Camp Lewis officials cordon off the "Joy Zone" located just outside the camp gate beginning on October 17, 1917.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 10/07/2016
  • Essay 20153

On October 17, 1917, a military-police cordon is set up around the "Joy Zone" outside the gates of Camp Lewis to prevent soldiers stationed there from patronizing the zone's bootleggers, prostitutes, and other purveyors of vice. Within days after Camp Lewis, located in south Pierce County, opened to its first draftees on September 5, a street of hastily erected shacks and tents housing food and entertainment businesses catering to the camp's soldiers sprang up at the entrance. Some 20 establishments in the four-acre Joy Zone enjoy a booming business selling candy, fruits, soft drinks, hot dogs, and souvenirs. There are also illicit activities in back rooms, as bootleggers sell illegal alcohol (Prohibition is in force) and prostitutes arrange encounters to be carried out at nearby locations. Unable to immediately shut down the zone, which is located on private property, Camp Lewis commanding officer Major General Henry A. Greene (1856-1921) deploys the cordon around it to prevent his soldiers from entering. The blockade will remain in place until late October, when the private land is condemned, the shacks removed, and the property incorporated into the camp.

Amusement and Vice at Camp Lewis

Beginning on September 5, 1917, Camp Lewis, the army's new training and mobilization camp near American Lake south of Tacoma, welcomed incoming men being mobilized to fight in World War I, which the United States had entered the previous April. These recruits would learn military skills and prepare for battle with the 91st Division.

Only a few days after the first draftees' arrival, enterprising merchants constructed shacks at the entrance to the camp. The stores were erected on the dirt road that led from Pacific Highway (later Interstate 5) to the camp entrance. Two former employees of Hurley-Mason Construction, the company that built the camp, organized the business zone. W. L. Blackburn and J. C. Bryan left Hurley-Mason for the expected huge profits of promoting a "Joy Zone" at Camp Lewis. A third silent partner from Tacoma completed the entertainment combine. The partnership rented land from the eight owners of the private property adjacent to the camp and subleased lots to proprietors.

It was a profitable arrangement for both the street managers and the landowners because rent for 50 feet of frontage on the street was $50 per month. Business owners had to erect their own stores, stands, or tents. The Seattle Star newspaper described the street from Pacific Highway to Camp Lewis as "cheap and tawdry." The zone had the look of a gold-rush mining town. At night it teemed with men and on weekends men crowded the dusty street. It was noisy with glaring lights. There were hotdog stands, fruit vendors, an apple stand, a candy stand, a pool hall, restaurants, and souvenir stands. Most of the businesses were legitimate, but several vice merchants used back rooms for illegal activities. A thriving bootlegging business operated from the beginning. Prostitution was available with women who arranged for the encounters to take place at locations on nearby American Lake.

General Greene Takes Action

In the first month of the zone's operation, 80 women were arrested or removed from the street for prostitution or selling liquor. (Prohibition, banning the sale of liquor, had been in effect statewide in Washington since 1916, although it would not take effect nationally until 1920.) But Pierce County Sheriff Robert Longmire (1861-1941) found it difficult for his "dry squad" assigned to Camp Lewis to make arrests. The bootleggers would only sell to men in army uniforms, and the civilian dry-squad members could only arrest when they witnessed a sale. However if they obtained testimony from soldiers of illegal sales they could raid an establishment.

On October 11, 1917, the dry squad raided Jack's Candy Store, operated by B. C. Jack (1874-1942), also known as B. Cecil Jackson, of Everett. Acting on an informant's information, the officers found whiskey and other alcohol in casks under a loose floor board in the shack's back room. Police searched Jack and in his coat pocket was a cipher-coded list. The list was determined to be of soldiers who owed him money. Arrested with Jack were fellow bootleggers C. E. Thorton and Jack Thompson. They were taken to the Tacoma city jail. Additional arrests for illegal liquor sales were made that week, but authorities concluded that to put a stop to vice in the area stronger measures were required.

Camp commander General Henry Greene could no longer tolerate the vice and unsanitary conditions at the camp doorstep, but he could not shut down the zone as it was located on private property. His top military police officer, Colonel Mathew E. Saville (1870-1942), recommended establishing a blockade, a ring of troops around the property to prevent soldiers from entering. The blockade was established on October 17, 1917.

Two days later, the land owners were told that their land would be condemned and become part of Camp Lewis. They had one week to remove the shacks before the government took over the property. During that week the military continued its cordon around the zone to prevent soldiers from entering. Businesses in DuPont village, located across Pacific Highway from the zone, welcomed a big increase in trade from soldiers. Along with the dramatic end to the Joy Zone, its two shady promoters, W. L. Blackburn and J. C. Bryan, became criminal defendants. The third promoter was cleared because he was unaware of the criminal activities. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Blackburn on charges of passing two forged Hurley-Mason checks. Bryan was charged with promoting prostitution and skipped town.

A Wholesome Amusement Zone

While dealing with vice problems at the Joy Zone, General Greene was also demanding that the city of Seattle do more to suppress vice and protect soldiers spending time there from unwholesome activities. He demanded that wide-open Seattle be cleaned up and if not he would bar soldiers from visiting the city. Greene noted that as of October 17, the Camp Lewis hospital was treating 1,400 men for sexually transmitted diseases, out of a total camp population of 35,000. He said that Seattle refused to control vice. The effect was hurting troop readiness and training. On November 22, Greene placed Seattle off limits to the enlisted men and officers of Camp Lewis. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton joined in the ban. This prompted action in Seattle. Seattle police chief Charles Beckingham (1874-1942) was pressured to step down, and a new chief, Joel F. Warren (1858-1934), took strong steps to clean up vice in the city. Recognizing Warren's efforts, Greene lifted the ban on January 9, 1918.

General Greene decided that a wholesome amusement zone should be built near the camp. During his efforts to deal with the Joy Zone in the fall of 1917, he received permission from the War Department for a privately owned recreational park. Greene selected distinguished Tacoma businessmen to form an amusement company to operate the park. The amusement park would have restaurants, theaters, pool halls, a shooting gallery, tailor shops, photographic studios, and a hotel. It was named Greene Park in the general's honor. In the twenty-first century, only one building of the more than 50 erected at Greene Park survives -- the former Red Shield Inn hotel, which now serves as the Lewis Army Museum.

The Joy Zone area was cleared and no trace of it survives. An Interstate 5 ramp, the interstate northbound lanes, and a Memorial Arboretum occupy the site in the DuPont Gate area of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.


"Three Women Are Ordered from Camp," Tacoma News Tribune, October 10, 1917, p. 3; "Army Police Raid Store," Tacoma Times, October 12, 1917, p. 5; "White Slavery Charge Faces Joy Zone Man," Ibid., November 20, 1917, p. 3;"Bootleggers Held at Camp Lewis," Seattle Star, October 12, 1917, p. 1; " "The 'Backyard' of Camp Lewis Is Where Sammy Gets His Thrills," Ibid., October 12, 1917, p. 1; "Special Messenger on Way From Camp With Good Tidings," Ibid., January 9, 1918, p. 1"Camp Joy Street Doomed to Pass," Tacoma Daily Ledger, October 13, 1917, p. 2; "Will Give One Week to Vacate 'Joy Street,'" Ibid., October 19, 1917, p. 3; "Camp Fun Zone Admission Free," Ibid., October 20, 1917, p. 2; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Fort Lewis, Part 1, 1917-1927" and " Camp Lewis: Greene Park -- A Soldier Amusement Park and Social Experiment" (by Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.) and "Warren, Joel Franklin (1858-1934)" (by Phil Hannum), (accessed October 5, 2016).

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