The Bellevue Hotel: Kulpmont's Notorious House of Ill Repute

The former Bellevue Hotel

Having spent the first 18 year of my life in Kulpmont, I was certain that I knew all there was to know about the history of my hometown-- even the seedy parts, like the mob murders of 1939. But one thing I recently discovered was that the tiny borough of Kulpmont once had within its boundaries a rather notorious brothel, which was the scene of numerous State Police raids throughout the 1930s.

The Bellevue Hotel Raid of 1930

At around 10:00 on the evening of Friday, March 14, five state police troopers, under the command of Sgt. Merryfield of Sunbury, swooped down upon the Bellevue Hotel at 640 and 642 Chestnut Street, executing a plan that had been in the works for several weeks. For quite some time the residents of Kulpmont had been complaining to the authorities about suspicious and illicit activities rumored to be taking place within the walls of the establishment.

After troopers were positioned at the front and rear entrances, Sgt. Merryfield and two troopers from the vice squad burst into the building and ordered everyone to remain in their places, warning all inside that anybody attempting to leave would be arrested.

The troopers then made their rounds through the hotel, going from room to room and corralling all of the men and women into the lobby. When heads were counted, there was 25 persons caught up in the raid-- 17 men and 8 women.

The patrons and employees were taken to Justice of the Peace Joseph Politza and arraigned. Sixteen of the men arrested were released on $15 cash bail and ordered to appear before the magistrate for a hearing the following Friday evening. The eight women and the remaining man, Joseph Cosilo, were taken to the county jail.

The names of those arrested in the raid are listed as: Margaret Bolloma, 29, who was the alleged madam of the brothel and Jessie Lawson, 31, who worked at the hotel as a cook. The other females included Margaret Johnson, 23; Mary White, 34; Mickey Brown, 26; Jeannie White, 27; Margaret Kline, 24; and Helen Thomas, 25.

Once the accused arrived in Sunbury the cook, Jessie Lawson, was released after authorities were able to determine that she was merely a cook and not active in "the business of the establishment". As for the others, the March 15, 1930 edition of the Shamokin News-Dispatch reported:

The seven women are to be examined by state medical inspectors and in the event they pass the state sanitary investigations will be called for trial as inmates of a bawdy house.

Even though Margaret Bolloma was identified as the mistress of the Bellevue Hotel, it was learned that the hotel had been leased by members of a notorious gang which also happened to own several other roadhouses and brothels in the county. These 25 arrests would not have been made without the snopping and sleuthing of the locals, however. According to reports, a band of concerned citizens kept their eyes on the Bellevue and took notes, effectively launching their own amateur investigation. Once all the facts were assembled, the citizens turned their notes over to the borough police who, in turn, notified the State Police at Sunbury. On March 18 the women paid their fines before Alderman Clyde Smith and were released, except for Margaret Bolloma, who was held under bail for appearance at the May term of court.

The Raid of 1931

When the next large raid took place in January of the following year, it marked the fourth time in an eight month stretch that the Bellevue was in the crosshairs of the State Police vice squad. This time 14 men and women were arrested.

The raid went down at 10:30 on the evening of Friday, January 23. This time the raid was conducted by County Detective Charles Densevicz, assisted by Corporal Simmons and two troopers, Sargent and Sawyer, of the Tharptown detail of the State Police. Constable Grunaberg of Coal Township also assisted. The plan of attack was the same as before and when all was said and done 6 women and 8 men found themselves in handcuffs. Fortunately for the madam, Ms. Bolloma, she happened to be in New York at the time of the raid and managed to avoid arrest.

By this time the authorities had a sound strategy for netting truckloads of johns, electing to stage their raids on the evening following a payday, when young men from the collieries went out in search of female companionship.

The Raid of 1933

The last major raid by the State Police on the Bellevue Hotel was in 1933 when Sgt. Reese Davis of the Tharptown detail and County Detective Donald Zimmerman dispatched ten troopers to the area, busting three brothels and netting 10 arrests.

The simultaneous raids were made shortly after midnight on April 3 and occurred at the Maysville Park Hotel, the Pine Tree Inn in Paxinos and, of course, the Bellevue Hotel. The Pine Tree Inn raid nabbed proprietor Louis Rosetti and callgirls Mildred Myers, Ruth Wynn and Marion Leonard. Maysville Park Hotel yielded William Bucci and John Coslito, proprietors, and a woman named Marie Martin.

The Bellevue bust resulted in the arrests of the landlords, John Jones and John Damingo, as well as a woman named Margaret Burns, whom the papers identified as a "female entertainer". Burns attempted to entice the troopers when they arrived, thus implicating herself as a prostitute. This time the police didn't bother arresting any of the patrons.

Twilight of the Bellevue

Sometime during the late 1930s the Bellevue Hotel closed its doors and was in business a little while later as the Bellevue Inn which, by all accounts, appears to have been owned and managed by respectable proprietors. In 1946 the rear of the building was used as a repair shop by Joseph "Pingy" Orlando. Today, the building once known as one of the seediest "bawdy houses" in the Coal Region is divided into two private residences, nondescript and easily overlooked by the hundreds of motorists who drive past it each day.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, then pick up a paperback copy of Pennsylvania Oddities, which features even more true stories of the strange from around the Keystone State, as well as more in-depth versions of some of the more spectacular stories shown on this blog. Only $14.95 and free shipping is available!


Popular Posts