Interviewed by Sarah Langsdon
17 July 2013
Oral History Program
Weber State University
17 July 2013
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After World War II, the railroad business declined. Some government agencies and businesses related to
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Prantil, Joseph, an oral history by Sarah
Langsdon, 17 July 2013 , WSU Stewart
Library Oral History Program, Special
Collections, Stewart Library, Weber State
University, Ogden, UT.
July 17, 2013
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Joseph Prantil. The interview
was conducted on July 17, 2013, by Sarah Langston. Joseph discusses his
experiences with 25th Street.
SL: This is Sarah Langsdon and I am interviewing Joseph Prantil at his home in
South Weber, Utah. Today is July 17, 2013. Joe, tell me a little bit about when
and where you were born.
JP: I was born in Ogden in 1943. So that makes me 70-years-old. I’ve lived here all
of my life. I’ve been out of the state for periods of time, but I have lived here
almost all of my life.
SL: Where is your family from?
JP: My grandmother and grandfather on my dad’s side, who are the focus of our
interview today, were born in Prio, Italy and migrated here. It’s just a guess, but I
think it was around 1900. My mother’s parents migrated to America from
SL: What was your grandfather’s occupation?
JP: In Italy, he was a stone mason and the family had a marble quarry. That was one
of the major industries of that particular town in addition to orchards and
vineyards. The quarry is still in operation today. I was there about five years ago
and had a chance to see the whole operation. It’s still in operation by the Prantil
SL: When he moved here, what became his business?
JP: The story is that he went to Argentina first. My grandmother had brothers living
there, so he stopped there. When he came here he worked as a coal miner. For
a brief period of time he went to Elkhorn, Montana to mine, but ended up in
Superior, Wyoming working in a coal mine. Shortly afterward he went back to
Italy and brought my grandma to America.
SL: How did he end up in Ogden?
JP: He contracted Black Lung disease from the mines, which many of the miners did
at that time, so he had to leave the mine and a lot of his friends from the same
area of Italy lived in Ogden. Most of them were dairy farmers out in West Weber.
He moved here to be with them and they encouraged him to come.
SL: What stories were you told about his business at the Utah Hot Springs?
JP: After my grandparents arrived here, my dad was born in 1910 in Superior,
Wyoming and so were some of his siblings. My dad was the oldest of four
siblings. I think that my grandfather came to Ogden around 1917 and he used the
money that he saved and bought the Utah Hot Springs. I think that was probably
one of his first purchases. My dad told me that at the time that they had a big
hotel, the mineral water pools and swimming pools. It was quite an operation and
people would come from all over to stay there. They had a railroad spur that went
near there. He operated that business for quite some time until it burned down.
I’m not sure when it did burn down, but Dad mentioned that they lost a lot of their
possessions in that fire. They never did rebuild it. People in that day didn’t
believe in insurance, so when they had a disaster of some kind they just lost the
money. Around that time he bought the property on 25th Street and started
operating that business as well.
SL: What was the business on 25th Street and where was it?
JP: It was on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and 25th Street.
SL: What business did he run?
JP: According to what Dad told me, it was an ice cream parlor, but in those days they
called it a soda fountain. There was another area in the back that was a drug
store, which they called an apothecary at the time. I think he may have rented
that out and had somebody else run it because he wasn’t a pharmacist. There
were two businesses in there and then there were rooms upstairs. It was like a
SL: Was he ever arrested for bootlegging?
JP: Yes. Before prohibition, the place may have been just a bar and they sold alcohol
there. Prohibition came along and it was natural for him to turn it into the soda
fountain. During those days, they were also selling alcohol on the street. I think
downstairs they were probably gambling and having card games too and doing
what they did back in those days.
SL: Do you know what his set up was for running the alcohol?
JP: Dad tells me that since my grandpa was a stone mason, he built a false wall in
the basement and put a tank behind it. They plumbed the tank up into the faucets
in the sink in the bathroom and had valves that would turn on the faucet and the
booze would flow through it. They also had a tank above one of the doors where
there was a false ceiling. How many other tanks I don’t know, but those are the
two I know about.
