Owner, coun­cil­man work to pre­serve ex-brothel


The Mercury News - - Local News - By Banks Al­bach Me­di­aNews

If you were a gang­ster run­ning a brothel and a grey­hound race­track and dis­till­ing your own al­co­hol dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, there’s one thing you’d want in ad­di­tion to cus­tomers: a quick es­cape route from the po­lice.

That didn’t work, how­ever, for Ge­orge White, a Chicago hood who was do­ing all of the above in a Moun­tain View house. Even with metal bars lock­ing his doors, se­cret pas­sages in the at­tic, an alarm sys­tem and peep­holes on the front and back en­trances, White still got pinched.

He was ar­rested in 1933 af­ter a raid by the lo­cal sher­iff, and held on $500 bail, ac­cord­ing to a 1933 ar­ti­cle by the Moun­tain View Reg­is­ter-Leader. That faded, yel­low clip­ping is in Gilda Wun­der­man’s scrap­book, an an­thol­ogy of the house where White was ar­rested. She and her late hus­band, Ir­win, bought it in 1963 and turned it into a two-story time ma­chine, with­out the booze and tommy guns of the ’20s and early ’30s.

‘‘It was dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion,’’ Wun­der­man said. ‘‘So they built a place that looked like a farm­house, with a bar un­der­neath and this one had a brothel.’’




his­tory — the base­ment has three old bars, a ball­room and a chem­i­cal lab where pre­vi­ous oc­cu­pants mixed in­gre­di­ents for beer and liquor — the 7,500-square-foot house has been the tar­get of city an­nex­a­tion bat­tles since the late ’60s.

Af­ter four decades, the city seems likely to an­nex Wun­der­man’s prop­erty on Eu­nice Av­enue this month. But the an­nex­a­tion comes only af­ter a move by Coun­cil­man Greg Perry to pro­tect the old speak-easy and brothel.

‘‘We’re the only res­i­dence not in the city and we’re sur­rounded by the city,’’ Wun­der­man said. ‘‘I’ll ac­cept the an­nex­a­tion as long as there are guar­an­tees.’’

Perry and Wun­der­man, who have never met, said they were wor­ried that his­toric build­ings would face de­mo­li­tion be­cause they can’t meet city codes once an­nexed.

‘‘I don’t want to en­cour­age peo­ple to tear down build­ings when they have his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance,’’ Perry said. ‘‘Th­ese laws are de­signed to en­cour­age peo­ple to con­form, which for a his­toric struc­ture is com­pletely ridicu­lous.’’

The Moun­tain View City Coun­cil will vote to­day on whether to ex­empt such build­ings. If it passes, the Wun­der­man house will stay the way it is, Perry said. The city will de­ter­mine whether fu­ture build­ings meet the same his­toric stan­dards.

In the early ’70s, Wun­der­man wasn’t the only ‘‘is­land,’’ a term de­scrib­ing un­in­cor­po­rated homes in Moun­tain View. Ac­cord­ing to news­pa­per ar­ti­cles in Wun­der­man’s scrap­book, the city an­nexed dozens of homes in the past 25 years. Wun­der­man cred­ited her hus­band with keep­ing their land out­side city lim­its un­til now.

‘‘He fought the city tooth and nail,’’ she said.

Since own­ing the house, the cou­ple threw a long se­ries of renowned 1920s dress-up par­ties. Pic­tures of guys and gals in such get-ups fill most of Wun­der­man’s scrap­book.

Ev­ery nook and cranny of the house has pic­tures, paint­ings and stat­ues. A 1950s juke­box, now silent, is lighted up against a wall. The chem­istry lab in the base­ment is lined with small bot­tles per­fect for the inside of a suit pocket.

The old Savoy White­hall Dis­tillery in the back of the house is long dry, but Wun­der­man has man­aged to save some of the la­bels. And the madame’s room — the most spa­cious, of course — has a face-level hatch on the door so she could get a quick glimpse of her cus­tomers.

‘‘She could be picky,’’ Wun­der­man said, smil­ing through the peep­hole.

Owner Gilda Wun­der­man ac­qui­esced to an­nex­a­tion by the city af­ter Coun­cil­man Greg Perry took steps to pro­tect the home. The city coun­cil will con­sider a plan to ex­empt his­toric build­ings from city code.

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