Sex and St. Louis: 1976

by guest author Henry Lee

ed. note: check out Henry Lee’s story Service in Show Me: an erotic anthology

It’s easy enough to locate books and articles on conventional St. Louis history. Subjects such as the 1904 World’s Fair, the cholera epidemic of 1849, and the rise and fall of the big breweries have been well covered in both academic and popular publications. Much less understood is the sexual history of the city, which makes the obscure magazine “Sex and St. Louis” such a valuable find.  Published in 1976, it attempted to document the sexual underground of the area in a journalistic manner. Due to budgetary constants only a single issue was produced, but that one issue did an admirable job of covering subjects that the mainstream press at the time would never have touched.

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The longest and probably most interesting article in the magazine is on the Olympic Theater, a drive-in located in Pagedale on St. Charles Rock Road across from the current location of the (much-underrated) Frison Flea Market. Opened in 1962, the theater’s proprietor Herbert Hartstein first attempted to show mainstream titles, but quickly found that he could make much more money by showing softcore porn.  That decision led to a long-running feud with the city government of Pagedale, who didn’t appreciate the sordid reputation of the theater or the fact that the screen faced the road, causing much traffic congestion as motorists slowed down for a free peek. While Hartstein made money hand over fist, the city tried everything they could to shut him down, eventually leading to a Supreme Court case that was decided in Hartstein’s favor. According to internet sources, Wehrenberg bought the theater in 1978 and started showing non-porn exploitation fare. The theater closed for good in 1980.

The same stretch of St. Charles Rock Road that the Olympic was found on also hosted several massage parlors at the time, and seems to have been the center of the illicit sex businesses in the area (a designation now held by the Metro East). One of the journalists involved with the magazine was brave enough to take a trip to one of these establishments. His report is somewhat expected: A very sleazy location, a poor massage, and a rather unenthusiastic hand job. Although for $15 one probably shouldn’t have expected much more. Another article describes the prostitution scene in the city at the time, with the main streetwalking action happening on Washington between Vandeventer and Walton. The area was at the time also home to a string of low rent hotels offering hourly rates. According to a police officer quoted in the story, that stretch of road had been an epicenter for the sex trade since the 1930’s. (All of the aforementioned hotels appear to have been torn down years ago to make room for government-subsidized housing. The current hot areas for streetwalking prostitution in the city are in Cardonolet and Dutchtown if the Riverfront Times is to be believed.)

The issue is rounded out with some shorter articles related to the sexual culture of the time, a piece on the Post-Dispatch’s long-time cartoonist, and some truly terrible short stories. It looks like the publishers had ambitions to make Sex and St. Louis and ongoing publication: The cover describes it as a “Quarterly” and ad rates for future issues are listed inside. Given the quirky nature of the publication, it’s probably not surprising that it only ran for a single issue. Those interested in learning more about this obscure part of the city’s history should head to Shameless Grounds, where a copy is available in the library.

One Comment

  1. Found this web site that describes the drive-in theater:

    Now that I have read all this, I think I may have gone by it a few times in the 1960s when I was a teenager, when my family drove into the City for weeknight church meetings. I remember a drive-in that had tall black fencing … and a few tears that showed enticing glances of remarkable scenes …

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