Many stories about Ogden's Historic 25th Street have been forgotten.
"The early history, from the coming of the railroad in 1869 through World War II -- for most of it, there's no one alive who remembers it," said Val Holley, who's working on a book called "25th Street Confidential: Drama, Decadence, and Dissipation Along Ogden's Rowdiest Road."
Some stories and pictures have been saved in Special Collections at Weber State University's Stewart Library.
"I've been there many times over the last three years," he said.
Holley presents some of his research at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the library's Hetzel-Hoellein Room. His lecture is part of the 6 p.m. opening reception for "Treasures Brought to Light," an exhibit celebrating the 40th anniversary of WSU Special Collections. Admission is free.
People visit Ogden's Historic 25th Street to shop and dine, and occasionally to film parts of movies or television shows. Decades ago, it was for less wholesome activities.
The railroad came to Ogden in 1869, and Union Station was built at 25th Street.
"It brought a transient kind of people in," said Richard Roberts, history professor emeritus from WSU. "They might have a layover for two or three hours, or two or three days, waiting for trains."
The street offered the entertainment some were looking for: gambling, drinking and prostitution.
"In the World War II period, the sexual spectacle along 25th Street was incredible," said Holley. "There were hoards and hoards of soldiers there looking for a good time."
That's not news to anyone who's heard about the street's past, but Holley says he's explored a variety of sources to look at 25th Street in a different light.
"Most of what's been written on 25th Street has been written from the perspective of law enforcement, and not from the point of view of people who lived here and worked here," he said. "I'm trying to keep an open mind and look at it that way."
Holley, author of books about James Dean and Hollywood gossip Mike Connolly, grew up in Slaterville and moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a legal librarian. He used sources in both areas to delve into 25th Street's past.
There are several myths about Ogden's legendary street that Holley wants to debunk.
"First of all is the notion that on 25th Street, business interests were exclusive to 'gentiles,' " he said.
According to Holley, there were Mormons making money off of the infamous street. Some collected rents, others sold property or earned legal fees.
"Many of the saloon owners on 25th Street were Mormons -- not just Mormons, but Mormons who crossed the ocean and crossed the plains," he said. "One of them was my great-great-great-uncle, James Hutchins."
Holley says the property that became madam Belle London's parlor was sold to her by a Mormon businessman, and the prostitution cribs in Electric Alley (behind 25th Street) were built by a construction company owned by a church member.
"Belle London had been in town already for five years, so I assume they knew what they were doing," he said.
Kent Powell, historian with the Utah State Historical Society, says it is possible. As in all groups, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a wide spectrum of people, he said, and the avoidance of alcohol was given greater emphasis in the 20th century. He also says there were church members who played a role in the location of brothels in Salt Lake City.
"It was more out of practical considerations," Powell said, explaining that the thinking was, "It's going to happen -- the best thing we can do is control where it is."
Another myth deals with the Ogden City election of 1889.
"It was the first time the city government fell into the hands of the Liberal Party, and it's been suggested that lawlessness increased -- that when that government took over, activities in 25th Street went unpoliced," Holley said. "I haven't found any evidence to back that up."
Any increase in crime was likely due to an increase in population, he said -- not the election of officials who weren't LDS.
"Ogden was in the middle of a real estate boom. ... For the first time you have, beyond the annual Mormon immigration, a huge influx," he said, noting that population doubled in just 10 years. "With a much bigger population, you're going to have more accommodations -- saloons, bordellos, gambling houses."
It's a myth that 25th Street was cleaned up in the 1950s, said Holley.
The federal government tried to get prostitution off the street during World War II, he said, in an effort to stamp out the venereal disease that plagued the military in World War I. In National Archives documents about the Federal Security Agency's division of Social Protection, and the University of Minnesota's collection of the American Social Hygiene Association's field reports, Holley found that undercover studies were done near Utah's military installations, to see where soldiers were at risk.
"It was their job to communicate that information to the military, and to city officials, and county and state officials," he said. "They started arresting women rather indiscriminately, without proof that they'd committed crimes, and without proof they had venereal disease."
Holley says that during World War II the houses of prostitution were mainly gone, but there were women on 25th Street who tended to be more sexually "liberated."
"They hung around places where soldiers were, and were very happy to be picked up," he said. "They were called 'victory girls.' "
But there were still plenty of prostitutes on 25th Street, said Roberts, and there were cleanup attempts again in the 1950s.
Holley says the cleanups didn't really work.
"After World War II, with the increased prosperity people over the U.S. were enjoying, for the first time there were places on 25th Street that were acceptable to the middle class," he said. "There were places you could drink, dance and have a good time. It was gentrified for a few years."
Violations of drinking laws got a lot of private clubs shut down, said Holley, adding, "The middle class went away, leaving the street in the hands of winos, drunks and dissipated people."
There are other myths about Ogden's 25th Street that Holley wants to debunk, in his presentation and the book he's working on. Delving into the street's past is personal to him.
"My great-grandmother was a housekeeper in the Ben Lomond Hotel, and that gives me a connection to 25th Street," he said.