Finding out your house was once home to someone notable from San Francisco’s past could certainly a pleasure; if someone showed up at the door to say the house was built by the keeper of a Barbary Coast brothel, anyone’s interest would be piqued. This is just what happened in the late 1970s to the owners of two houses on Chenery Street just north of Roanoke. The visitor, a previous owner in the 1960s, told the present residents that their grand Victorian house was built by “Madame Constance” who had a boyfriend named “Rotten Tommy,” who lived in the “carriage house” next door.

Like most neighborhood lore, there were bits of truth mixed with small confusions. Research revealed the real person behind the handed-down story. In 1906 a woman named Rosa Constant left behind the keeping of downtown lodging houses forever, and bought (but did not build) the two houses and the large lot they sat on.

Why did the visitor recall Rosa’s surname slightly wrong? The answer lies in popular culture. There were three fictional “Madame Constance” characters that happened to be current during the 1960s and 1970s: Madame Constance is a character in Jean Giraudoux’s play “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” first produced in the 1940s, and made into a film with Katherine Hepburn in 1969; Madame Constance Bonacieux is a character in book The Three Musketeers, portrayed in the 1973 film by the same name by a corset-busting Raquel Welch; and the 1971 film “McCabe and Mrs Miller” featured Julie Christie as Madame Constance Miller, brothel keeper, pictured below.(1) An easy enough muddling of names for anyone to make.

https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2014/05/20/robert-altmans-mccabe-mrs-miller/
Julie Christie as Madame Constance Miller in ‘McCabe and Mrs Miller’ 1971.

Flouting propriety; flogging property

Rosa Constant did have a boyfriend named Thomas Rothenberger, someone sufficiently close to her to be the beneficiary of most of her worldly goods when she died; her obituary names him alone as her “dear friend.” Although he was with her for over four decades, they never married. In this way Rosa kept control of her name and her finances, which were extensive. He had been her saloon-keeper and manager downtown; out in Fairmount Heights, he likely saw to the needs of her houses and horses.

She may have got her start in houses of ill repute, but she made most of her wealth with another sort of house–the same way a great many men of her day made their fortunes–buying and selling real estate.

The history of Rosa Constant and the history of the houses go back much further than her purchase. I will return to the story of “Madam Constance”—including the remarkable discovery of an account of her otherwise private life that made its way into a turn-of-the century farce performed by teen boys of the Columbia Park Boys Club. First a brief account of the early history of the houses.

Country living within city limits

Fairmount Heights, stretching from 30th Street around to Castro and bordered by the Southern Pacific railroad tracks on the east side, was San Francisco’s first planned–although not by 20th-century standards–suburb. Lots went on sale in the 1860s. Read more about Fairmount here.

The grander of the two houses was built about 1877 as a single residence for a family named the Bishops.(2) It has many of the Italianate features of houses built elsewhere in San Francisco during this time, and is typically restrained in details; later such houses would have a great deal more elaborate carpentry.


Just below the roof line is a strip of pressed metal decoration, original to the house.

476-478-Chenery-roofline-detail

The present owners restored the façade about 15 years ago, but otherwise it suffered some anachronistic renovations in the 1960s. The interior still has many lovely period details.

The soft perfume of flowers stole in from the garden

In 1887 the Bishops hosted a wedding at the house for one of their daughters that was described in the social pages, which you can read here, which includes some description of the house then. When straitened circumstances forced the Bishops to forfeit the house in 1892, this summary of it was published in an advertisement for the auction:

1892Apr10-Call-p8-478Chenery-auctioned
SF Call, 10 Apr 1892.

Even before the first electric streetcar ran down Chenery Street on its way to Sunnyside and South San Francisco, Fairmount still had a good transportation link to downtown. The house was quite close to the Bernal Station (marked green below) on the steam train line (S-curve line on map) of the Southern Pacific. The house is marked fuchsia.

1884-Steadmen-and-Brown_Southern-Pacific-Map-CROP-marked
1884 Steadman and Brown map. From DavidRumsey.com Highlighted to show Fairmount Heights.

