“Warren is not a saloonkeeper or a strip joint owner. He is a creative artist who might have been an outstanding designer, painter, or architect, but who happens to run the world’s most exciting night club. He’s the exotic dancer’s dream. He’s a master showman.” – Evelyn West (1956)
“With the almost overnight success of his Tropics, St Thomas became night club king of Denver.” -Cabaret Magazine (1956)
In 1937, Rocky Mountain News columnist Lee Casey wrote, “What Denver chiefly needs is a burlesque house and some strip-tease acts.” In 1948, Warren St Thomas inadvertently answered Casey’s call when he opened Warren St. Thomas’ Tropics on Morrison Road in Westwood, a neighborhood southwest of Denver. “Denver was ready for a top-quality club when I came on the scene,” Warren said in 1956. Of course, the Tropics was much more than just a burlesque house with striptease acts, or just any other club. It was a unique experience. One that had never existed in Denver before the Tropics, or after it. And it made Warren St Thomas the “night club king of Denver.” This is his story.
Warren John “Jack” Thomas
Warren’s father, Warren John “Jack” Thomas, born December 20, 1882, was the son of David Palmer and Margeret Davies Thomas who emigrated to the United States from Wales in 1878. After sailing out of Liverpool, England on May 25th, then taking a train from New York to Utah, David and Margeret, along with their first son Alfred, arrived in Salt Lake City on June 13th. The family stayed with David’s brother Thomas, who had converted to the Latter Day Saints (LDS) church and previously emigrated to the United States, particularly to Salt Lake City, in 1871. David and Margeret stayed only briefly with David’s brother before finding their own place, where they also had their second child.
Masonry was the Thomas’ family trade and soon after settling in Salt Lake David began working as a stonemason cutting stone alongside his brother Thomas for the Salt Lake Temple, which was under construction at the time. Years later, in 1977, David’s daughter wrote about her father and uncle saying that “some of the finest stone cutting on the Temple was done by them, including that of the moon and stars that trim around the top.” David and Margeret moved again, this time to a new house at 659 North 1st West where Margeret gave birth to two more sons, Elmer Gwyn and Warren John, who was called “Jack.” The new house provided all the comforts and conveniences that were lacking in previous residences. Sadly their stay was cut short when the property was foreclosed on after David couldn’t come up with the $500 mortgage. The loss left Margeret heartbroken. A couple more moves followed and the family finally ended up in a small adobe house at 328 Center Street (now 576 Center Street) where they had four more children.
As a child, Jack was known for his love of horses. Jack’s sister Natalie recollected, “it was his great joy to make a horse buck under him, for he loved to ride a bucking horse.” Jack, along with his brothers Rhone and Gwyn, used to herd cows around Ensign Peak. Jack also ran his paper route on horseback. Pay for such work was used to supplement the family income. In 1900, Jack began a career working for the railroad. He was initially employed with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad as a baggage handler. On November 8, 1905, Jack married Susan Alice Hathenbruck in Provo, Utah. Their marriage was later solemnized in the LDS temple. Susan was the fifth child of Frederick William Claude Hathenbruck and Rozella Rebecca Sansouci of Provo, Utah.
Jack and Susan’s first son was born on November 10, 1906, and was named Armand John. A second son, Kenneth Jerome, arrived on September 14, 1908. After the birth of Kenneth, the family moved to 222 N. Grant St in Pocatello, Idaho where Jack became a ticket agent for the Oregon Short Line Railroad. Tragedy struck the Thomas family on November 1, 1912, when Kenneth drowned in the Portneuf River while playing with a friend above the Fremont steel bridge. He apparently lost his balance and fell into the river. The cries of his friend brought help, but it was too late to save him. After a five day search for Kenneth, his body was found by rescuers who had been out patrolling and dragging the river. A funeral service was held for Kenneth at his grandfather’s home in Salt Lake City and a burial service took place at the Salt Lake City Cemetery on November 8th.
Soon another son was born. Warren Earl Thomas (the “St” would come later) arrived on April 11, 1914, while the Thomas family was still living in Pocatello. Just two years after Warren’s birth his sister, Dorothy Alice was born. Shortly after giving birth to Dorothy, Susan passed away leaving Jack with two sons and a newborn daughter to look after. He would need help with the kids so Jack moved the family back to Salt Lake where the children began living with various members of the family, Dorothy Alice in particular was taken in by Jack’s brother Alfred and his wife Fannie.
In 1918, Jack’s father David Palmer was having his leg amputated at W.H. Groves LDS hospital in Salt Lake City. David was visited by many family members including Jack who on one particular visit caught the eye of Laura Emmabelle Stevens, a graduate nurse who tended to Jack’s father. Apparently Jack took an equal interest in Laura Emmabelle as well. Two years later on January 17, 1920, they were married in the Salt Lake Temple. Soon after Jack and Laura moved into a home at 188 E Street and were joined by Jack’s children Armand, Warren, and Dorothy. Laura stopped working at the hospital to spend time running the Thomas household and taking care of the children. On May 18, 1922, Laura gave birth to a son Gwyn Stevens, named after Jack’s older brother, and then on September 4, 1925, another son was born, Robert David. Again, tragedy soon struck the Thomas family. Shortly after son Robert was born, Laura fell ill and struggled with health issues for several years, eventually succumbing to breast cancer on May 24, 1928.
