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Bluestone, a professor of architectural history at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, connected the history of prostitution in the now redeveloped Garrett Street neighborhood to the present day efforts to redesign the Belmont Bridge. He spoke Wednesday in City Council chambers, as part of Celebrate Bluestone said he noticed that the approaches to the bridge separated a predominately white neighborhood from a black neighborhood on the west side of the bridge.
The answer was brothels. The existence of brothels in this neighborhood was a result of out-of-sight, out-of-mind planning during these eras. UVa students were frequent customers, Bluestone said, and, despite the illegality of the institutions, law enforcement officials often looked the other way, as long as the activities remained in an area relatively far away from the university.
The madams Bluestone described had direct influences on their neighborhoods. Many were adept real estate investors. It was common for the madams to own several homes on the same block. Audience members shared their memories of the neighborhood when the brothels were still in existence. Some audience members stated that the brothels may have brought positive economic growth to the area by way of money coming from the wealthy neighborhoods into the Garrett Street neighborhood.
Bluestone countered by saying that the brothels did bring much to the communities, but it was not all beneficial. But I also think there are children being raised … in all of these houses who are growing up with a kind of strange notion about commerce and bodies and commerce and sex in communities like these. The influence of the brothels on this area has continued even after the structures have been destroyed.
One audience member recalled a radio contest that asked listeners to create a name for the Belmont Bridge. Bluestone stated that the media at the time hailed the urban renewal and destruction of this neighborhood as bringing an end to the prostitution business in Charlottesville, even though it did not.