In the years that followed, the grand house belonged to another family, who built the smaller house next door at 484 and divided the big house into two flats. The 1900 Sanborn map shows little else around the two houses.

1900-Sanborn-v9-p913-912-478Chenery-all
1900 Sanborn map, from SF Public Library Articles and Databases, altered to highlight the property Rosa Constant would buy in 1906. The two houses sat high on the rocky hill with great views to the southeast.
1900-Sanborn-v9-p913-912-478Chenery-detail-
Detail of same. X means stable or outbuilding—note 1-1/2 story stable on Roanoke side. Was this the carriage house Rotten Tommy was banished to?

The map maker has marked “Windmill and Tank 30 feet ” next to the well. Such a windmill was common adjunct to a well, to provide power to pump up the water. Note the small figure of a man underneath.

1873-Tustin-patent-windmill-SFDir-SM
1873 SF Directory ad for windmill. Archive.org.

The well would have been productive: today groundwater still seeps through the hill year-round onto the sidewalk on Chenery Street. Municipal water was connected to the house in 1901, and so the well was no longer needed, but likely it would have remained there for some years. The 1905 Sanborn is also worth showing, if just for the addition of color.

1905-Sanborn-sheet697-478Chenery-marked
1906 Sanborn map, highlighted to show Rosa’s property, including 109 Roanoke, which she sold soon after buying. From DavidRumsery.com.

A girl from Paris comes to San Francisco

Now to return to the complicated but incomplete history of Rosa Constant before her arrival in Fairmount Heights. She was born 12 May 1862 somewhere in France.(3) Her life in SF starts when she arrives in San Francisco about 1880, at age 18.(4) Her name then was, to the best of my finding, Rose Tailleur, as listed in the directory. She was a laundress, living at in North Beach. She worked here as well, at a laundry run by John B Gassman, a Frenchman who lived there with his family.

Being French her given name was Rose, although she used ‘Rosa’ for the rest of her life in San Francisco; her boyfriend Tommy remembered her true name and had her grave inscribed ‘Rose’ (more later on her burial).

Later in the year, when the census was taken, she was listed as “Rosa Taylor” (tailleur is French for ‘tailor’), living and working at a different French laundry, in the Mission on 22nd Street. The proprietor here was Alexander Roux, who was also from France, as were the other young women who worked there. There had been a steady stream of French immigrating to California since the Gold Rush. The French were esteemed for their labor intensive, hand-finished laundry work, although at this time two-thirds of the laundries in San Francisco were run by Chinese immigrants.(5)

The ten lost years of Miss Rosa Taylor

Rosa Taylor disappears from the public record from 1880 to 1890.(6) I am going to assume that she did work in prostitution in some capacity, probably at first in a nonprofessional way, that is, as an occasional way to make enough money to live on. I do this in light of the neighborhood lore that comes down to us by word of mouth and also through some research.

It was a not uncommon and often unfortunately necessary part of many single working women’s lives in San Francisco during this time. Laundry work was hard and low-paying. The options for legal work for women were severely limited. In other urban centers in the US, women worked in factories or did clerical work. Manufacturing only belatedly got going in San Francisco, due to the delay in the transcontinental railway.(7)

Jacqueline Baker Barnhart, in The Fair but Frail: Prostitution in San Francisco 1849-1900, describes how there were low-paying jobs in sewing, clerking and cooking, but “it was undoubtedly because of the lack of alternatives for economic survival that some women first turned to nonprofessional prostitution” (p.60). By 1870 only five manufacturers had hired women; by 1885 it had only increased to 13, a tiny fraction of the industries here (p58-9).

Barnhart also relates how French prostitutes were highly thought of in San Francisco; they enjoyed more respect and higher pay, apparently in part by virtue of their superior style and deportment, despite the fact that they “were not of a particularly refined class in Paris” (Barnhart, p53). Such a woman could come to San Francisco and receive one hundred times what she could earn on the streets of Paris (ibid).

The recently published and acclaimed book Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute, is a compilation of a 1913 first-person account of a prostitute in San Francisco and other northern California towns, first serialized in the Bulletin. The book was winner of the 2015 California Historical Society Book Award. The subject of the first-person tale, “Alice Smith,” tells of working in a laundry for six dollars a week, two of which must pay for her room. Without minimum wage laws or decent working conditions, her future on her own was grim.

