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What really went on at Kate’s Gallery?

January 23, 2019

Madera County Historical Society
These Maderans at the First National Bank show some of the “respectable” side of town. Just behind this building on D Street, however was Kate’s Ball Throwing Gallery, which attracted a much different clientele.

Throughout the history of Madera, the City Council has always fought to keep the town clean and decent. Bawdy houses have been shut down; wild saloons have been closed, and opium joints have been put out of business. Madera’s leaders have never countenanced immoral conduct within its business community — with one exception.


For some inexplicable reason, in 1919, the city fathers decided to turn their heads and let Kate Manning continue to operate her disreputable ball-throwing gallery, just behind the First National Bank on South D Street.


If all that was going on at Manning’s carnival-like attraction was folks trying to win a prize by hitting a target with a soft ball, that would have been alright, but there was a lot more than ball throwing going on at Kate Manning’s. That’s why folks were so shocked when the city fathers decided to turn their heads and let Kate continue to operate her business, complaints from the community notwithstanding.


The trouble all began when Kate opened her ball-throwing gallery in August 1919. Situated as she was in the middle of what was considered Madera’s business district, it didn’t take long for neighbors to complain about the whooping and hollering, and loud music coming from her place. A little investigating also revealed that there were some shenanigans of a sexual nature going on at the gallery.


By Tuesday, Sept. 2, a citizens’ group had circulated a petition and presented it to Mayor E.M. Saunders demanding that Mrs. Manning be shut down. Armed with signatures from a number of Madera’s leading citizens, Saunders called a meeting of the council for Friday to hear witnesses and make a decision.


The council chambers filled up quickly that night. Mrs. Manning was in attendance with her lawyers, Joe Barcroft and his son David. The petitioners brought their attorney, F.A. Fee and Deputy District Attorney W.C. Ring. Mayor Saunders opened the meeting by calling Marshal J.E. Rea who informed the council that there was a lot more going on at the gallery besides ball throwing.


He said he had observed a “game” in which girls employed by Kate were allowed to fondle some of the male customers by groping around in their pants pockets on the pretext of searching for money. Invariably, after the “search” a coin or two was retrieved, which the female searcher was allowed to keep. Rea also testified that two of the girls were infected with venereal diseases.


Next came Charlie Pedrino who claimed that one night he had “approached Mrs. Manning while he was ‘half lit up’ and that she invited him around to the back door after she closed up.” Poor Charley’s testimony, however, was severely attacked by Barcroft when he produced witnesses who testified that when Charley was “half lit up” he could not be wholly relied on.


One of the last witnesses was A.R. Light, manager of the telephone office, which was located directly across the street. He said when the Gallery first opened, he visited it several times. Once he observed one of the boys hand one of the girls a dollar in payment of a 20 cent game. Light testified that “the girl stuck the money down the front of her dress and told the young man if he wanted it to go ‘get it.’”


Light said he also saw girls groping around the pants pockets of the men for money. He said he did not consider it robbery but “more in the sense of good cheer, but the kind of cheer that he thought it best for him to stay away from.


Mrs. Manning was the last witness, and she spoke on her behalf. “I am divorced and have a little girl seven-years old. She said that some of the time the men who visited her place were a little unreasonable but she was usually able to handle them all right.


She admitted going into the pockets of some of the boys but not until they told her “You can search me, and if I have any money you can have it.”


At that point, Mayor Saunders indicated he had heard enough. “I consider that the prosecution had very little evidence.” Both of the other trustees agreed, and before the crowd had a chance to even gasp, the case was over. Kate Manning could keep her ball-throwing gallery open.


Everyone went home that night thinking Mrs. Manning had won, and the Madera lads who wished to do so could continue to “have their pockets picked.” They had reckoned, however, without District Attorney Stanley Murray.


The next morning Murray showed his metal. He knew what was really going on at Kate Manning’s gallery, and it was more than ball throwing. He unilaterally declared the place a public nuisance. He said his first inclination had been to bring charges against Manning under the “Redlight Abatement Act. However he chose a less time consuming way to settle the case.


Section 373a of the Penal Code empowered the district attorney to close any establishment he considered a public nuisance. He so advised Mrs. Manning in writing that she was through in Madera.


So Kate Manning and her girls packed up and left town, and thanks to the District Attorney the town retained its elevated morality.


Secretly, however, folks whispered their suspicions. What had happened to the city council when it turned a deaf ear not only to the town’s petition but also to the witnesses who showed up at the hearing with tales that made folks blush?


Perhaps the town trustees were preparing for the Roaring Twenties.

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