Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

August 10–17, 1995

city beat

No Mo' Hos?

No Mo' Hos?

City to use old law against oldest profession.

Now that the DA's office has shuttered a brothel on Sansom Street, local law enforcement is looking to use a 1930s law against other bordellos in Philly. DA Lynne Abraham's office warns that the best little whorehouses in Philly may face a fate similar to that of Bella Femmina, which has agreed to a year-long closure.

"We've come to the conclusion that you cannot do these types of activities without paying a price," says Edgar Jaramillo, the assistant district attorney who heads the public nuisance unit. "That message is becoming clearer and clearer."

The Bella Femmina modeling studio at 2046 Sansom Street closed on July 5 after the district attorney and neighborhood watchdogs filed a "civil nuisance" suit. The DA filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Bella Femmina was a brothel, and the business caved in.

Bella Femmina lawyer Mark Seidman says that both parties are working on a consent order that will keep Bella Femmina under padlock through July 4, 1996.

Other dens of deviance worry they're next.

"I've got blood, sweat and tears in this business," says one escort service operator who wishes to remain anonymous. "I just want to be left alone."

The law which is used to attack prostitution targets property via civil litigation under a state statute created in the 1930s. Should a judge deem a property a "public nuisance," the offending unit — or entire building — could wind up padlocked for a year.

The Bella Femmina case is the first in which the Philadelphia DA's office used the measure against a bordello. The law is more commonly associated with so-called "nuisance bars." It was also used during the 1970s to "bust out" bars on 13th Street near Locust.

Seidman says it's no surprise that some alleged brothels might be scurrying for cover.

"When people think that the statutes can be used against them... the fear tends to run rampant," says Seidman.

The lawyer cautions, however, that a crackdown may not be in the cards.

The Bella Femmina case "doesn't mean the DA's going to turn around tomorrow and file a bunch of lawsuits," says Seidman.

Jaramillo claims news of the Bella Femmina case is spreading to other bordellos. In case it's not, the prosecutor threw in a warning.

"For those people who do not respond sooner than later, we will give another reminder," says Jaramillo.

Lt. John Cerrone, commanding officer for the police department's citywide vice enforcement unit, says the use of public nuisance laws against brothels is a wise idea.

"The fact is, people don't want to live around — or have their children subjected to — this kind of activity," says Cerrone. "We have to use everything at our disposal to rid the neighborhoods of these problems."

Out on the streets, most of the classic targets like massage parlors and escort services are saying little.

Take Happiness Oriental Health Spa located at 1812 Ludlow behind the Holiday Inn. Their Yellow Page ad under massage parlors offers to "rejuvenate your body" via "experienced Oriental staff."

"Massage? No we not do here," says the woman who answers at Happiness. "Only exercise here."

A woman at Yo-Yo-Ma World Spa at 2025 Sansom Street near the old Bella Femmina says the massage parlor "moved."

"We're not here no more," says the woman.

The voice at Olde English Chambers skirts questions as well.

"We don't want any publicity, we don't want to do any stories," says the woman managing Olde English near 3rd & Chestnut.

"My whole comment to this is no comment," says the owner of Caesar's Place at Juniper & Locust. "I don't want to say a thing."

Hana Spa on Chancellor Street near 16th runs a Yellow Page ad promising "a wonderful, very relaxing hour specially designed to relieve the tension of your day." The "housekeeper" who answered Hana's phone says she doesn't know what the spa does.

Same goes for Gentleman's Retreat at 1800 Ludlow.

"I don't have any idea what goes on here," says the woman. "I'm not authorized to give out information. I don't know anything about this."

Other places appear to be packing up their bags. Oasis, "an All-American Business" with a "choice of attendants," located at 1201 Sansom Street, has disconnected their phone. Cupid's Companions of 2025 Sansom Street is also closing, according to "Tom." Of course, Tom denies that his business dabbles in sex-for-sale.

"There hasn't been an escort service here," says Tom. "As far as I know, it's never been an escort service. A girl was going to run one here and then she quit."

As for Cupid's Yellow Page listing under escorts, Tom says it must be a mistake.

"We sell lingerie," says Tom, noting the shutdown comes because Sansom Street "wasn't a good place to sell lingerie."

Off the record, a bordello owner asks one question of law enforcement.

"Why don't they go after drugs?"

— Scott Farmelant

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