Her fall into prostitution is accelerated the day she earned a ten-dollar gold piece for a short time with a lonely old man, making it obvious the difference between an impoverished existence in legal work and the prospect of more lucrative income in sex work. Her family support had disintegrated; her boss at the laundry would have her service his sexual needs to keep her job in any case. She has little control over her future, except what she gains with the far better pay of sex work. Later she lives in a house with other women, thereby gaining social support and friendship.

This serialized account brought many letters to the Bulletin, from offers of help, to condemnations, to similar accounts from other women in the life. It is a highly readable and moving story, although it was probably ghost-written by the reporters using accounts from several women. Editor Fremont Older was a longtime campaigner for social reforms and a champion of people who had fallen into the criminal classes whom he thought worthy of rehabilitation and a helping hand up in the world.(8)

Let us say Rosa worked in casual prostitution, keeping her legitimate work in laundries; this is what Alice did. Let us say Rosa then ran a house of her own, taking a cut and paying for rent, food, alcohol, and the care of the women; this is also what Alice did, although she gets herself out of the life through one year’s hard work and severe curbs on her spending (hence making her a favored subject for the reform-minded Fremont Older).

Nonetheless, this will have to remain my supposition for Rosa’s life during the years 1880-1890.

Enter John Constant, hero and savior

Sometime shortly before 1890, Rosa married John Constant, changing her future and her fortunes forever. He was then a forty-something laborer born in Iowa who’d been in California for some years. Beyond this there is not much in the public record on him.(9) Together they ran a lodging house with a saloon/restaurant below at 777 Market Street. Here is a photo of that block about 1900, with their establishment marked with an arrow.

1900-Market-St-War-return--marked777_wnp27.3706
Photo: OpenSFHistory.org, wnp27.3706.

At this time, across the street at a clothing establishment at 718 Market St, worked a young man named Sidney Peixotto. Sidney came from an accomplished, well-off, and well-educated family that lived in the Western Addition. He will figure in this story later.

This was a busy block, with no fewer than seven saloons just near this corner.

1901-Market-St-700s-marked777_wnp24.292a
Photo 1901c. OpenSFHistory.org wnp24.292a.

Here is the detailed Sanborn map from 1905 that shows the density of commercial activity here, including a candy factory (which figures in the story later) just behind the Constants’ lodging house. 777 Market is marked green; Market St is along right side. View larger.

1905-Sanborn-777-Market-Street-marked.jpg

Out of the shadows and into Society

Barnhart states that in San Francisco a prostitute had a greater chance for retrieving respectability. “Prostitutes married into all classes of society,” according to 1870 US census records, “and some went into other businesses….The position retired prostitutes held in society however usually depended on their ability to hide their earlier calling” (pp.57-8). She cites the example of Mary Ellen Pleasant, an important worker in the fight for civil rights in California: “She was careful to maintain a reputation for respectability during and following her involvement with prostitution.” This phenomenon erased from the public record the fact that women actually could and did return from the tainted realm of sex work to positions of greater respectability.

Then as now, prostitutes were prone to using names other than their own, erasing the record of their lives. It was a self-protective choice. Upon moving into her first house, “Alice” in her account says: “One thing I was sorry for was that I had given my right name, like a little fool, when I came into the house. I hadn’t known that these women all had some name to hide behind, and somehow it hurt me to hear my name, that had once been clean as anybody’s, passed around on their lips. I felt degraded by it.”(10)

By using and discarding chosen names, Rosa, and so many other women, could erase a past and enable a better future for herself. (But it makes life tough for the historian.)

A public quarrel with a woman of dubious morals

In 1890 Rosa Constant, lodging house proprietress, is mentioned several times in the newspapers, a flurry of short articles about a public tiff with a woman named Lena Roeck.

1890Jul18-Chron-p6-Mrs-Constant-assault
SF Chronicle, 18 July 1890, p6.
1890Jul24-Call-p8-Mrs-Constant-Prob-a-man
Actually, I doubt it; much more likely to be some money in the case. SF Call, 24 July 1890, p8.

