Downtown Pensacola today consists of South Palafox, Jefferson, Main, and other streets. It's a tiny part of the city of Pensacola, but it is very rich with history and the culture of the French, English, Spanish, Confederate, and American armies who occupied this city during its 450-year history.
Of course no big city is without its seedier side and red light districts, and Pensacola had a thriving Red Light District up until after World War II. From the Civil War up until during and shortly after World War II, Pensacola's Red Light District was located right off the pier on Palafox Street and went as far as the Escambia County Courthouse. Almost every building you see standing in Downtown Pensacola was either a bar or brothel and every night, these establishments were hopping with drunken soldiers and sailors looking for a good time with many of Pensacola's ladies of the evening.
BEDNAR HOUSE AND LAWFIRM
One of today's Pensacola lawyers has an office in what is now the Bednar Law Firm. Our guide Jim joked during several times how many of the former cathouses were now law firms. "What's the similarities there?" I joked to Mom about how both prositutes and lawyers suck the money out of you in a more colorful term. The Bednar House is a 19th Century house near Jackson's Restaurant that has been restored to its former VIctorian glory. But before it became a law firm, the Bednar House was one of Pensacola's famous brothels who employed many young women to entertain the troops.
One young lady was a 14-year-old girl who was sold to a madam by her parents when they couldn't afford to care for her. The girl went through some horrible abuses at the hands of her johns and when she couldn't take it any more, she committed suicide by slitting her wrists with a straight razor. Jim demonstrated this with a straight razor of his own complete with fake blood.
Decades later, Bednar House went through a huge renovation and restoration by its current owners and when the floors were stripped, a strange dark powdery substance was found on the foundations. The owner took some of the substance to a forensic pathologist, and the substance tested out to be blood. It was the blood of the young girl who committed suicide, and after the law firm opened, clients and lawyers who worked at Bednar said books had been moved and curtains were rustled and though the spirit of this girl still lived there.
During Pensacola's heyday as a party town and one big cathouse, the ladies of the evening and their johns were restricted to the small area from Palafox Street to Jefferson Street. The Courthouse is on Government Street, and the prostitutes were not allowed to past Government Street. So if they had to do any business at the post office that was in the courthouse or any other business on North Palafox, they would have to hire young boys to run their errands for them.
Just about every building was a brothel or bar on Palafox and one of the buildings the group stopped at houses a day care center today, but in the day, it was a brothel. Several other people rented the place out for business but would move out shortly after saying that things were being moved and doors were mysteriously opening and closed. When the daycare center opened, the complaints continued, but after repairmen and the city kept laughing and telling them about the ghosts, they finally accepted their guests for who they were.
ESCAMBIA COUNTY COURTHOUSEThe Escambia Courthouse
was built in the late-19th Century and its columned facade is a dominant part of downtown Pensacola. Rumor has it the Courthouse also has a ghost in a woman who committed suicide by jumping out of one of the 4th floor windows and her spirit continues to haunt the courthouse today.
During World War II, Pensacola's Red Light District began to fade when the military issued morals codes forbidding soldiers from frequenting the brothels of Pensacola, and eventually they went out of business. Today, many of the buildings house restaurants, clothing stores, and law firms. At night it is relatively safe to walk downtown Pensacola's streets to enjoy a night out on the town.