was researching something the other night I saw a National Register of Historic Places application for the “Wood Building.” Like the obligatory photos of the building on Independence, I felt compelled to stick a copy in a directory named Cape Historical.

Many of original features remain

This evening I stumbled across the Wood Building file and discovered Wood was the name of the folks who built it between 1908-1910, not the type of building material. Still, the application was a bunch of the normal architectural mumbo jumbo that means something to somebody, but not me.

Owned by Woods family until 1979

I plowed through the formal stuff until I got to page 9, where we started getting into the history of the building. William L. Wood and his wife, Mary, moved from Perryville around 1895 with their two sons, William Jr., 5, and Charles, 9. The Rudolph Stecher Brewing Company of Murphysboro, Ill., rented the entire first floor.

The property stayed in the Woods family until 1979. During its long history, 1 South Frederick has nearly always been a saloon. It’s been known as the Central Inn, Central Hotel, Central Bar, Central Tavern, Corner Inn, Corner Pub and, most recently, Mac’s Tavern.

Upstairs had the action

The sections of the building with the addresses 3 South Frederick and 607 Independence have housed such diverse businesses as The Creamery, The Central Furniture Company and Kos Potato Chip Company. The second and third floors served as a boarding house and hotel, as well as a front for a house of ill repute.

You should download the application

That’s pretty interesting, but the National Register application spins an even better tale. I’m not going to spend time typing. I’m going to point you to the Wood Building document and let you read it for yourself. The good stuff starts at Section 8, Page 9 (Page 11 of the pdf).

Official corruption and collusion

Here’s an overview from the application: “With the arrival of the Houck and San Francisco railroad systems in the late 19th century, Cape Girardeau’s sluggish economy prospered… As had happened in countless other communities of that period, saloons and “houses of ill fame” were woven into the social and commercial fabric of Cape Girardeau by the early years of the 20th century, and the Wood Building – with its infamous reputation – is especially noteworthy … because its history demonstrates tensions that existed between various groups, including area residents, madams, the local constabulary, attorneys, judges and other local officials, and organizations such as the Citizens Committee.”

Operated across from city hall and police station

“Moreover, because it operated within one hundred yards of a police station and city hall [you can see it reflected in the window of one of the photos], and because cases involving activities at the Wood Building were most frequently dismissed when they entered the court system, its history suggests a probably pattern of official collusion and corruption. At the center of many controversies, the Wood Building is associated not only with local attitudes toward prostitution, alcohol and other social vices, but is a reflection of state and national trends as well.”

Who passed through this doorway?

Reading through the next three or four pages of legal shenanigans will show you a side of Cape we didn’t learn in history class. It’s almost as fascinating as reading about a murder mystery associated with the New Rigdon Laundry in about the same era.

The application concludes, “Neighborhood taverns played a prominent role in the development of American cities. The efforts of alcohol activists notwithstanding, saloons and taverns were common places of recreation and relaxation in turn-of-the-century Missouri, especially in larger towns and cities and in communities that featured large German populations. They gave boisterous welcome to every male adult, regardless of his private conduct, his clothes, his manners, his previous record, or his ultimate destination.”



22 Replies to “Cape’s House of Ill Repute”

  1. I had no idea!….Colin Haful’s (sp) used to own the bar on the outside of building near the Independance Street side. My dad took me in in there as kid and I remember having the red colored pickled eggs as dad had a beer….upstairs? who knew!

  2. Van
    So you were the as a client? How colorful were you? Or perhaps in an official capacity as a MSHPatroleman? Or both?

  3. Ken
    What about the MADAM and her lively operation on William St between Lorimier and Main?? And NO Van – I don’t personally know how colorful the Clientele was.

  4. Walked by the building many times on the way to work/bus station to play the pin ball machines or see friends. I was in it as a small boy selling papers, smelled like beer and was dark. I believe the house of ill repute was before my time, never did see anybody going upstairs. Sure was fun walking to work at 1/2 AM on Frederick/Themis streets going to Metro News to prepare the St Louis papers, sure was a dark and scary walk for a small boy

  5. I delivered newspapers there in the early 50’s. My recollection is that was a parrot there that cursed. I thought the tavern was named Satan’s Place for awhile.

  6. I used to go by the building some times at 6:00 am
    I thought how can a person be drinking beer at the time, then I was told that was some people day that had to work the night shift. I see said the blind man.

  7. Weldon Hilpert.

    I to delivery the paper in the afternoon from ED’s bar on fredrick st and good hope st. there to south
    mill town. also play the pinbal machine at the bus stattion and choo choo grill. on good hope. dose anyone has picture of the grill inside and out.

  8. Ken, you’ve managed to highlight yet another structure with ties, direct or indirect, to the railroads in Cape. Earlier this year, I took pictures of the building from all angles to document it in order to represent it on my model railroad layout, especially due to its location directly across from the old Missouri Pacific and Houck depots.

  9. Ken,I am no longer receiving your email,
    for some reason. It’s been numerous weeks since I have received one. I saw this one in the Tiger Update. Maybe you can put me back on your list……Susan Montgomery Smith

  10. Apparantly I had the same paper route as Mitch Givins but I worked for Strume selling papers in the afternoon. So I stopped and there were older German workmen in the place such as Mr. Hunze who built the houses in the 300 block of N. Fountain and east on Bellevue St. Had the classic tavern smell of Beer and Salt shakers on the bar.

  11. Used to enjoy draft beer and a game of pool there after class. Wrote a short paper about the building for preservation class. Really enjoyed that place!

  12. I used to go into the place with my dad many years ago with my dad. Right or wrong…there is SO many memories of this place. I cannot recall the name of the place at this time…at least the name that it was…WOW so many memories coming back.

  13. I bought the Central Inn from JJ and Margret Stafford in 1993. Ran it for 2 years and 3 months. It’s in a filing cabinet now. Good times. I opened at 6 a.m. 6 days a week holiday or not. 25 cent draft beer from 6-9 a.m.. A great bunch of characters were the regulars.

  14. I grew up hearing of great aunt Mary Woods and her establishment. I, too, found these articles and was able to take my dad to see it again.

  15. I went to college in Cape Girardeau from 1991 – 1995. We used to stop into the Central Inn for beers and pool on random weekday nights. Always a good time. From what I remember, they changed the name to “Corner Tavern” or something similar and it became kind of popular with the college crowd. That was towards the end of my time there. Great memories.

  16. This was an interesting read. Thanks for sharing. A friend and I used to frequent it often in the late 80″s when it was called
    The Central Inn. We were a couple “preppy” college boys (lol) but never had any issues. Great group of regulars to hang out.

  17. …my husband and i visited the area with one thing in mine…all things Rush…started at visitcape…got a Rush brochure and started our trip….Ron drones and he put together a very nice video of the town and included pictures of the Rush landmarks…Ditto heads from the beginning. ..just so happen we listened to his radio program as we made our way around town…enjoyed our day very much….

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