To imagine Los Angeles pre-cinema is almost impossible. What was the City of Angels like before the studios, starlets and the silver screen? Ironically it was granddaughter of Samuel Goldwyn, Liz who has aroused my interest in this lesser known part of her history. Thanks to her most recent book ‘Sporting Guide’, Goldwyn has turned the spotlight on a Los Angeles that was brimming with vice and decadence. Though officially fictional, Goldwyn has based largely portions of her novel on real characters. One of the most notorious was Cora Phillips.
Cora May Phillips was born on 1872 (an accurate date cannot be found). Sadly, like so many of the people that interest me and who have featured recently. Little is known about Phillips, what is certain is the grandeur of her bordello the ‘Golden Lion’. Since Phillip’s clientele were more aristocratic then street level. Two Steinway pianos, lavish yet decadent furnishings There was not only the spare funds to keep the parlours splendid. But they were vital, if you what a more high end experience. Would you want to frequent a doss house with damp and frankly dodgy characters? No, you want to feel comfortable and surrounded by charming women with people who seem like you. While Phillips had a successful business, she did have some competion from Pearl Morton. These rivalling madams used to flaunt their success at Exposition Park, showing off their ‘ladies’ and their cars (remember that cars were still a rarity in Victorian Los Angeles). Know you may be wondering, how can those who benefit for crime be so brash and when they could be arresting? Well like Prohibition 30 years later, the laws were not really enforced. Plus when you appeal to the wealthy, they are not really going to risk enforcing a law that will curtail their own fun.
However the good times were not to last. Those pesky moralists decided that they did not want sex workers in their community. Those same people who helped to bring about the ban on alcohol (temperance movement). Wanted to rid Los Angeles of her ‘sinful’ reputation. By 1909 Phillips was out of the City of Angeles. While Morton left LA for San Francisco. Cora Phillips died on 1912. Now Phillips and Morton have been largely forgotten, hopefully with the release ‘Sporting Guide’. Phillips’ contribution to shaping LA history will be restored. LA for the most part seems to want to demolish it heritage, making way for the next new thing.