When the case came before a judge, Mrs Constant stated that Lena Roeck was “not a married women, as specified in her complaint, and that her character was not stainless” (SF Chronicle, 31 July 1890, p6).

In addition she asserted that Roeck brought the case for the purpose of blackmailing her, and she asked for her own damages. Roeck didn’t show up at the hearing, and the judge dismissed the case. Perhaps Rosa knew all too well what a woman whose “character was not stainless” looked like.

Later that year Rosa advertised to sell all the restaurant equipment from their Market Street establishment. Perhaps she was redecorating or recasting it as a saloon. It was a highly competitive environment there, with so many places to eat and drink in the surrounding blocks.

1890Nov05-Call-p5-Mrs-Constant-adv-restaurant-equip
SF Call, 5 Nov 1890, p5.

One gets the sense of a rather fierce woman, full of determination and pluck. Not unlike the depiction of film character Madame Constance Miller at the beginning of this post.(11)

About 1892, John Constant died. Rosa was then listed as the proprietor of the lodging house. By 1895, she had no fewer than three lodging houses to her name in the directory. One of the lodging houses is at 28 Ellis Street in the Tenderloin, and this place, which also included a saloon, is not a respectable establishment: the newspapers—at least in 1890-92—carry many classified ads that are thinly disguised offers of sexual services from women living here, most of whom give themselves rather whimsical names. Below: two of the several examples I found (SF Chronicle, various dates, 1891-2).

1892Apr06-chron-28Ellis-a-d-1892May06-chron-ad-28Ellis

During the time Rosa oversaw the house at 28 Ellis Street, it did not have tenants who advertised their sexual services so openly. Having attained a respectability, she knew its value and made sure that such illicit activity was not publicly associated with her establishments. I certainly found nothing untoward in the newspapers about her houses, after that initial battle with the dubious Mrs Roeck.

Rotten Tommy, loyal to the end

At least by 1893 she had met and formed a bond with the man who would be her  barkeeper, manager, and life companion: Thomas K Rothenberger. He was born two months before her in 1862, in Pennsylvania. He moved into a room at 777 Market, where he made her acquaintance if he had not before, and worked as a cigar-maker. A couple of years later he was working uptown as barkeeper at the saloon at 503 Post Street.

Then Rosa began managing the lodging house and saloon at this Post Street establishment, leaving 777 Market Street behind. This was clearly a more respectable place.(12) She renamed it “The Racine,” appropriate to both her origin in France and its location in the theater district.

1898-DIR-listing-Rosa-Constant
SF Directory, 1898.

She acquired another companion at this time, Rosalie Chevalier, an older woman also from France, who would stay with her as housekeeper (according to the census record) until that woman’s death in 1913. If nothing else, Rosa Constant inspired deep loyalties.

Encoded in a silly farce

Now I come to the oddest twist in this story. There are traces of the life of Rosa Constant that have remained hidden in an unlikely place for over a hundred years: a goofy farce written by Sidney Peixotto—the young man who worked across the street from her Market Street lodging house—titled “Rosie, the Girl from Paris”.

Sidney Peixotto (1866–1925) founded the Columbia Park Boys Club (CPBC) in 1894 in the South of Market district.(14) It was a pioneering enterprise in organized clubs or youth that predated the Boy Scouts, and which still exists today at 450 Guerrero Street and now also includes girls. The boys travelled widely and famously as a troupe then, performing music and dramatics wherever they went to pay their way.

Sidney Peixotto was one of five accomplished children of Raphael Peixotto, descendant of a Sephardic Jewish family that came to the US from Spain via the Netherlands.(15) Sidney’s sister Jessica was the first woman to be a full professor at UC Berkeley and the second women to receive a PhD there.(16) His brother Ernest was a painter.(17) Another brother, Edgar, was a prominent lawyer. His youngest brother Eustace worked with him at CPBC and assisted in his work, especially after Sidney was appointed director of athletics for the SF Public schools, a totally new office then.