Jack, among other things, was also a singer. He sang with various groups in Salt Lake City including the Emma Lucy Gates Salt Lake Opera Company, the Salt Lake Oratorio Society, and the Orpheus Club. According to the Jack Thomas Papers, in 1916 Jack “became a member of the Tabernacle Choir and was appointed tour manager.” It was while singing with the Tabernacle Choir that Jack met Emma Elizabeth Lindsey. The two fell in love and on October 16, 1929, Jack and Emma were married. Emma cared for and raised Jack’s kids as her own. Gwyn would later note, “This new mother was a very wonderful person.” Jack and Emma stayed together for the rest of their lives working and supporting each other in various endeavors, particularly those relating to the Tabernacle Choir.
After fifty-two years as an employee with the Union Pacific Railroad, Jack retired as General Passenger Agent in 1952 but continued his work with the Tabernacle Choir. In 1955 the Choir went to Europe for the first time. In 1957, Jack wrote a book about the trip titled, “Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle Choir Goes to Europe, 1955.” The book chronicles the seven-week European tour noting concerts in “Glasgow, Manchester, London, and Cardiff, United Kingdom; Copenhagen, Denmark; Berlin and Wiesbaden, Germany; Amsterdam and Scheveningen, The Netherlands; Bern and Zurich, Switzerland; Paris, and France.” The tour required “travel by sea, air, train, and bus to cross the Atlantic and to get around the European continent.”
For many years, Jack also raised funds to bring guest conductors and soloists to the Salt Lake Tabernacle for the annual rendition of “The Messiah,” and world-famous artists to give concerts in the Tabernacle.” Jack passed away on August 29, 1973, and Emma soon followed on October 10 of that same year.
The Avenues in Salt Lake City
The Thomas home at 188 E Street was just east of the Utah State Capitol. It was situated on the southeast corner of E Street and East 4th Avenue in an area called “The Avenues.” The Avenues, surveyed in the 1850s, is currently the city’s largest historic district of almost 100 square blocks of late 19th and early 20th century homes with unique architectural styles ranging from Queen Anne to the Prairie Style. The district sits on the sloping north-east bench of the Wasatch Mountains at the eastern boundary of the Salt Lake Valley.
Today, The Avenues is considered an “artsy” cultural district, however it was originally established primarily for artisans, tradesmen, common laborers, and others who desired to live in close proximity to the urban city center. At the turn of the century, when Warren called The Avenues home, the residents were predominantly middle and upper-middle-class professionals. Various schools and churches were also built in The Avenues to accommodate children and adults as the district continued to grow.
One of those Schools was the Lowell School, located at E Street and Second Avenue, which was attended by Warren and his sister Alice. Warren first made the papers in 1922 when various publications printed the story of a seven-year-old Lowell School pupil who discovered six sticks of dynamite partially hidden in the snow by the west fence of the school. Warren took the sticks home thinking they were candlesticks. His father realized the sticks were dynamite and quickly contacted the police.
Some years would pass before Warren appeared in the newspapers again but he certainly kept life interesting. While reflecting on his childhood many years later with friend Tom Quinn in Sausalito, California, Warren noted that he and another childhood friend once built a moonshine still with the intention to distribute. Such an endeavor during the era of Prohibition was not all that unusual, for adults. Deborah Toschi, the wife of Warren’s friend Joe Toschi, remembered Warren saying he “made and sold bootleg whiskey from age of 14 through 17.”
Utah newspapers during this time were filled with stories of moonshining. Sheriffs in various cities were consistently shutting down stills, seizing shipments, and arresting moonshiners. Utah churches were asking congregations to “denounce Americans who encourage lawbreaking by purchasing liquor.” News publications at the time made it clear Salt Lake City was not immune to the vices that were affecting most cities across the country including gambling, narcotics peddling, and prostitution. So it’s quite possible Warren was in the business of making and running moonshine. He certainly possessed an entrepreneurial spirit.
In 1929, Warren made the papers again. According to the Provo Daily Herald on May 2, the 15-year-old Warren along with his 11-year-old friend Burt Bridewell was apprehended by Provo city police for having “borrowed an automobile in the rear of the Peter Junior apartment house in Salt Lake.” The boys struck out for southern Utah switching out license plates along the way. They made it as far as St. George before hunger forced them to double back to Provo where an aunt of one the boys lived. Provo police officer Bert Halliday found the boys there “heartily enjoying a square meal.” According to the article, the two boys said they planned to “see the world.” Patrolman Charles W. Larson took custody of the boys and returned with them to Salt Lake. Not long after being apprehended for car theft Warren committed a burglary and was sent to the Utah State Industrial School in Ogden, Utah.
