Ogden’s Infamous 25th Street: A Brief History
The moment that the Golden Spike marked the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, Ogden, Utah saw its first boom in economy. Being the closest city to Promontory Summit, a once small and humble Ogden quickly became a major hub and shipping center for nine different rail systems. The influx of passengers into the city, combined with the economic surge from rail-based business, led to Ogden becoming a quintessential Wild, Wild West railroad town.
In addition to gambling, shootouts, opium dens, and other vices, Ogden housed its very own Red Light District, operated for decades by the infamous Madame Belle London. The district was accessible via a hidden walkway between 24th and 25th street known as “Electric Alley” (today, nothing more than a parking lot). It masked its operations behind more “reputable” businesses like the “London” Ice Cream Parlor. However, mounting pressure from local civil leagues became too much in June 1912. City officials had previously been accepting monthly “fines” as bribes to turn a blind eye, but they acquiesced to the demands of the civil leagues and shut down the alley in a post-midnight raid. An article from The Ogden Standard at the time underlines the swiftness of the sweep: “The lid went on Electric Alley at 12:01 o’clock this morning and the underworld district passed into history after an eventful 30-year existence.”
In 1917, Utah became the 24th state to adopt statewide alcohol restrictions, leading to the second major economic boom for Ogden. From the moment prohibition laws were enacted, to the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, speakeasies and bootlegging operations blossomed on 25th Street (also known as ‘Two-Bit Street’), and rumor has it that a system of tunnels was created by bootleggers to move alcohol from Union Station to the Bigelow-Ben Lomond Hotel. The influx of illegal alcohol increased the Wild West feel of the city, and soon Ogden’s reputation became so seedy that even Al Capone was rumored to have deemed Ogden a lawless town too rough and tough for his liking.
When Prohibition was repealed, Ogden, like most of the country, suffered during the Great Depression. Rail traffic decreased, and organized crime tightened its grip on other vices, such as gambling and prostitution. However, with the country preparing to enter World War II, rail transportation once again increased. The area was considered a safer interior section of the country, and Hill Air Force Base was built in 1938, leading to legitimate jobs becoming easier to find as government agencies and services opened their doors in Ogden. At its peak during this era, Ogden’s rail system saw over 100 passenger trains daily.
When the war ended, and with the introduction of the Interstate Highway System, rail transportation was never as much of a necessity as it once was, and many 25th Street buildings were left unoccupied until into the 1970s. Thankfully, the growth of outdoor tourism, as well as years of dedication from the Ogden community, means that today, 25th Street is a designated historic district, and is now home to restaurants, art galleries, retail shops, and various community events, welcoming over a million visitors annually.