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.
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.”
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.”
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.”