Toward a better-looking bordello

Do houses of ill repute have to be so darn homely?

click to enlarge A PRETTY FACE: Current establishments could take a visual cue from Ybor’s erstwhile bordello, El Pasaje. - David Warner
David Warner
A PRETTY FACE: Current establishments could take a visual cue from Ybor’s erstwhile bordello, El Pasaje.

You can call them bordellos, massage parlors, brothels, adult bookstores, gentlemen’s clubs or cat houses. Whatever the nomenclature, you understand the nature of the business. My focus is not the morality of such enterprises, but their exterior appearance.

Ironically, you’d think that a business which focused on pleasure would be a joy to behold. Sadly, that is not the case in 2013.

From the lurid shade of yellow that seems to be required of all adult bookstores to the unimaginative neon stuck on sad cement boxes shouting “Girls, Girls, Girls!”, these places are downright ugly.

Rumor has it that Ybor City’s El Pasaje was once home to not only a speakeasy but also a house of ill repute. This gracefully arcaded building boasts a series of rounded brick arches which create a rhythm as you stroll under the alternating black and white stripes on the floor and the bands of sun and shade. Stained glass brightens the upper-story windows above tiny curlicued wrought iron balconies. Surely the pleasures available there were enhanced by the beauty of the architecture.

Our public library failed to share any clues about the history of Tampa’s brothels, so I am forced to rely on the memories of friends. My mother, a Tampa native, said that there actually were red light bulbs on certain Ybor City balconies that indicated which venues were “open for business.”

All I personally know of cathouses is from watching Gone with the Wind, in which Belle Watling’s establishment looks more like Bern’s than Thee Dollhouse. The red velvet and gold shtick seems a bit overwrought — high Victorian titillation crossed with Gay Paree.

2001 Odyssey on Dale Mabry is the modest exception to this lack of imagination. The spaceship on the roof — actually a Futuro house designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the early ’70s — is at least novel. But given the fabulous interpretations of lovemaking in all art forms, surely we can expect more?

Architects, step up to the challenge: Design a bordello which will inspire curiosity and evoke pleasure and beauty. If our area were to have a marvelously iconic and well-designed house of ill repute, then at least when Bill Maher is mocking us, there would be a terrific visual!

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