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Ukiah’s Tribute to Prostitutes Removed from Downtown Streetside Promised a New Home

Ukiah City Council Woman and 2nd District Supervisor Elect Mo Mulheren with the rescued plaque in hand [Photo used with Mo Mulheren’s permission]

One of Ukiah’s most unconventional and legendary landmarks is a tribute to the town’s former prostitutes in the form of a plaque that reads “To the Ladies of the Night Who Plied Their Trade Upon This Site.” On December 3, a local posted on social media that the plaque had been removed, and disappointment ensued. 

Councilwoman and 2nd District Supervisor Elect Mo Mulheren watched outrage playout over the loss of Ukiah’s idiosyncratic homage and stepped into action. Within days, Supervisor Mulheren procured the plaque and promised to find a new home for the commemoration of Ukiah’s historical courtesans. 

Facebook post from Elias Laughton expressing disappointment in the removal of the “Ladies of the Night” Plaque [Post used with Elias Laughton’s permission]

Local artist Elias Laughton posted a picture of the stone the plaque was mounted upon denuded of the tribute, and community members expressed dismay at the removal of the plaque. The caption on the photo read, “Here’s downtown Ukiah summed up in one tragic photo I’ve named “Progress, Reconsidered.” Au revoir to the ladies of the night…”

Laughton eloquently expressed the historical relevance of the plaque, the unique sense of place it gave his hometown, and the feeling he had when he saw it and a nearby tree had been removed: 

“The monument on Church St was important not only to myself but to many others in our community. It lent a sense of originality, uniqueness, and edgy character that I would like to think defines Mendocino County. It’s sudden, unpleasant removal showed little regard for the aesthetics of the downtown area, and in a time of ecological crisis, the removal of an established attractive tree species seemed ill-planned, at best.”

Councilwoman Mulheren watched the dismay play out on social media and stepped in. She first verified that the plaque’s removal was not connected to the on-going Project Streetscape in Ukiah’s downtown. She “checked with City staff, and they confirmed that it was not part of the project and no one from the City or their Contractor crew’s removed the plaque.” 

The plaque that reads “To the Ladies of the Night Who Plied Their Trade Upon This Site.”

Doing some detective work, Councilwoman Mulheren discovered the building had a new owner and learned that the new owner removed the plaque at the behest of a tenant. One tenant appreciated its historical value while another wanted to remove the plaque to “spruce up” the building’s facade, Councilwoman Mulheren learned. Councilwoman Mulheren contacted the building’s new owner, and “I was able to retrieve the plaque. She hopes “that it can be placed on a new rock on City-owned property.”

Mendocino County Historical Society’s archivist and historian Alyssa Ballard confirmed that a building once existed on the former site of the plaque that first shows up on historical maps in 1893. Because the building is not portrayed in maps from 1885, Ballard says, “it’s likely built about 1890.” 

Map from 1898 designating the Church Street property as a “Female Building”

Ballard’s research indicates the building was officially designated as a “female building” in 1898, and by 1911 it was labeled a sample room on city maps. According to Ballard’s research, Ukiah’s historical “ladies of the night” plied their trade at the former McKinley Building and lived on the site where the plaque was displayed.

Laughton reflected on Councilwoman Mulheren’s actions to maintain the memorial: “It’s nice to see that enough of the community echoed my sentiments until its reverberations met the ears of our local officials. Thanks to Councilwoman Mulheren for her timely rescue of an important piece of local history.”

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8 replies »

  1. I was really upset when they killed the only tree on the block – it was beautiful and healthy. I feared it would be just a matter of time before they removed the plaque as well.. So glad to learn that at least the historic plaque has been saved, although if it is displayed elsewhere, it will probably not be in the right place for historical accuracy.

    • This plaque holds significant historical value for the site .I applaud supervisor Mulhern for tracking down the plaque and working on a new safe place to preserve Ukiahs history. I have a one of kind book that was written by ukiahs first settler that references church street as a historical place in the development of ukiah . As the story states the founding fathers of ukiah would tell their wife’s they were going to church thus the name of church street was born. But the men were going to a visit a house of prostitution which was acceptable during those Wild West days of the early 1800 s The book I have tells the story of how all the streets got there names in ukiah and also the founding families and their legacies and struggles to make ukiah the town it is today . Thanks Mo

  2. Was this part of black lives matter statue removal? kick the truth in the dirt campaign?
    THANK YOU council woman Mulheren,s

  3. Wow this is so F !!! up.Mo thanks for saving the plaque. How bout seeing if the Historical Society could display it ?

  4. I’ve lived in Ukiah since 1947. I believe the plaque should be reinstated. I was sad to learn of it’s removal.

  5. Its historical significance is where it was. Otherwise, it is just a plaque. The Owner should reinstate it. Someone is just a little too P.C.

  6. This plaque is a necessary and integral part of Ukiah history and needs to be restored to a prominent accessible place if it can’t be returned to its original place. Thanks for rescuing this important part of Ukiah’s history.

  7. After reviewing historical information on the plaque . I would like to suggest that the plaque be placed in the sidewalk directly in its location in front of the building it was removed from. I do believe the city owns the sidewalks and it would be appropriate to preserve the historical significance of the plaque and reference in ukiahs past . Any thoughts or suggestions? Moving it elsewhere would be a mistake

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