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Digging deeper, he found perfume flasks and, strangely enough, fine china and the remains of oysters and other shellfish. Julia Costello, one of two archeologists directing the dig. Several hundred prostitutes worked at the site starting in the mids, when the new Southern Pacific rail connection brought waves of immigrants to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles was just beginning to shake its frontier status and still attracted more than its share of ruffians, gamblers and hard drinkers. Rows of squat brick buildings made up the red light district, just a few blocks southeast of Olvera Street and the central Plaza. Before the railroad boom, the land was on the outskirts of the city. Vineyards grew nearby on land that is now the carpool lane to the San Bernardino Freeway. Working with shovels, trowels and brushes, a team of 17 archeologists has uncovered the brick foundations of the brothels at two locations on the four-acre site.
A thin layer of blackened soil marks the location of Schaefer Street, a narrow lane that long ago disappeared from city maps. Oil was poured on the ground to keep dust from blowing into the dozens of rooms lining the street. Prostitutes stood on the boardwalks and in the doorways. Most of the objects recovered from the site have been found in the remains of a dozen outhouses.
The old latrines are repositories of artifacts. Bottles of champagne have been retrieved from the privies, along with spittoons, jars of face cream, steak bones and the best English china then available. Thirty inches deep in the soil filling one outhouse on Aliso Street, archeologist Arturo Ruelas recovered the head of a porcelain doll, a valuable find that he should be able to date precisely by comparing it with pictures in 19th century catalogs.
The doll may have belonged to a child who lived in the brothel with her mother. Today, most of the site is little more than a dusty lot. Until recently, it was the location of a multistory parking garage for Union Station. Construction workers demolished the parking structure to make way for the new MWD headquarters, which is scheduled for completion in State law required MWD officials to order the archeological survey and dig, which is scheduled to be completed in three weeks.