This is an update to my Stewart Avenue Crime Time Part 1 post on what I believe to be a very important development for the Stewart Avenue / Metropolitan Parkway corridor. The City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs has just recently called for proposals to install art in and around the Zone 3 Police Precinct which is soon to be built at 2353 Metropolitan Parkway. Area residents, as well as the Police Chief, expect the precinct to contribute significantly to neighborhood safety but also to the revival of the area’s image. I find it interesting, and entirely appropriate, that the precinct will be located directly across from what used to be The Alamo Plaza where the nadir of Stewart Avenue took place in 1993. As an area native, I appreciate what I think is a strategic decision though even if it wasn’t, it represents a stabilizing bookend to that tragic event which I covered in Let’s Go Drink One. I’ll provide an excerpt here: (I know – how arrogant to quote myself though it is kind of relevant)
Some North side guys experienced a nasty bachelor party run-in with a transsexual hooker and his/her pimp. It was the classic consumer case of “we didn’t get what we paid for” although the “Returns Department” issued a “Lead Refund”. So the City stepped in, closed down the the Alamo Plaza, (once a wholesome motel for traveling families), repaired some potholes, did some repaving, and applied a new name with little expectation that anyone would buy in to the idea that it would change anything.
The Stewart Avenue name had already become quite offensive to city leaders of the time and the resulting double murder at The Alamo (sounds like the name of a movie) was the proverbial last straw. Check the Atlanta Time Machine page for some more details. Atlanta likes to change street names as if that alone will fix things but I sincerely hope the precinct makes an impact. Logistically, the location is excellent as it provides plenty of room for expansion as well as rapid access to a number of areas. While I can’t be sure, I think this might be the essential turnaround event for this area to flourish. In-town properties are scarce and the Metropolitan corridor is minutes from Downtown or the Airport with almost no traffic when compared to all other parts of Atlanta. Lastly, if you are new to this blog, it’s pretty much devoted to the history (albeit a personalized one) of Southwest Atlanta so feel free to look around.
This is Part 2 of a series of 2. If you haven’t already perhaps you should first check out Part 1 to get the full context.
The Breakfast Club
While the majority of Adult Bookstore activity took place at night there was a type of customer who would check in during business hours presumably to avoid spousal or familial suspicion. There was also the “early riser” who would show up between 5 – 8 a.m. with a mission to score before heading in to work. This same pattern could also be observed at the nearby “No Tell Motels” such as “Gary’s”, “Town and Country”, and “The Alamo”. Both types of customers usually lived north or west of the city, (as evidenced by their license plate county designations), and would drop in on their way to and from Atlanta Airport. I often wondered how these guys might feel if someone drove 30 miles to an Adult Store in their neighborhood ? Would they even allow such an establishment to exist ? Whenever I worked the morning shift at Banks I would arrive around 7:30 a.m. to sweep the front store area and would usually see a full lot across the street. Around 8 a.m. there would be an exodus of guys wearing hats and sunglasses making a frantic dash to their cars and zipping down the street thus ending the “night rush”. It was on such a day that I recognized one of my former high school teachers who, unlike the other guys, made no attempt at disguise. This scene was awkward because he was a favorite teacher of mine. He also had this idyllic family scene he used to discuss in class but guess that it wasn’t as fabulous as he projected. I don’t know that he saw me that morning as his expression never changed as he got into the very same car he drove in to school every day. I never saw him again after that. I thought maybe it was a one time thing but that idea was dashed once Fred told me that my teacher was a “regular”.
