MaximusJanuary 20, 2012
In Praise of…. a red light district
While Auckland is agonizing over the prospect of the vile Chow brothers building a 15 story high brothel in the CBD, on the site of their demolished former heritage building, Wellington (thankfully) does not seem to be such a magnet for their Chow charms. Instead, we’ve got a more modest addition to the capital’s brothel stock, with a smaller four story high building being converted to a “strip club”, coming to Wellington in 2012. Presumably, the Torture Garden / Gardening Club on the ground floor stays?
“A strip club business previously run by a former Christchurch man jailed for manufacturing drugs is planning to open a lavish four-storey club in Wellington. The Calendar Girls club, scheduled to open in March, is planned for 13 Dixon St, just a block from Courtenay Pl clubs The Mermaid and Splash Club, owned by John and Michael Chow. Plans for the club were announced by James Samson, who said it would be run by his wife, Jacqui Le Prou…. ….Samson said work would start on a multimillion-dollar refurbishment of the Dixon St building once he and Le Prou took possession on January 3. It would feature chandeliers and specially made carpets imported from Germany and Spain. Design work was still to be done, but it would include a strip club, whisky lounge and cigar room and offer strip shows, lap dances and private shows – “it won’t be sex, it’s just visual”. It would not be a brothel. “No way,” he said.”
Incidentally, just what is it about the names of people in the sex industry? Jacqui Le Prou? Really? And Brian Le Gros? Honestly??? They both seem somehow, so ….appropriate. Hmmmmmm…..
The photo below is the Christchurch branch of the Calendar Girls, seemingly one of the few buildings still standing in that stretch of street down south;
Conveniently, it will be in the centre of town, next door to a Subway food bar, so at least people will be able to Eat Fresh! right after they Get Fresh!… Is there something we should know about the positioning of Subways in the capital? After all, another Subway has just opened in Vivian St, right next to Il Bordello, in the heart of what used to be the red light district in Wellington. I say “used to be” as it seems that Vivian St has almost lost any last vestige of sexual shenanigans, apart from the tarty presentation of the Bordello, flashing its solitary red rose as an invitation to the patrons of the Comfort Hotel across the road – or perhaps as an invitation to hard-up architecture students to come over and work or play.
The sex shop Peaches and Cream, formerly on the corner of Cuba and Vivian has relocated away, down to occupy the top floor of what used to be a polychromatic wonder, and the old striptease sign up above is looking like a piece of ancient archaeological signage – in danger of getting its own heritage listing if it stays there much longer. The ancient old trannies and hookers of Marion St no longer seem to leave such a presence – I don’t hang out there regularly, so I’m not sure if they are still there at all.
With the passing of Carmen, there is definitely a little bit of a boring / straight laced nature to the old Vivian St haunts, almost a sense of nostalgia for the naughties. But why should that be? Isn’t prostitution just another typical misogynistic male activity, subjecting women to a role as subservient sex slaves, pandering to the testosterone-fueled libido of the rugby club scene? What happened to those hordes of extra hookers imported for the Rugby World Cup? Did they fulfill their destiny as receptacles for an outpouring of bravado for the boys, and were they flooding the streets with cheap sex? Were the streets of Wellington awash with women in tarty dress, showing too much leg and too much cleavage? I don’t recall seeing any change during the Cup…..
But what are Aucklanders really protesting about in relation to the Chowtime Big Fun palace? Is it that, as regional and local planning manager Penny Pirrit said, “We need to look at a range of tools,” in relation to their brothel controls. Or that, as Christopher Dempsey, a Waitemata Local Board member and planner, said: “It’s disrespectful to the memory of the Palace Hotel and to the many thousands of people who appreciated and cherished it,” and “The whole thing is appalling and smacks of downtown Wainuiomata and I invite the Chow brothers to retire there. They are not welcome in this city.” (Understandably, that hasn’t gone down well in Wainuiomata – then again, what does go down well in Wainui? apart from, perhaps, Tui, and Lion Red).
Of course, what concerns me is the quality of the architecture. So far, Clark Brown architects haven’t been that forthcoming on their designs – there is this one published picture (above), and it’s not good. Update: And another picture has been uncovered, from the Chow Brothers website, and published below:
It’s slightly horrifying to think of what goes on in 15 stories of sex, with what can only be presumed as a whole lot of Asian cock being sucked, in a steady stream of happy punters from the Casino across the road. Let’s be honest about this after all – the Auckland Casino is populated almost entirely by Asians spending their money. Would a brothel be more palatable, so to speak, if there was the equivalent of 15 stories horizontally – ie a whole district of small dwellings down Federal St? Is it that Aucklanders want a nightlife / red-light district where tourists can wander willingly, shopping for eye candy but not entering into the doorways? Is it the actual penetration of the doorway that is the issue, or more the erection of a monstrous priapric monument to unfulfilled libido that has Aucklanders in a stew? Or is the problem just: too much Chow?
While Wellington used to have a more or less separate red light area (Marion/Vivian – curious that they are both names of girls), the delights of the flesh have congregated right into the centre of it all, on Courtenay Place and Dixon St. The Wellingtonista ran an excellent article a wee while ago, where they actually sampled the wares of the strip joints, and where we found out that the Mermaid bar no longer has a decent Fish tank. There was a huge curfuffle many years ago when Wellington was headed up by the heavily eyebrowed one, whose name escapes me – the mayor-chappy who tried to get the invasion of hookers and strippers into Courtenay stopped in its tracks. I vaguely recall that a city by-law was passed, prohibiting graphic semi-porno images or advertising, but it couldn’t stop the actual strip club itself. Or rather, it couldn’t stop That Particular strip club, but could stop other strip clubs setting up in Courtenay later on. Of course, the obeying of rules regarding signage seems to have gone out the window, and it is pretty obvious what goes on in Mermaids, and the other clubs (Santa Fe, and the forth-coming Calendar Girls) have set up shop just up the road in lower Dixon St.
So, how do other cities do it – so to speak? As much as we might tut-tut and disapprove, it is as old as the hills.
We haven’t gone down the route of Amsterdam and Hamburg, where the ‘girls’ sit provocatively undressed in windows, glowing pink under the light of UV lamps. That just seems so demeaning, and so tacky in a nasty way, but then is it any more honest if the women are just hidden away inside the buildings? Paris has a whole district in MontMartre, centred around an old red windmill, and has had for the last few hundred years (have you seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris yet?). By day, pedlars still sell their wares, and good Christians still flock to Sacre Coeur, one of the most gorgeous cathedrals I’ve ever laid eyes on – but by night, the bars open and as the lights go down, the girls come out, and legs get unveiled.
Or is it that the decriminalization of the prostitution industry has more or less killed off the scene? Do the ‘Johns’ no longer get a frisson of excitement in doing something naughty, now that it is not illegal? Have we lost that ‘loving feeling’ ? Have we made the sex industry just too mainstream by removing that cruising scene of cars that still seems so popular in Christchurch, or have we brought the grubby backstage into the limelight so that by having our strip clubs and brothels right on the main street, at least you can’t be backwards about coming forwards? Does this story have a happy ending?