Saturday, November 14, 2009
Tessie Wall's Townhouse, Powell Street
During the early 1900s Tessie Wall was San Francisco's most famous madam. Born in San Francisco, Tessie a former dancing girl, was already well known for having out-drank boxing champion John L. Sullivan when she opened her first "lodging house" on O'Farrell Street in 1898. Successful from the start, Tessie opened a second high-class establishment on Larkin Street after the earthquake of 1906. It was then that Tessie met Frank Daroux, a Republican state political boss who quietly ran a number of gambling parlors and pool halls. The two fell in love and married in a secret civil ceremony in Philadelphia to protect Frank's public political reputation.
Tessie's wealth allowed her to indulge in her passion, buying antiques. She bought gilded oil paintings, a Napoleon bed, dinner service designed for William Rockefeller, and european draperies from the Spreckles mansion, she also became famous for every year buying hundreds of tickets to the Policemen's Ball and becoming the unofficial queen of the annual events. Wearing a diamond tiara, she would slam hundreds of dollars on the bar and yell, "Drink that up boys! Have a drink on Tessie!"
In 1917 Frank sued for divorce citing long quarrels and Tessie's unwillingness to give up her businesses and move away with him. Heartbroken, Tessie tried to stab herself with a carving knife and then unsuccessfully attempted to patch up their relationship. After a wild, public divorce trial Frank was finally granted his request by a judge. A few months later Tessie spotted Frank coming out of the St. Francis Hotel with a woman on his arm, Tessie ran up and begged him to return to her. Frank refused, turned away, and Tessie shot him three times with a revolver. As she was arrested she famously cried, "I shot him 'cuz I love him, damn him!"
Frank survived the attack, refused to prosecute his ex-wife, and eventually moved to the east. Tessie sold her businesses for a small fortune and retired to this townhouse, filled with her antiques and numerous portraits of Frank. Tessie's last public appearance was at the Policemen's ball in 1932. She appeared in a high blonde wig, a flowing white satin gown and wearing all the diamonds that she owned. She died a month later at the age of 63, still in love with Frank.