“If Georgia did away with its adultery and fornication laws, McAuliffe said [in an interview with John York], ‘We would not be protecting, in many cases, good wives who have husbands who want to play around, or in other cases, protecting good men who have wives who are a little bit promiscuous.’ ’- Hinson McAuliffe in an AJC interview as reported in the 8/25/69 edition of the Great Speckled Bird
On occasion things went awry such as when someone’s car broke down or when someone got hustled in the back room. That is – robbed in a movie booth by some “rough trade” looking to take advantage of a sexually conflicted individual whose judgment was impaired by some carnal urgency. Who would a victim of such a crime contact for assistance ? Not the Police. Not the wife. Even at that time no person was going to make a call that includes the admission, “Hey I’m on Stewart Avenue” let alone “Hey I’m on Stewart Avenue in an adult bookstore where I got robbed by a guy I was trying to pick up“. That would be a life changer now wouldn’t it ? According to Tank the back room robberies were infrequent and rarely involved actual violence with simple intimidation being the primary weapon. The victim might not complain at all due to embarrassment and potential exposure though, if he did, it was usually not until some time had passed since the perpetrator’s departure. Even then the patron would sheepishly approach Tank or Lee as if making a long suppressed confession instead of demanding law enforcement be contacted or at least asking “just what kind of a business are you running here anyway ?” Tank was like “Hey man, there is a big sign back there that says ‘one person to a booth’ so you break the rules then live with the pain”. He recreated the event for us complete with hand gestures and recited that phrase reverently as if it represented a universal truth ranking right up there with “Force equals Mass times Acceleration”. It occurred to us over at Bros Three that perhaps the clerks might actually be in on these robberies and were simply employing an accomplice to do the dirty work. Just spot a guy with a wedding ring who appears to be gainfully employed and wait for him to make advances on the seemingly friendly stranger in the back room area who suddenly becomes angry and threatens violence. Easy money.
Be Mindful of Where You Die
One of the more unfortunate events took place in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day around 5 p.m. I noticed an ambulance and two police cars had rolled up into the parking lot at 2150. A few of the patrons had scampered away but the cops were interrogating a Barney Fife looking dude out in front as the ambulance crew wheeled out what appeared to be a covered body. Wow, what happened ? It was all too much to resist so I slipped out of Bros Three and crossed over The Avenue at Langston where I could discreetly approach the building. The cops were still grilling the patron as the usually totally-at-ease Tank was seen pacing nervously outside most likely because he wasn’t accustomed to, well you know, handling deaths during his work shift ? There was definitely some emerging unease between the cops and as I moved in closer, it became clear that they were arguing about who would be informing the next of kin about the death of the individual whose body was just then being wheeled out. Tank spotted me and waved me over with his ham hock of a hand and whispered hoarsely, “Yea Man, Some Delta or Eastern guy, looked like a pilot or something, was in the back doin’ his thing and some of the boys heard a ruckus and saw the guy’s leg sticking out of the booth twitching around – guess the son of a bitch blew a gasket. But I don’t need this heat – I got warrants. Hope they don’t check”. Tank clearly had other priorities in that moment and sympathies for the recently departed were not foremost in his mind. Evidently Barney Fife had assumed the noise was the result of some heavy action and let it slide until he realized the guy’s legs were no longer moving and hadn’t been for some time so he reported it. The cops showed up, riffled the pockets, found the wallet, made the id, saw family pictures, and were on the radio consulting with their superiors about who would be delivering the bad news and how. And you thought your job was hard ?
Gimme That Old Time Religion
I suppose that Solicitor McAuliffe’s on going project might have had something to do with preventing things like the above described events from happening although I never recall reading specific references to such incidents. His was more of a generic effort designed to eradicate places, publications, and people who sought to promote and/or profit from sexually oriented material. You might be tempted to think that all of this activity was initiated in the 70s but the Solicitor’s ideas go back to the previous decade when, according to 8/25/1969 edition of Atlanta’s own “Great Speckled Bird Magazine”, he stated: “If Georgia did away with its adultery and fornication laws, we would not be protecting, in many cases, good wives who have husbands who want to play around, or in other cases, protecting good men who have wives who are a little bit promiscuous.” It is interesting that he acknowledges a capacity for infidelity independently of gender though it’s even more interesting that he employed language (e.g. “play”, “a little bit promiscuous”) that minimizes the very behavior that motivated his aggressive campaign. I would have expected much stronger and more damning language though maybe he felt the laws were there simply to motivate good marital hygiene and to make an example of those who might “play” from time to time. And by removing magazines, movies, and gadgets from stores and theaters then those otherwise “good” people would be guaranteed to have problem-free marriages.
