Houston 101: The End Of Gaslight Video Spells The Final Demise Of The West U. Tenderloin

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With the recent verdict against Eugene Etheridge and the permanent closure of his infamous Gaslight Video on Bellaire Boulevard in the West University area, an era has drawn to a close. No longer can the 3500 block of Bellaire be accurately described as the Red Light District of West University Place.

Gaslight was all that remained of a once, briefly rollicking Sodom and Gomorrah on Poor Farm Ditch, as the drainage waterway that bisects Bellaire there is known. And if an anonymous poster Hair Balls dug up last year on the leave-little-to-the-imaginationly-named hook-up Web site Squirt.org was to be believed, Gaslight was already a little bit past its sell-by date when the law came calling, that is, if you were put off your glory-hole game by talk of birdies on the 17th hole at Wildcat and how many strike-outs Junior racked up in his Little League game last night:

Holy oxygen masks, Batman! Went at lunch time today, and it was pretty creepy. Everyone there was at least seventy, and they all knew each other. Not only that, but they kept talking about their plans for the weekend, people who died, what was going on in their 'stories' and other intimate details of their private lives. It was like Shipley's Do-Nuts in the mornings.

But back in 1987, it was not the only pleasure palace in the 3500 block of Bellaire. Directly across the street, Houston detectives literally lucked into uncovering a high-class bordello.

From the May 8, 1986 Houston Chronicle:

Undercover vice officers raided a lavishly furnished townhome they said was used as a high-class and sophisticated house of prostitution. A man who allegedly managed the operation and two women who worked there were arrested.

"Nobody around here can ever remember anything like this" before, said vice Sgt. David Lovett.

Most prostitutes in the Houston area, he said, work on the streets or out of hotels. Lovett said the three-story townhome at 3514 Bellaire catered to a very "high-class clientele." "It's very unusual for us to get into a place like this, because they were so careful about who they let in," he said.

Lovett said officers "stumbled" on the operation during their normal anti-prostitution activities. "We were sitting in a bar," he said, "and this guy asked us if we wanted some women." The man took the officers, who were dressed in street clothes, to the townhouse about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, and two women there offered their services for $150 per hour.

Three people were arrested in the condo, including one with the cool-ass pimp name of Tre Antonino. The Chronicle also reported that the 2,500-square-foot condos in the complex fetched the then-exorbitant price $200,000 and rented for a cool $1,200 a month.

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One cop said that normally six to eight girls were working at any given time, and customers would walk in and pick one, "just like at the Chicken Ranch."

The bordello had been in operation for six to eight months when it was raided, authorities believed. Neighbors had thought something was amiss, but none complained to police. (Perhaps some were given good neighbor discounts.)

A former gubernatorial candidate named Hank Grover lived in a nearby condo at the time and told the Chronicle that for several months he had seen steady streams of taxis coming and going in the wee hours. He believed it was a drug house, he said, so he kept mum. And on learning that it had instead been a cathouse, he could only grumble:

"That's the funny thing -- I moved out of Montrose to get away from this sort of thing," Grover said. Grover went on to lament the presence of a "filthy movie theater" across the street.

Which would be the Gaslight, which would keep the flame of freaky West U alive for another 23 years...

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