SL: Do you know how he was caught bootlegging?
JP: I don’t know how he was caught. I’m sure there was some kind of an informant
that tipped them off to that. I heard stories that my uncles were caught bringing
the booze from West Weber. The farmers were growing corn and they had stills
where they made the alcohol and then they’d run it in. My uncles got caught one
time running it in, but that’s all I know about that piece of it.
SL: Did he end up having to shut down the soda shop?
JP: I think the local police were overlooking what was going on, but the federal police
were not. It was federal police that arrested him for selling booze there. He was
also arrested for selling booze at the Hot Springs, so he was arrested a couple of
different times. In one of the articles I read (and I didn’t know this before I got the
article), but they listed his name as Luis Smith. He didn’t give whoever arrested
him his proper name. He didn’t have to shut down the soda shop.
SL: What was your grandfather’s name?
JP: It was Luis, but it was Luigi originally.
SL: And your grandmother’s name?
JP: Her name was Josepina, but she he went by Josepine. As a kid, I didn’t know
their names. I only knew them by the Italian name for grandma and grandpa
which was Nono and Nona. That’s how I knew them and that’s what I called
them. Later, I learned their names.
SL: They also owned a gas station on 27th Street?
JP: Yes, he bought a gas station and they ran it for a lot of years during the
depression. According to what Dad told me, people would barter for gas.
Someone had chickens and he had gasoline so they’d barter for food and other
things. Growing up, I remember there was a Dr. Moyes who was a dentist and he
would give us dental services for free and I never knew why until Dad eventually
told me that he owed the family money for gas during the depression.
SL: Where was the gas station?
JP: The gas station was on the corner of 27th and Grant. It was a Mobile gas station,
but I don’t know what they named it back then. When I was a kid they had rented
it out to Clix Swaner Sr., who ran it for most of the time that I was a kid. He’s
quite a well-known figure in town too. He lived to be 103-years-old.
SL: Going back to the soda shop. They’re most famous for the rooms upstairs being
the Rose Rooms. What were you told about the Rose Rooms?
JP: I wasn’t told a whole lot because I don’t think they talked about that other than
when Dad told me that it had been a brothel upstairs. By the time I was old
enough to remember it wasn’t a brothel anymore. It had been shut down by then
and I know that they had a lot of single men living up there. They were renting
them out by the room. He did tell me that the Madame had a big cat and I’m not
sure if it was a leopard or what it was, but he told me that story and that’s about
all I knew about that.
SL: What about the doors?
JP: Oh yeah. When I went in there I’d help him do maintenance on it and that sort of
thing. There was a door that went upstairs and came in from the street. It was a
separate door and it went up the north side of the building and it had a separate
stairwell that didn’t actually go into the ice cream parlor or anything, it was its
own entryway. At the top of the stairs there was another door and Dad told me
that there were electric switches on it and there was a little peep-hole with bars
over the window so they would watch to see who was coming up before they
would let them in to make sure they weren’t police. I asked him about all the
holes around the window and he told me that someone had shot it with a shot
gun, so I guess it was a pretty rough place.
SL: Probably. What were some of the shops that you remember being on 25th Street
when you were growing up?
JP: The only thing I remember really is that they were bars. I don’t remember a lot of
shops down there, but there were businesses that may be still there like the Gift
House, but it was when they were a pawn shop. That’s how they started out, they
were a pawn shop and they sold pawn items and guns and that sort of thing and
still do to this day. The street was full of bars and some restaurants, mostly
Mexican and Chinese food.
SL: So not very much shopping.
JP: No, not very much shopping.
SL: Was that more a long Washington?
JP: Yes, there were more along Washington.