”If you need a dirty book, you’ll have to leave Atlanta to get it,” said Glenn Zell, an attorney for the stores. Mr. Zell said the owners of at least 16 adult bookstores had agreed Friday to close if the Fulton County Solicitor would dismiss all charges against their employees. – New York Times 01/19/1981
However, there were some inconsistencies at the city level that were puzzling. For example there was a “massage parlor” on Stewart Avenue located next to the Purple Onion Bar which was once home to a Shakey’s Pizza Palace. The inconsistency was that these businesses, at least the one on Stewart Ave, rarely encountered any significant pressure from the police even as The Solicitor was going full tilt on the Yellow Fronts and small markets who sold magazines. The proprietor of the Massage Parlor used to come by Brothers Three to pick up a six pack now and then and he always looked as if he had not one care in this world. There were no repeated raids, busts, or declarations of war on these establishments. The same was true with the area prostitution which remained more or less the same as in previous years. The distillate thinking was that either these Parlors were kicking up money to someone that the Yellow Fronts weren’t or that the issue of prostitution was somehow more tolerable – at least for the time being. As 1979 rolled around there was the horrifying issue of Black Atlanta Children being murdered as well as prior concerns about the behavior of Reginald Eaves whose policies and practices as Atlanta’s “Super Chief” allegedly impacted the Atlanta Police Force in an enduring and irreversible way. So it’s not as if all was well with the city in all other respects.
Le Dénouement D’une Crise
The issues I’ve described here and in the previous post captured the attention of publishers such as Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, and more famously Larry Flynt who was paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet in 1978 while on trial for Obscenity in Gwinnett County. While there were lawsuits and court actions challenging the Solicitor’s work on the basis of First Amendment rights it was easy to see that neither side was being especially noble. The publishers were making plenty of money and wanted to continue to do so. I’m really sure that a general reader of these magazines was not that interested in “the intriguing interviews” which was the infamous and well-worn cliche used to justify the purchase of Playboy. On the other hand does an adult really need someone to screen material and decide what is decent (or not) ? Should publications such as Playboy and Penthouse be classified in the same category as the Adult Bookstores ? Was the Fulton County Solicitor truly representing the interests of Fulton County residents or perhaps, (and more likely), his own religious beliefs ? These were all reasonable questions especially if you are growing up in a neighborhood that is on the front lines of such a conflict. Anyway, it all became academic as by 1981 the Book Stores decided to close up shop and leave town in exchange for having charges dropped. So the “Yellow Fronts” had been vanquished. In terms of the magazines, however, they returned to the magazine stands of gas stations and small markets without consequence. And by the late 80s even places like the very popular and well respected Atlanta Oxford Book Store offered a selection of adult material that far exceeded (in quantity and variety) anything being offered in the 70s. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
I wasn’t keen on the reality that there was a Book Store establishment so close to where I lived but I accepted it. Didn’t really have a choice. When traveling around town my default behavior was not to broadcast this history simply to avoid the inevitable questions like “What was it like ? Do you ever see anything weird ? What kind of people went there ? What’s the wildest thing you ever saw ? So why didn’t your family just move away ?” Of course this blog answers some of those questions (in considerable detail I might add) though in reality I never really minded answering those questions except when it was clear that those posing the questions were just in it for the titillation and vicarious experience with little or no regard for how these things might have impacted the area. In terms of the Stewart Avenue corridor the closure of the 2150 book store didn’t change anything at all. The location remained empty and dormant for quite some time after which it was purchased, renovated, and reopened as an “exotic dancing” establishment. The owner, a charismatic bald muscular guy with a Fu Manchu moustache dropped in at Brothers Three and assured us that it was going to be “a classy operation”. I responded, “but there are already so many other classy places around here” which was a risky move on my part given his size. After a moment of silence, during which he no doubt had attempted to determine if he was being insulted, he decided to ignore me. – The Stewart Avenue Kid © 2016
Note that this will be Part 1 of a series devoted to the Atlanta Pornography Battles of the 1970s as related to Stewart Avenue
Across the street from the lot containing Banks Liquor Store and Brothers Three was yet another liquor store that evidently couldn’t withstand the area competition so it closed and, seemingly overnight, became one of Atlanta’s first “yellow front peep shows” thus called because it had all-around dark yellow tinting to prevent outside viewing. Over time, slogans emerged in the windows including highly original gems such as “XXX”, “Adult Books”, and “24 Hour Wild Action”. If this business has a specific name then no one knew what it was although in reviewing some of the legal records it was apparently “2150 Stewart Avenue Inc”. At first these places were associated with adult content pioneer (some say “Porn Lord”) Mike Thevis who had erected, no pun intended, an empire based on his North Avenue news stand where he noticed that men’s magazines generated significant profit especially the underground titles that offered more aggressive action than could be found in the pages of Playboy. Whether he had any financial stake in these establishments was unknown although they eventually caught the attention of then Fulton County Solicitor Hinson McAuliffe who made it his personal mission to drive them all out of town – a goal which he largely achieved given that by 1981 most of these establishments agreed to close shop in exchange for various obscenity and pornography charges being dropped.
