Combat Zone, Boston
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Combat Zone was the name given to the adult entertainment district in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. It was centered on Washington Street between Boylston Street and Kneeland Street. It extended up Stuart Street to Park Square.
The name "Combat Zone" was popularized through a series of exposé articles written by Jean Cole on the area published in the 1960s in the Boston Record-American newspaper. The name had a double meaning in that it was an area known for crime and violence, but also in that many soldiers and sailors on shore leave from the Boston Navy Yard would frequent the many strip clubs and brothels in uniform giving the streets an appearance of a war zone.
The Combat Zone began to form in the early 1960s, when city officials razed the West End and former red light district at Scollay Square, near Faneuil Hall, to build the Government Center urban renewal project.
Lower Washington Street was already part of Boston's entertainment district with a number of movie theaters, bars, delicatessens and restaurants that catered to night life. It was located between the classic, studio-built movie palaces such as the RKO-Keith and Paramount theaters and the stage theatres such as the Colonial on Boylston Street.
With the closing of the burlesque theaters in Scollay Square many of the bars began to feature Go-Go dancers and later nude dancers. During the 1970s when laws against obscenity were relaxed many of the smaller movie theaters then running second-run films switched to showing adult movies.
During the Combat Zone's heyday, some of the larger strip clubs were the "Teddy Bare Lounge", the "Two O'Clock Club", "Club 66" and the "Naked I" which featured local celebrity Princess Cheyenne. (The Naked I was also known for its iconic neon sign which superimposed an eye over a woman's crotch.) Besides the strip clubs and X-rated movie theaters, numerous peep shows and adult bookstores lined most of Washington Street between Boylston Street and Kneeland Street.
LaGrange Street, a small one-way street which runs between Washington and Tremont Streets, was the principal gathering spot for street prostitutes. Most congregated in front of or near "Good Time Charlie's" at 25 LaGrange Street. All of these establishments are now gone and the buildings are being demolished. The Pilgrim Theater, one of the last old time burlesque houses, was the site of a political scandal when in December 1974 the then Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Wilbur Mills, seemingly inebriated, appeared on stage with stripper Fanne Foxe, "The Argentine Firecracker". The Pilgrim then ceased to feature live shows and instead switched to X-rated movies and was a cruising site for men to have sex with men.
State Representative Barney Frank made a name for himself in the mid-1970s as a political defender of the Combat Zone. Frank's district contained neighborhoods bordering the Zone. Frank took a libertarian view on vice, bucking the consensus that the area needed to be cleaned out. In 1975, Frank introduced a bill that would have legalized the sex-for-hire business but kept it quarantined in a red light district, which would be moved to Boston's Financial District.  The Financial District was not populated at night, unlike the areas abutting the Combat Zone.
Frank was not the sole voice recommending that The Hub maintain The Combat Zone. Many in the hospitality industry believed a red light district was essential to attracting conventions to Boston. George W. Romney, father of future Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, was one such proponent.
The Combat Zone's demise can be attributed to a number of factors. Among them are the rising property values that made the downtown locations more attractive to real estate developers. In 1974, the Boston Redevelopment Authority began a containment policy by designating the existing businesses to be part of the official adult entertainment district known as Liberty Tree Park. The highly publicized 1976 murder of Harvard football player Andrew Puopolo focused attention on crime in the area.
The introduction of home video and the Internet made it possible to view adult movies and other erotica at home without going to a red light district. Zoned out of the rest of Boston, the strip clubs have moved to the suburbs and become more up-scale.
Years of grassroots activism by neighboring Chinatown residents, aggressive police work and massive urban renewal projects instigated by the Boston Redevelopment Authority helped to stem crime and close most of the adult businesses. All that remains of the former Combat Zone are two small strip clubs, Centerfolds and The Glass Slipper, along LaGrange Street, and a few adult book and video stores on Washington and Kneeland streets. Prostitution and drug sales continue in nearby Chinatown, the Theatre District, Bay Village and Park Square.
A new Emerson College dormitory (and eventual relocation of the entire campus), Suffolk University administrative offices, a relocated branch of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, a new $300 million development which includes a Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a Loews cinema, and a renovated Boston Opera House all opened in the area in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A new luxury apartment tower, the Archstone Boston Common, currently stands at the corner of Washington and Beach streets.
In popular culture
The professional wrestling Tag Team, the Eliminators (Perry Saturn and John Kronus), were at one time billed as hailing from the Combat Zone, Boston; as it happens, they were both once employed at one of the Combat Zone nightclubs, as a manager and bouncer respectively.
A 1983 episode of the Boston-set television series Cheers ("Showdown, Part 1") includes a moment when Ernie Pantusso invites Sam Malone to the Combat Zone, to see "a girlie show." In a subsequent episode (" How Do I Love Thee?... Let Me Call You Back (8 Dec. 1983) "), the gang returns to the bar after a night at the Combat Zone led by Carla.
"Lightning Strikes" by Aerosmith mentions the Combat Zone.
The Combat Zone is briefly mentioned in Stephen King's 2011 novel "11/22/63".
- Cinema Treasures – Pilgrim Theatre
- "A Frank Suggestion: Hookers in the Financial District", Boston Herald-American, November 25, 1976
- "Anne Gray Fischer Presents A History of 'The Combat Zone'", Vernacular, September 29, 2009.
- "A Frank Suggestion: Hookers in the Financial District", Boston Herald-American, November 25, 1976,
- Chinatown struggles with drug trade
- Looking back on Boylston and Tremont's badder days....
- Wallace, David Foster. "Inﬁnite Jest." Boston: Little Brown (1996).
- Ashbrook, Tom (August 5, 1988). "Red lights going out on Boston's sin strip". The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec: CanWest Global Communications (column from The Boston Globe)). p. A-1 FRO.
- Angier, Roswell (1976). A Kind of Life: Conversations in the Combat Zone. Danbury, NH: Addison House. ISBN 0-89169-002-6.
- Lewin, Lauri (1984). Naked Is the Best Disguise: My Life as a Stripper. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-02929-9.
- Weisber, Stewart E. (2009). Barney Frank: The Story of America's only Left-handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman. AmHerst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 1-55849-721-8.