Sidney wrote this short farce for young boys to perform in costume, with a lot of romping about, screaming, cross-dressing, funny accents, and horseplay.(18) His inspiration was surely a much more famous play called “The Girl from Paris,” a musical comedy first performed on the London stage in 1894, coming to New York in 1896. Poster below.(19) That heroine’s name was Julie Bon Bon.

900_The Girl from Paris

Sidney’s farce was first performed by the Columbia Park boys at least by 1903, which is its first mention in print. The phrasing of the mention here suggests to me that the skit had already been performed by the boys for a few years before this.

1903Jun06-Chron-p8-CPBC-sixth-walking-tour-Rosie-mention
SF Chronicle, 6 Jun 1903, p8.

The text of the farce was not actually published until 1916, in a book titled Ten Boys’ Farces, with an Introduction on Impromptu Dramatics, by Eustace Peixotto, Sidney’s younger brother. (See https://archive.org/details/tenboysfarceswit00peixrich for facsimile.)

1916-cover-TenBoysFarces-Peixotto

By then it had been performed many hundreds of times by the Columbia Park boys, in California and all over the world in their famous travels, which Sidney made sure got covered in the newspapers.

Miss Rosie Blunder, alone and helpless?

The farce encodes a part of Rosa Constant’s life: this Rosie is a girl from Paris, France, left alone in the house by her father, and then besieged by four awful men from Europe. To save herself, she induces John Candy to step in; he is a stranger to her, but well muscled and itching for a fight. This is a skit for the 11-to-18 year old set, so it is devoid of anything directly sexually suggestive, and uses emasculated lisping European males to represent the undesirable dangers that may befall a young woman—dangers from which the mindless soldierly violence of the manly John will protect her.

For a price that Rosie proposes, John defends her from each suitor in turn, and wins her heart (more or less). Marriage ensues. A supporting part is played by two messenger boys named Rotten Tommy and Tommy Rotten.

1916-Rosie-Girl-From-Paris-cast-page
Cast page from “Rosie the Girl from Paris.” See original here: https://archive.org/details/tenboysfarceswit00peixrich

The name John Candy is not too far from John Constant—and there was a candy factory just behind the 777 Market St lodging house (see 1905 map, above). It also echoes the name of Julie Bon Bon, of the famous Broadway play that Sidney was parodying.

Slipping around the edges of the scene are the useful but peripheral twin messengers Rotten Tommy/Tommy Rotten, essentially the very nickname of Rosa Constant’s manager and companion as per the passed-down lore—and an easy play on Thomas Rothenberger’s real name. The suitors all have silly names and sillier accents, and not one of them can stand up to Mr Candy’s assault. Not knowing when to quit, John also attacks Rosie’s father when he returns—more excuses for boyish horseplay on stage.

Madam of Mammon

Interestingly, Sidney wrote the story so as to have Rosie secure the services of John Candy by payment of ten dollars, a tidy sum at that time, and coincidentally the price of a superior sort of prostitute in the better class of brothel about then.(20) Here is the scene:

ROSIE. Say, mister ! You, come here. Yes, you !
(Awaits his coming.}
Enter JOHN CANDY, dressed in jersey, with muscles well stuffed.
JOHN. Yes, mum.
ROSIE. What is your name ?
JOHN. John, mum.
ROSIE. Would you like to earn ten dollars, John?
JOHN. Yes, mum.
ROSIE. Are you strong, John ?
JOHN. Yes, mum.
ROSIE. Strong enough to throw out four men ?
JOHN. Yes, mum.
ROSIE. There are four foreign nobleman [sic] following me here. If any of them gain
admission and come near me I want you to throw him out.
JOHN. Yes, mum.
ROSIE. Wait for my signal. I’ll call “John !” After it’s all over, I’ll give you the ten dollars.
JOHN. Yes, mum.
ROSIE. Sit down then, John.
VOICE (outside}. Is Wosey Posey heah ?
Enter LORD DUNDREERY.