Leading up to this event was a series of high profile raids justified in part on general appeals to social morality and on the fact that devices used to “stimulate the genitals” aka “marital aids” aka “dildoes” were illegal as were film “loops” containing sexually explicit acts. But McAuliffe, (a man the New York Times referred to as a “rigidly moralistic prosecutor”) didn’t stop there – he also targeted any general store owner who offered publications such as Hustler, Oui, Genesis, High Society, Penthouse, and other magazines of the time. Evidently, it was the infamous “Scratch N’ Sniff” edition of Hustler magazine that drove the Counselor over the edge so guys like Miller, the owner of Brothers Three, got arrested in a bullshit sting as did many other merchants. My Father and a colleague bailed Miller out of jail. I discovered all of this after having come to work where I was instructed to remove all the men’s magazines from the shelves, which was really what the Solicitor wanted – fear, paranoia, and no “smut”. Even the long established Mom and Pop stores felt threatened to the extent that offering Playboy seemed too much of a risk.
Mr. Grutman, counsel for plaintiff, “Penthouse”, upon oral argument equated the Solicitor’s pursuit of the instant retailers to the pursuit of “Minnows” by “Jaws”. – Penthouse International, LTD. v. McAuliffe
The Solicitor’s heavy handed approach garnered national attention with his choice to place a magazine such as Gallery or Oui (simple garden variety nudie mags) into the same category as a grainy sexually explicit loop or a nine inch hand cranked rubber phallus. Consequently, Atlanta became a focal point in the ongoing Censorship vs. First Amendment battles with Penthouse Publisher Bob Guccione getting involved along with Larry Flynt who caught a sniper’s bullet in 1978 while on trial for obscenity charges. I never fully considered McAuliffe’s religion but his methods were explicitly designed to punish those having nothing to do with the production, distribution, or vending of say John Holmes movies, Genital Stimulators, Spanish Fly Powder, or Butt Plugs. His over-zealous approach was designed to force a plea bargaining scenario to get the “yellow fronts” out of town – and if some innocents were punished as part of his moral crusade then so be it. The thing was that most of the arrested store owners relied on the same magazine news agent service to determine what titles to stock so it’s not as if any of them decided to architect a demonic scheme to morally incapacitate Atlanta via nude photographs. Besides, in 1974 the FBI characterized Atlanta as having the highest murder rate in the nation so maybe, just maybe, there were more pressing matters to address ?
“Obviously Atlanta has had enough of this filth. That’s the ‘contemporary community standard.’ I’m not on some great world crusade. This isn’t politics. I’m just enforcing the law.” – Solicitor Hinson McAuliffe in reference to a law he helped author
The thing with the peep store raids was that the confiscated Vibrators, French ticklers, and Loops had to be transported and inventoried as evidence though I can say with authority (certainly not total) that some of the law enforcement personnel in charge of such activity might have held out a portion of the stash for further study and consideration. After all, to effectively combat pornography one must become intimately familiar with the erotic weaponry being used to tempt the Christians of Fulton County (many of whom were probably private consumers of said material). And in trying to better understand the techniques of the enemy perhaps personal experimentation with these carnal implements was warranted. By God someone had to work the front lines in the Righteous War. Who would protect the children and old ladies ?
So it was in this milieu that I showed up to work one day to find a box of confiscated “AccuJacks” sitting behind the counter. Don’t know what an AccuJack is ? (I’m still trying to forget). There were actually several contraptions marketed under that name but the one to which I refer was a plastic barrel shaped device about 7 inches long. At one end was an electrical connector that was to be inserted into the lighter outlet of an automobile. At the other end was a circular opening with two simulated plastic female lips – the mouth not the labia although someone claimed that there was an optional attachment offering either. I’m pretty sure you can figure out how one might actually use it. A long haul truck driver who stopped by on occasion said the AccuJack was the “ideal traveling companion”. Speaking of the name I could never figure out to what the “Accu” part referred. (The “Jack” part I puzzled out fairly quickly). I assumed that it was short for “accurate” which made little sense what with “accuracy” not really being a consideration for a user of such a device. “AutoJack” would have been a better name but maybe that was already trademarked. However, it’s not as if an Auto Parts store was going to accidentally order the wrong “AutoJacks”.