SL: Do you remember any of the shops along Washington that your family used to go
JP: Yes I do. There was a Woolworths Store and everyone would stop in at the soda
fountain there. There was B&B clothes shop and Nye’s and Perkin’s had a
clothing store along there. It was the place to go for shopping. In later years, as
we all know, everything left Ogden City and it became pretty dilapidated, but it
was the place to go. It was fun Christmas shopping there because of all the
shops and stores and clothing stores along there. It was a fun place to shop.
SL: Did you ever go to any of the theaters there?
JP: Yes, there were several theaters in town and that’s where we would go on
Saturday morning. We’d all go see the show for cheap.
SL: Was it usually the Egyptian or Paramount?
JP: The Paramount Theater, the Egyptian, the Orpheum are the ones I remember.
SL: Did you ever go to the Ogden Theater?
JP: I don’t remember that one.
SL: It was across the street from the Ben Lomond Hotel on 25th Street.
JP: I don’t remember that one for some reason. There was also a big hotel on the
corner of 25th Street and Washington and I think it was called the Broom Hotel.
There were shops along the bottom of the building and the hotel was above it.
SL: I think that’s where Woolworths was.
JP: That is where that was.
SL: Speaking of the Broom, do you remember any other buildings that are no longer
there on 25th Street or Washington?
JP: There were different shops and stores along there, but I don’t remember exactly
what they were. I know there was a sporting goods store called Wolfe’s on 23rd
Street and they tore that down and built other things.
SL: Did you ever go to the Berthana or White City?
JP: We’d go there to roller skate, but they were major dance halls and people would
go dancing at Berthana or White City so they were ballrooms more than
anything, but then we’d go roller skating there.
SL: What were some other places that you’d hang out or what did you do for fun?
JP: When we were kids we didn’t have a television, but we had the radio. I remember
sitting by the radio with Dad listening to the fights and to some of the shows like
The Shadow. There were a lot of different radio shows that were mysteries, so
we’d listen to the mystery sometimes. Television came along as time went on
and we’d watch some, but not very much. It was something you watched on the
weekend or occasionally. We mostly played outside. We had fields down below
where we lived on 15th Street and the Mill Stream went through here. We’d play
by the stream and go fishing in the summer and there was a little pond down
there that we’d ice skate on in the winter. We spent most of our time outdoors.
SL: Do you have any other things you’d like to share with us?
JP: We talked some time ago about tunnels under the street. I do remember when
Dad took me down there the first time in the basement of the building and by
then it was called the El Borracho and they had rented it out. After my grandpa
died they rented the whole building out. He died in 1948. He was a pretty young
man really, but I think Black Lung was part of his demise. You probably know the
story of my grandmother being arrested. It was her building and the brothel was
upstairs so they arrested her too and she had to quit renting it to the Madame.
SL: How long did your family own that building?
JP: I don’t know exactly when they bought it, but I think it was somewhere in the
early twenties and they didn’t sell it until after my grandma died in the 1980’s.
They had everything all rented out and my grandma lived on the rentals from the
buildings and the gas station. She lived on that and whatever my grandpa left
Getting back to the tunnel issue, my Dad took me downstairs and I could
see where they had cinder-blocked an area that was kind of a squared out area
and Dad said that there was some kind of room back there and he talked about
tunnels, but that’s the only conversation we ever had about some kind of egress
out that way.
SL: With the reputation of El Borracho, did your family ever get caught up in the
things that were happening down there?
JP: Not really. They rented it out, so I know my dad would go collect the rent for my
grandma and I remember going in there with him several times to collect the rent.
I know that he was a little bit cautious depending on when he went in there
because there were some pretty rough characters in there.
SL: It had quite a reputation.
JP: I think what happened is that as time went on, the city wanted to try to close all
the bars and that sort of thing down there and had plans to redevelop it, so they
were involved in the purchase of the building.
SL: So the city bought it from your family?
JP: I think they did. They had a ghost buyer. Dean Perkins bought it, but I think he
was actually a ghost buyer for the city as I understand it.
SL: Well, thank you Joe. We appreciate it.
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