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Editor’s note: This is the last in a three-part series.

May Howard handpicked her girls to make sure none of them would disgrace her house, and they were rarely seen in public. According to one former Napa County sheriff, now deceased, those conditions were part of the deal allowing May to stay in business.

Although, occasionally, May would take her girls shopping. Or, when she had hired a new one, May would drive the woman around town in her limousine so the local male populace had the opportunity to check out her newest associate.

When the women did go out in public, those who caught a glimpse of May’s girls described them as being more trendy than the mainstream local ladies and wearing up-to-date makeup, hair styles, attire and accessories. Overall, May’s associates were striking in appearance.

As for May herself, she was described as being nice looking and matronly in nature, by the 1940s-1950s. The madam was held in high regard by the local male populace. One Napa historian, now deceased, said, “She was looked upon as a woman who was well-dressed and paid her bills promptly, and enjoyed as much respect as a woman like that enjoys.”

Many of her former clients considered May to be a credit to the community. As for the opinion of the local female populace, May, her bordello and associates were considered a tolerable necessity within a healthy community. According to some accounts, some women were grateful May’s house took care of their husbands.

May also won the community’s approval, or at least, its tolerance and silence, through her “May Howard Relief” charity program. She provided clothes for the children of her poor immigrant neighbors. She also sent gifts of food and money to all the neighborhood residents. Many Napans believed May’s philanthropy was to buy their silence. There is also the speculation May extended her charitable actions to the local law. It is said she offered them complimentary visits to her establishment to further guarantee the survival of her business.

After World War II, the political atmosphere began to adversely change for May and company with the advent of the California attorney general’s office’s aggressive anti-prostitution campaign. When Edmund “Pat” Brown became the attorney general, the end of May’s house was imminent. According to local lore, it still took the personal appearance of Brown and some other state officers to finally close down May’s brothel.

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Regardless of the means, the era of May Howard as Napa’s infamous madam ended in the 1950s. May maintained ownership of her house, with its six bedrooms and bathrooms plus eight separate exterior exits, until her death in the 1960s.

The property was purchased by a onetime neighborhood boy, James Boitano, who converted May’s bordello into rental housing. Many of its tenants reported there were nightly knocks on the kitchen door by men looking for May’s girls.

Boitano, who eventually became Napa County district attorney, owned the property until it was razed on Nov. 9, 1979. The local landmark was demolished to make way for the extension of Soscol Avenue.

Supposedly — once again according to local lore — May left something of great value in her house. Nothing, however, was discovered during its demolition, as Napans watched the icon of their youthful vigor turned into a pile of rubble.

Rebecca Yerger is a Napa-based writer and historian. Email her at