The law-abiding citizens of the Mid-City area remember watching the hookers strut in front of the bedroom display at Lloyd's House of Fine Furniture. Or how they would hustle people walking into Goodbody's Chapel mortuary, down the street on El Cajon Boulevard.
Then there were the days on Esther Street when the prostitutes would jump into passing cars. In their wake, Marty Fowler remembers leaving her tidy 1940s bungalow in the morning to find 15 to 20 used prophylactics on the curb and sidewalks.
"You have to understand that (it) is very upsetting to see your neighborhood being taken over," said Fowler, an ebullient woman who helps run her husband's pool-cleaning business from home.
"Our children on this street would be dropped off on the corner from a school bus at the very same time that a prostitute would be let out on that same street corner by a john," she said.
Now the boulevard is quiet. The battle zone is calm.
Marty Fowler and her comrades have prevailed, rallying to repulse the latest invasion of prostitutes along El Cajon Boulevard. A police sweep last week has moved the working girls elsewhere, but there is no rest for riled residents.
The community is meeting and planning. Residents turned out 400 strong--and angry--to confront public officials Feb. 23 in a town hall meeting about prostitution and related crimes.
Businessmen on El Cajon Boulevard, from Park Boulevard to Fairmount Avenue, are forming "watch groups," with one store or shop owner per block responsible for encouraging fellow merchants to call the police when they see prostitutes. There is even talk of taking out newspaper ads to publicize the names of men arrested for soliciting prostitutes.
In addition, there is a growing movement to apply political pressure on city and county officials to ante up for more jail space so hookers who are arrested are incarcerated, and not sent back to the streets.
Led in part by Brian Bennett, principal of Blessed Sacrament School, this movement spawned a street demonstration against prostitution on March 1, and prompted Bennett to appear recently before a City Council committee to advocate the additional jail space.
Now Bennett and Fowler have been named to an anti-prostitution task force, an informal group that meets in living rooms to sip coffee, eat Danish and plot political strategy.
"Aren't you afraid that when the Super Bowl comes in January that it will be so \o7 unreal\f7 ?" Dianna Martinez, Fowler's neighbor across the street, said at the group's meeting Wednesday. "I mean, the hookers will just inundate this city."
People like Bennett and Fowler talk in terms of recapturing what is rightfully theirs, and they have taken matters into their own hands to shut down the prostitution trade by making the boulevard a crummy place for hookers to do business.
El Cajon Boulevard is an eclectic, sometimes funky row of convenience stores, restaurants, used-car lots, card rooms, fast-food joints, flower stands, motels, bars, strip shopping centers, food stores and small businesses. It stretches from Park Boulevard all the way east to the city limits and beyond.
Driven from downtown by redevelopment, streetwalkers have found refuge on this thoroughfare that runs through Mid-City neighborhoods like North Park, Normal Heights, Kensington and East San Diego, police, residents and merchants say.
For the provocatively dressed prostitute, the boulevard offers an advertising bonanza: Four lanes of heavy, slow-moving traffic.
The card rooms and automated teller machines guarantee there will be customers with cash, and the cheap motels and dozens of side streets and parking lots are used to transact business.
The street is also just a few minutes from Interstates 8 and 805, allowing potential customers and the pimps easy access.
"I've had hookers jump into cars with my customers, scaring the Dickens out of them," said one merchant, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. "In one case, a cabdriver had to come around and drag the girl out of his cab. The customer was 80-some years old, blind in one eye, crippled, could hardly walk, and he was scared to death."
As if the aggressiveness wasn't enough, residents said there are other dangers. Police and community members say that the prostitutes brought in other crimes--drugs, thefts, assaults, rape.
Then there were the three bodies of slain prostitutes found in alleys and dumpsters during the last year and a half.
"These pimps, they're tough little babies," said Hamilton Alford, who runs a skin care clinic on the boulevard. "A lot of the merchants are now carrying concealed weapons, anything from .38s to .22s. . . . If they (pimps) catch somebody trying to break up their deal, like taking license numbers, they can be brutal."
City Hall tried to cope. In 1983 and 1984, police conducted a thorough sweep of El Cajon Boulevard and Councilwoman Gloria McColl, whose district includes much of El Cajon Boulevard, appointed an anti-prostitution task force to study the problem.