“Sit down then, John”: Rosie is a commanding woman (or maybe just one disinclined to being commanded). This scene may record something real: that Rosa brought money to her match with John Constant, as he brought her respectability and a name. After all, she clearly shows herself to be a person who can make and manage money; by her death she had amassed a small fortune dealing in real estate, $52,000 ($725K now). Probate for her will shows even in her last years she was a broker for several Fairmount houses, and collected substantial sums in interest regularly. Cash on hand at the house amounted to $7000 ($98K). Interestingly, there was no automobile amongst her possessions; perhaps Tommy had one. She was bound to get around in one by the 1920s; the small bequests in her will went to friends all over SF, so she was hardly confined to socializing in Fairmount.

The philanthropist and the madam

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Sidney Peixotto worked during the late 1880s and early 1890s in a clothing store just on the block of Market Street where Rosa Constant had her boarding house.(21) Perhaps he was a habitué of her saloon; perhaps he also knew her husband before that man died.

Sidney liked the rough and tumble world of South of Market, which is where he founded his boys’ club. He dedicated his life’s work to those who were from a class far different from his own, always striving to make things better for those less fortunate—to improve, enable, educate, uplift. A biographer who was a boy in the CPBC program in the early years described Sidney as gentle and determined—idealistic—a dual personality, both artistic and militaristic; his discipline with his boys was famous. This chronicler describes Sidney as habitually wearing a “brown corduroy coat and a flowing black tie …. A gentle soul and a dreamer … almost like a mother to the younger boys.”(22)

Evidently Sidney also had a soft spot for a whore who’d made good.

For Sidney Peixotto’s obituary, visit this page. For Eustace Peixotto’s obituary, visit this page. In the 1920s a playground in the Corona Heights neighborhood was dedicated to Sidney Peixotto.(23)

Bound for Fair Fairmount

Rosa Constant and “Rotten Tommy” ran the apparently profitable lodging house and saloon at 501/503 Post Street from 1896 until 1905. About 1899 Rosa began to buy and sell property located all over San Francisco, which she continued with great frequency in the Fairmount Tract and Upper Noe Valley once she moved there. (So numerous were her property transactions that I declined to collate them, and I do so like making charts.)  I did not find published evidence of any Barbary Coast property or news stories; but then she was clearly a careful woman with her affairs, Roeck debacle aside.

In 1905 they made their move from the crowded, busy downtown to the open blocks and slower pace of the Fairmount Tract area. They first lived on 30th Street, then Arlington Street. Rosa had been buying and selling property all around Fairmount. Surely she had her eye on the grand house, and waited until she could secure it for herself.

Here she was the collector of rents once again, with tenants living upstairs in the big house, next door in the small house, and in other properties she owned.

In 1913 Rosa sold the big house to a family that had been living in the upper flat. Then she and Thomas (helper Rosalie having recently passed away) moved to the smaller house next door, 484 Chenery Street, where they lived for the rest of their lives.

She may have found it amusing later in life to shock her suburban neighbors with suggestive tidbits from her sordid but distant past. Or perhaps it was Tommy who was the neighborhood gossip–or, even more likely, the woman he would marry after Rosa’s death. In any case Rosa Constant was rich enough by this point in her life not to care overmuch about such things. She hardly lacked an independence of mind. After all, she lived openly with a man she was not married to for more than four decades.

Rosa became ill with diabetes in about 1920.(24) At the end of September 1925 she made her will, becoming mortally ill shortly after. “I solemnly declare I have no husband, or child, or next of kin,” she states in her will.

There are small bequests, including for her goddaughter, a girl then 7 years old named Paulette Rose Delpech, who was called Rosa in the will. According to a story on FindaGrave.com, Rosa Constant paid the way for a helper named Anna from France about 1903, and later introduced the woman to a Frenchman named Paul Delpech here, whom Anna eventually married. Little Rosa was the result, and Mrs Constant became her godmother. The Delpech’s ran a grocery that specialized in French wine for decades, at the corner of Oakdale and Phelps in Bayview.

Rosa Constant died on 21 November 1925. She was attended by Dr Jacques Daniel de Chantreau, also a native of France. Even as late as just a few days before her final illness, she sold a piece of property on Arlington. Her will was announced in the paper, notable apparently for the lavishness of her having dedicated a fifth of her fortune to her own memorial.