The thing was to furtively slip an AccuJack into the coat pocket of someone so when they later went to a bar, home, or to pick up their kids from school they would put their hands into the pocket and think, “What the hell is this” and then pull this thing out in a crowd leading to devastating embarrassment and endless denials of ownership, “It’s not mine I swear !” It was an amazingly effective trick and someone did it to me although when I pulled it out it (ahem) I was at school in the middle of History class. I don’t think anyone saw it Thank God. ( Even if anyone HAD seen the device it is quite likely that they would have no idea about its purpose though since it was packaged like a novelty item people would be curious). Not everyone was rattled by the trick. “RoughHouse”, a facially scarred gambler, partier, and womanizer actually enjoyed picking up an AccuJack in the presence of woman as a means to introduce the topic of sex ! Somehow he could pull it off without getting slapped and would have them laughing whereas other guys couldn’t get close. Anyway the Season of the AccuJack eventually came to a close as these things had shown up at every bar (maybe even some churches) on the Ave and even over at airport bars like The Scotch House and The Admiral Benbow Inn. So the joke faded. However, about a year later I was in the cooler restocking the shelves and found two pristine, shrink wrapped AccuJacks sitting there on top of a case of Budweiser. No one would cop to placing them and I suppose it was possible that they fell from some higher position in the cooler but I don’t think so. Maybe they moved themselves ?
It took only a little while for us to get to know the manager and main clerk of the Peep Show, Tank and Lee, both of whom were very large and appeared to be bikers although their “colors” did not reflect any specific gang affiliation nor did they ever arrive to work on motorcycles. Lee had an “old lady” who later, unbeknownst to me, took a liking to me which didn’t go over well with Lee or me as she was horrifying to look at. Anyway they were blasé about the whole setup and fairly tolerant of the goings on associated with that kind of operation. What I didn’t know about these places was that the backroom area, where the loops were being shown via quarter-fed machines, was a meeting ground for homosexual men (usually of the closeted variety) even though, according to Tank, plenty of heterosexual guys drifted through with no such inclinations. On occasion there would be a thrill seeking heterosexual couple or two checking out the action but during the day it was mostly a heterosexual male customer base. At night though it morphed into a homosexual setup and, correspondingly, Tank hired a flamboyant gay guy named Fred to work the late shift. Physically he resembled singer Conway Twitter but in attitude copped a pretty obvious Paul Lynde vibe such was his level of sarcasm and general contempt for everyone especially the peep show patrons to whom he referred as “jackoff artists”. (An odd statement given that such activity is rarely thought of as being an expression of creative skill). Fred was quite talkative which usually implied interest so I preemptively mentioned how “foxy” I thought Linda Ronstadt was (which at the time was true). Almost immediately his lips twisted into a disapproving snarl as he nasally lisped, “Whatever floaths your boat thweety“. He got the message loud and clear.
Logistically, the building was not customer friendly as there was no back parking lot so patrons had to park up front where their cars and license plates were on display for all to see. Not very reassuring for anyone wanting a bit of privacy. Consequently, peep show patrons would park in our lot and walk across the street which angered us. One serial offender driving a clearly marked church van would park in our lot, run across the street, take care of his business (witnessing to the heathens no doubt), and return to continue the “Lord’s Work”. He came back one day to see a note taped to his windshield with a number of Bible verse references outlining the spiritual liabilities of lust and lascivious living. He put on quite an act looking sternly around the lot trying to determine who did it which was risky behavior as there were a number of guys who would kick his ass for little or nothing. We never saw him again – at least not in the church van. Tank later told us that in his opinion the guy fit the classic profile of being internally conflicted about sex and religion and his solution was to pump quarters into the projector to see the latest skin flick, take care of his business, after which he would bolt from the store but not before saying “God Bless” to everyone. I was speechless not because of the guy’s behavior but because of Tank’s spot on analysis of the situation which clearly resulted from having what professional researchers call “a large sample size”. Tank probably saw cases like this many times a day.
There were other cases of people trying to discreetly slip across the road for some diversion some of whom I actually knew – like former (sometimes then current) school teachers and neighbors who had no idea I worked on The Avenue. I’ll cover more in a followup post as there is plenty to communicate on these topics. © 2016 The Stewart Avenue Kid