Brothels and Bootlegging, Who Knew Pendleton Had Such a Bawdy Past?
Many years ago, Pendleton, Oregon was famous for more than just a rodeo. In the 1920s three things entertained cowboys in Pendleton – rodeos, saloons, and brothels. During this bawdy time period, the town boasted over 30 saloons and 18 brothels. The most famous of these was owned and operated by Stella Darby - Madame Darby’s Cozy Rooms. The notorious brothel was in operation from 1928 until Stella retired in 1967.
It’s not surprising that during the years of operation, some town folk (probably the wives of cowboys) didn’t have a very high opinion of the operation. The “32-Steps to Heaven” on South Main Street surely broke up marriages, promoted infidelity, and caused STDs. But, as often happens, time forgives all sins and in 2014, Stella Darby’s controversial legacy was solidified in bronze. A statue that it is. And, it sits near the former entrance to Stella’s house of ill repute.
According to oldprosonline.org, after the brothels closed down Stella Darby made her way to Walla Walla and later died there in 1977 at the age of 75. The Cozy Rooms building was changed to The Working Girls Hotel in 1993 and is currently owned and operated by Pendleton Underground Tours. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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