Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Red light revival

Note: many links here are Not Safe For Work. Oh, the sacrifices I made to research this post! Online only, of course.

For a while, it looked like the famous "smallest red light district in the world" was going to shrink away to nothing. Liks was boarded up, the Evergreen Coffee House closed and burned down after Chrissy's death, Club Exotique left nothing but a quaint neon sign and the old Playgirls sauna had been derelict for years, leaving just the sex shop on the corner to carry on the reputation of Vivian St. Strip clubs opened up in Taranaki St and Courtenay Place, and the focus of the Wellington sex industry seemed to have moved on.

However, things look to be changing. Liks is back in business, though under new ownership since sleaze king turned reality TV star Brian Le Gros threw a tantrum at not being able to move to Courtenay Place and moved to Auckland instead. And now there is Il Bordello (if nothing else, the Prostitution Reform Act has promoted truth in advertising).

Michael Chow (owner of The Mermaid, Splash and Just Hotel, though funnily enough not Chow) has stated his intentions to revive Vivian St as the red light district, and has used press releases to this effect to gain an impressive amount of free advertising. I'll refrain from passing judgement on the ethics of the industry, but I will note from an urbanist's point of view that brothels are not the best businesses for providing an active edge to the street (except in Amsterdam). It's also interesting that in the past, Chow would have been shunned and derided as a filthy pimp living off immoral earnings; while these days the word "pimp" is used approvingly in other contexts, and in the public's mind, Chow's worst sin has been to allow a protected kowhai tree to be cut down on another of his properties. Fair enough.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see charred timbers on the side of Il Bordello, a reminder of the fire earlier this year that razed the building that was once Chrissy Witoko's Evergreen Coffee House and flat. While the building was going to be demolished anyway, there were dark rumours about whether the fire was indeed caused by homeless people as the building owners claimed. Chrissy's amazing collection of retro furniture is apparently safe, though, and would make a wonderful fit-out for a bar some day. In any case, Chrissy's legacy of good work lives on in the form of the Teapot Trust and Black & White Ball.

I've only skimmed the surface of the seedily intriguing history of the area. For more info, have a look at the lesbian and gay historical walk of Wellington or William Minchin's book (Wellington: the Dark Side) and walking tour ("A walk on the dark side").


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