Long ago, this very place was “a riff-raff assemblage of cowboys, tin-horners, higher-toned gamblers, and the rag-tag and bobtail element.” According to the Salt Lake Herald, this building at 231 South on what was then known as Franklin Avenue, was originally built around 1891 for the short-lived Franklin Avenue Variety Theatre. The theatre was more famous for the secret door on the third floor above the stage than any performance. The door led to an adjoining saloon and small “wine rooms” where men and women enjoyed themselves and were waited by illegal liquor dispensers, as reported in the Deseret Weekly. Franklin was considered a tenderloin district as were the other mid-block alleys such as Commercial Street and Plum Alley. At the time, the newspapers sometimes referred to the street as “Darktown” as it was one of the only places African Americans were welcome.
It was known for tenement housing and brothels, such as the notorious Hattie Wilson's place, one of many attached adobe houses that lined the narrow street. Madam Wilson and her ladies were known to "entertain" many of the city councilmen and high-ranking police officers of the day so they would look the other way when there was trouble on Franklin Avenue. Music emanated from many of the houses in the alley and you could see some of the city's power brokers drinking and dancing if you peered in the windows. Ultimately the liquor license was revoked at the Franklin Avenue Theatre, it was written that it was a "most scandalous condition of affairs ... common to entrap half-intoxicated or wholly unsophisticated person into ordering refreshments for painted and half-clad harlots who infest the place."
By the turn of the century, many of the inhabitants had moved and original businesses shuttered. In 1906, city leaders paved the street and changed the name to Edison Street as part of a wider effort to clean up the area and encourage gentrification. The colorful history and echoes of the lively past are still alive at Franklin Avenue. So whether you are an upstanding member of society or an admitted part of the rag-tag and bobtail element, memories are waiting to be made!