Rosenblath Family Stories: Hitting Bottom in Shreveport
There was a house in St. Paul’s Bottom, Shreveport, Louisiana that was a stone’s throw from Ledbetter Heights. The house was at 101 Douglas Street. It had no extraordinary features, when it was built in 1895. Michael T. Rosenblath had bought the house for his new bride, Ella Mae Wolfe.
They soon had three kids: Quinlan, Henry Coty, and Michael Thomas, Jr., who died as a baby in 1901. Ella Mae Wolfe Rosenblath died in 1900, soon after the birth of her third son. A few years later Michael married a second time. He took as his new bride, Barbara Dolly Lachle, who over the next ten years had seven children of her own: Philip, Carl, Mary, Kathaline, Elsie Mae, Estelle and Martha. Halfway through the family’s many babies the family moved from Douglas Street to 1100 Hunter Street. Yet the Hunter Street house soon became too small for the family and they moved a third time from the Bottoms to Line Avenue in Ledbetter Heights.
The Hunter Street property which had enough rooms for a large family soon became the local version of the New Orleans “House of the Rising Sun.”
In the 1890’s the Red River bottoms of Louisiana were low lying plains with silt-rich soil created by the meandering tributaries upstream from Rocky Mountains. After many generations of small patch cultivation of the bottoms, the residents planted crops like potatoes and corn in the soil. The red earth was full of the nutrients and minerals that made for bountiful harvests. The land which formed the bottoms was carved out of territory that from time to time was underwater. The periodic flooding made the ground unstable for permanent housing. The ground was not firm enough to withstand a lot of weight. As a result, the bottoms became the real estate of last resort for the poorest residents of the area. They often could not afford land for a home on higher, more stable ground. The red, sandy color of the Red River made St. Paul’s Bottoms seem so rustic and perpetual, yet the real estate brokers knew differently; the land was perishable.
Bottoms Home with Lots of Rooms
Michael Rosenblath was a plumber in the city for many years. As he acquired one property and then another, he became a serial landlord, renting out the vacated properties to tenants. He rented out the St. Paul’s Bottoms houses on Douglas and Hunter Streets to supplement the family income. Dolly Rosenblath collected rent every Sunday from the tenants who could afford the rent ($3.00 per week) they charged. There were no restrictions on subletting the houses.
Barbara Dolly Rosenblath
Starting in 1914, Rosenblath rented the Hunter Street house to a woman named Marguerite Sanders. Ms. Sanders signed a long-term lease and, in turn, rented the former children’s rooms by the hour to her Madams and their male clients.
Sanders developed a thriving business with male clientele slinking onto the front porch at all hours of the night and during the day. Their entry to the front door was hidden by a large evergreen bush. In short order the Hunter Street house was a location of elevated interest from the men of all races who lived in the area. Ms. Sanders had a thriving enterprise and 1100 Hunter became a well-known brothel in the Bottoms. The pinnacle of local interest was in 1917, just at the outbreak of World War I, which exploded into a global conflict.
World War I
With the outbreak of the first world war, the US found common cause with Western Europe and participated in the war. The entire country became mobilized in the war effort, which included army training, as well as plane and Jeep building. The local training camps had some prohibitions of their own for the safety and well being of the soldiers. One prohibition was on the sex trade: condemned were all houses of ill-repute in most states. Louisiana was one of them.
The government also prohibited brothels within a few miles of any US Army bases. The barracks in Bossier Crossroads and Barksdale Airforce Base, Shreveport, Louisiana put a virtual standstill on the business prospects for Ms. Sanders. So in 1917 Marguerite Sanders decided to move her establishment a few miles west, which repositioned it across the state line in Texas. The short distance was all she needed. It helped her keep her business open and evade the prohibitions in Louisiana. At the same time Sanders stopped paying Michael Rosenblath for the rent she had been paying on Hunter Street. Rosenblath felt gyped of rent on his now vacant property, and sued Sanders for breach of the lease in the amount of $3,206: which was the back-pay sum he felt she owed him.
In district court the judge agreed with Rosenblath and Ms. Sanders lost her case. She was adamant about the injustice and took the matter to a higher authority.
The Louisiana Supreme Court
Marguerite Sanders and her lawyers decided to appealed the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court. On appeal the case was overturned in 1919, thereby exonerating Sanders of any further payments. Rosenblath, perhaps justifiably, felt cheated from rental fees for five years because of Sander’s broken tenancy.
There seems to have been some unusual justice at work in the bayous during those days of real estate heights and bottoms.