1925Dec17-SFChron-p12-Rosa-Constant-WILL
SF Chronicle, 17 Dec 1925, p12.

Thomas Rothenberger followed her instructions, commissioning a stone vault from an Italian stone cutter named Charles Zambruno who lived in Noe Valley, for $8,100 ($113K now). Over the door in large letters it says ROTHENBERGER – CONSTANT.

2017-Constant-Rothernberger-memorial-CypressLawn-sm
Rothenberger-Constant vault, Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, 2017.
2017-Constant-Rothernberger-memorial-CypressLawn-det-s
The doors, adorned with their initials. The flower was there when I arrived. Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, 2017.

Thomas spent the rest of the stipulated money on her entombment in the vault at Cypress Lawn cemetery, selecting a casket priced at $1,675 ($23K now). Her funeral needed eight limousines for the mourners, and featured a quartet (cost: $10).

Rosa may have declined to ever make an honest man of him, but Rotten Tommy was rewarded after her death, receiving the bulk of her estate, which after taxes and expenses was about $35,000 ($490K now).

Tommy, married at last

Within seven months of Rosa’s death, Thomas Rothenberger, now aged 64, was married to a widow named Marie Schulz Thomas of Novato. She was part of a large extended family, the Rudolffs and the Schulzs.

When Tommy had Rosa’s casket entombed in her costly vault, she was placed at the top of three units. He had “Madame Rose Constant” inscribed on the stone; my tour of the cemetery showed that even amongst the many other French women buried there, the title “Madame” was absent on their graves. Was this honorific Tommy’s last little jibe—or Rosa’s request?

2017-Rosa-Constant-burial-vault-names-sm
The very dim view of the actual tomb inside the vault, through the weather-beaten plexiglas cover on the doors. Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, 2017. The gardeners said it was more than their job was worth to unlock the door.

When Tommy himself died, his remains went into the middle space, leaving a spot below for his wife Marie–all to make a cozy threesome. This arrangement clearly indicates he had already formed a bond with that woman before Rosa’s death; the connection is further supported by the fact that Rosa’s will stipulated that if Tommy predeceased her, Marie’s brother-in-law Herman Rudolff was to be her executor. And this was before Tommy had even married Marie.

Trouble up in Marin County

The big clan of rich, idle people that Tommy married into was brewing a dramatic turn of events. Marie had a grown daughter named Ardean, who was married to an unsavory man named Harry Melcher; news items from the early 1900s report that Harry, then a chauffeur, hit people on several occasions with his car in the street. Harry abandoned his first wife and their child and was arrested for neglect.(25 ) It was a taste of the tragedy to come for the couple.

Thomas Rothenberger died in 1933, at the age of 71, after seven years of married life with Marie. Ardean and Harry Melcher then moved into 484 Chenery St with Mother Marie. No one had any occupation during these years, all of them living off the money Rosa had left to Thomas, which went to Marie.

By 1946 they had all left Fairmount and were all living back in Marin County, where Marie died that year. What happened next was shockingly sensational. In 1950 Ardean shot Harry dead in their Forest Knolls home in Marin, apparently having been the victim of his abuse for years. Then she took 24 hours to tidy her affairs and the house around his lifeless body, and shot herself. Read a news account at this link.

Lodging-house proprietress forever

That little stone house in Cypress Lawn cemetery did not remain Rosa Constant’s exclusive home for long. She is not likely to have anticipated that anyone beside Tommy and herself would be laid to rest under its stone roof. But that is what happened: even before Thomas and his wife Marie passed away and were entombed below her in the vault, two other members of the clan he’d married into were cremated and placed there.

Then Thomas himself passed away in 1933, followed many others—Marie’s brother, and two sisters and their husbands, Marie herself, and her daughter and son-in-law (the murder-suicide), and a bachelor nephew—most of them cremated and placed into an added feature inside, a free-standing stone column with small compartments (with two family members buried outside, beside the vault).

All told there are twelve people laid to rest in this little house and plot, sitting in a prominent yet tree-shrouded spot beside the road in the cemetery.

