La Conçon, part 2

Alas, Storyville’s demise was hastened by Prohibition; while largely ignored among New Orleans residents compared to the more dramatic and violent results elsewhere, the increased Federal scrutiny was often focused on well-known “houses of ill repute”. Federal snoop Isiodor “Izzy” Einstein personally infiltrated the Chateau (in disguise) and placed the establishment on his long list of violators; in 1923, Federal agents raided the house and arrested La Conçon under the Volstead Act.

A sympathetic local jury refused to convict her, but La Conçon realized that she had fewer and fewer ‘friends in high places’ willing to look the other way. Fewer judges, fewer lawyers, few man of politics and business came by on a regular basis. One maritime lawyer whose company she especially enjoyed told her that office was expanding and they were sending him to Texas- specifically to Galveston where a new waterfront area was being built. He was going to represent several oil companies against any maritime related lawsuits brought by injured maritime workers. She thought it strange that he would be representing the barge owners rather than maritime workers. She remembered his passionate tirades when a maritime workers was killed and what would happen to the remaining family- wife, children etc. He defended a number of cases where he was able to use the Death on the High Seas Act that permits the widows or dependents of maritime workers to seek compensation for their deaths due to negligence of a ship’s captain or other crew members, or the un-seaworthiness of a vessel operating off shore by more than three nautical miles. But the times were changing and she supposed he like many others were just moving on.

As the time had passed, the customers became less affluent and influential as a rule, and she was never able to rebuild the wealth that she’d spent on repairs after the fire. The Chateau deteriorated in reputation and clientèle, and La Conçon was forced to sell it to a past lover, one Sylvestro Carolla, a.k.a. “Silver Dollar Sam”, the leader of the New Orleans mafia.

With the not inconsiderable purchase price, as well as her own savings, La Conçon was able to buy a lovely house in the Garden District, and opened “Boutté’s”, a small restaurant and night club in the French Quarter that featured jazz musicians. However, she left the day-to-day running of the business to Estelle White, one of her former ‘girls’, and her new husband, E. J. White (La Conçon would later sell them the restaurant outright, and the White family still operates the now-famous business to this day, although in a different and larger location.

** **
Not far past the prime of her life, comfortably affluent, and mingling with (or at last possessing incriminating information on) many of the most influential people in the region — the turn of the century should have been the best years of La Conçon’s life. However, fate (and consequences) were to deal her one of the most unexpected and tragic blows of an already-tumultuous life.

Unfortunately, La Conçon’s success also made her a target. Her past mentor, Hattie Townsend, became jealous and conspired with other madams and brothels to employ various means to discourage potential customers, and even sabotage La Conçon’s operation. A 1909 fire at the Chateau was found to be the work of a local gang of thugs, who were often contracted by Townsend “to provide additional security” — though no direct connection to Townsend could be proven.

The final blow came in 1917, when the US Government closed the District to protect the morals of servicemen during World War I. La Conçon was among the many citizens to protest the closure, along with long-time friend Mayor Martin Behrman, but Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels was vehemently committed to ‘purity’ (of all kinds; his “White Supremacy” campaign and fascist beliefs likely played as much of a part as any concern for the recreational habits of soldiers).

Leave a Reply

(required)

(required)