Thus Madame Rosa Constant became a landlady once again and for all eternity.

2017-Constant-Rothernberger-memorial-CypressLawn-view-sm
Rothenberger-Constant vault, Cypress Lawn Memorial Park. With no descendants to check in on the state of things, the trees overgrow the doorway. 2017.

___________________________________

People mentioned in this article

    • Rosa Taylor Constant (1862 France – 1925 SF)
    • John Constant (1850 IA – 1892? SF?)
    • Thomas Kaufman Rothenberger (1862 PA – 1933 SF)
    • Rosalie Chevalier (1839 France – 1913 SF)
    • Sidney S Peixotto (1866 NY – 1925 CA)
    • Eustace M Peixotto (1887 CA – 1963 DC)
    • Marie Schulz Thomas Rothenberger (1872 Germany – 1946 CA)
    • Ardean Thomas Melcher (1896 CA – 1950 CA)
    • Harry Melcher (1889 IL – 1950 CA)

________________________

ENDNOTES:
1 Photo: https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2014/05/20/robert-altmans-mccabe-mrs-miller/
2 Henry Bishop, saloon keeper of an apparently profitable establishment on the waterfront at 2 Clay Street, moved his family into this house sometime shortly before that date and was surely its first owner, as per the SF Directories from 1877-1889.
3 Her death certificate from City Hall has her exact birthdate, something Rotten Tommy seems to have remembered well—perhaps they celebrated lavishly every year—although he did not know what either of her parents were named nor where in France she came from, when it came to providing that information for the certificate.
4 As per reported immigration date on 1900 US census.
5 “Yick Wo: How A Racist Laundry Law In Early San Francisco Helped Civil Rights”
http://hoodline.com/2015/08/yick-wo-and-the-san-francisco-laundry-litigation-of-the-late-1800s Accessed 17 May 2017. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_laundries_of_California.
6 There are two brief news references to a Miss Rose Taylor in 1885 and 1887 as an attendee at fraternal association social events, but these aren’t very illuminating.
7 Barnhart, Jacqueline Baker, The Fair but Frail: Prostitution in San Francisco 1849-1900, Reno: University of Nevada Press 1986, p.58-9.
8 For more about Older, see
http://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Fremont_Older:_Newsman,_Statesman,_Thinker.
9 John Constant, age 21, registered to vote in San Jose in 1871; he was a teamster born in Iowa.
10 Ivy Anderson and Devon Angus, Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute, Berkeley CA: Heyday, and the California Historical Society, 2016
11 Although Rosa never fell into opium addiction like that character—perhaps rich food was her vice, as the cause of her death at 63 was diabetes.
12 Classified ads placed by residents here include a “first-class English butler” seeking employment and a middle-aged lady who wished to have charge of a lodging house. Census listings show people with whitecollar jobs.
14 Here is a detailed account written in 1901 of that founding, and Sidney Peixotto:
https://archive.org/stream/jstor-2762338/2762338#page/n1/mode/2up OR
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2762338?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
15 An account of the Peixotto family: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11993-
peixotto
16 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Blanche_Peixotto.
17 More about Ernest Peixotto: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Peixotto
18 Read the whole play here: https://archive.org/details/tenboysfarceswit00peixrich or here https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hxdaml;view=1up;seq=5 .
19 Image from http://www.pictorem.com/ .
20 See Herbert Asbury, The Barbary Coast, New York: Basic Books, 1933; esp. chapter 10.
21 SF Directory: in 1883 Sidney worked at Davis Brothers, 718 Market Street as well as other locations nearby, and then still in 1891 as Secretary.
22 Hamill, James M, The Major and his Boys, the Story of Major Sidney Peixotto and the Columbia Park Boys Club, Los Angeles: Anderson Ritchie, 1972, pp.6-7. Available in the SF History Center.
23 See http://sfrecpark.org/destination/peixotto-playground/
24 As per Rosa Constant’s death certificate, SF County Clerk.
25 “Charged with Neglect,” SF Chronicle, 20 Aug 1910, p16.

One thought on ““Rosie, the Girl from Paris”: How a Barbary Coast Madam retired to Chenery Street

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