The Utah State Industrial School
The Utah State Industrial School, formerly The Utah Territorial Reform School, was built in 1889 to address Utah’s “rowdy teenagers” who, according to a 1995 article in the History Blazer by Yvette D. Ison, were “a menace to Salt Lake residents during the early years of the city’s development.” The design and layout of the school were based on the findings of an 1888 committee that was formed to investigate various schools around the nation at that time to determine the best model for Utah. The group concluded that they “preferred the schools that had no walls, no heavy frowning buildings with barred windows but nice pleasant homes, surrounded with lawns, gardens, trees,…where a boy is held more by a sense of honor than by bolts and bars.”
In the book, A History of Weber County, authors Richard Roberts and Richard Sadler note that The Utah Territorial Reform School was established in Ogden in 1888, in part, because “Ogden was so accessible” to all parts of the territory by railroad. “The site for the school was selected at 20th Street and Monroe; it opened in 1889 and initially housed twenty-three inmates. The building included three floors and a basement.”
In 1896, the Utah State Industrial School was moved to the old military academy site on north Washington Boulevard. Boys at the school were taught vocational trades, attended regular school for part of the day, and devoted the remainder to learning domestic and social skills. Courses for boys included carpentry, shoemaking, printing, animal husbandry, horticulture, dairying, and poultry raising.
The 1930 census, which was taken on April 1, lists the 16-year-old “pupil” Warren Thomas among many other teenage inmates. While at the Utah State Industrial School, Warren again made the papers. A March 14th headline in the Salt Lake Tribune stated “Shot Kills Youth Trying to Escape at Ogden School.” Of course, it was not Warren who was killed, but rather a 17-year-old fellow reform school inmate named Charles King who Warren escaped with. Charles King was sent to the Utah State Reform School on October 10, 1929, for holding up attendant Max Curran at the Independent service station at Riverdale Rd and Kiesel Avenue on October 4. King made his getaway in a stolen car, cash, 11 gallons of gas, and two quarts of oil. According to the March 13 edition of the Ogden Standard Examiner, King was arrested the next day in Morgan, Utah by Deputy Sheriff Charles Richens who recognized the sedan automobile King was driving as one that belonged to his brother which had been stolen on March 3. Beyond the crimes he committed, little was known about King. According to school authorities, King refused to tell them anything about himself, his home, or his parents. They also said that King had repeatedly boasted that he planned to escape.
Warren later noted that he had no plans to run away from the reform school stating he had no malice against the institution or staff. Warren did say that King felt “the officials were unfair.” Warren was aware that King planned to escape and King asked Warren if he wanted to escape with him. Warren was initially hesitant. However, when Warren had some merit marks taken away from him for going to nearby Five Points to buy some tobacco he began to consider King’s offer to tag along. As Warren stated after the escape, “I had never thought of escaping until the merit marks were taken from me,” he said. “The day before we escaped King asked me if I wished to escape with him. I didn’t give him the final answer until just before we left.” Warren also noted that King used to sing a song about staying in jail in the wintertime and wandering in the summertime. “I think he had planned all winter to leave,” Warren said.
The newspaper wrote that Warren, “a tall black-eyed boy, testified that he and King, after having escaped from the school, were proceeding northward along a roadway paralleling the Oregon Short Line tracks when two men from the reform school, Superintendent Child and LaGrande Walker, stepped out from behind a pole and flashed a light on them.” Warren stated, “One of them yelled halt and King and I both turned and started running northward. A gun fired immediately afterward.” Superintendent Child stated he didn’t intend to fire the gun and it was after he began running after the two boys that his foot got caught on the rail and he fell forward. Child said, “That’s when the gun went off.” King ran two or three steps and then fell to the ground. Warren testified, “I hesitated for a moment, began running again and then stopped.” Superintendent Child approached King who said to Child, “You’ve got me.”
Warren testified that superintendent Child bent over King and said “I didn’t mean it King.” The superintendent then went to get his car. Warren and Walker placed King in the back seat of Child’s car. Warren later stated, “We drove northward to Twelfth Street. Superintendent Child was driving and Mr. Walker was in the front seat. I was holding King in the back seat. He never said a word.” A doctor arrived at the reform school’s hospital at 8:45 p.m. and found the boy dead. The doctor noted that the bullet had entered King’s left shoulder and lodged in his lungs, causing death by internal hemorrhage.
The shooting was covered in various newspapers, as was the inquest that followed. Witnesses were brought forward, including Warren and representatives from the school who provided testimony on King’s character. During cross-examination by county attorney Blackham, Warren stated, “I didn’t think Superintendent Child stumbled. He didn’t say anything that night about stumbling.” On March 19, a coroner’s jury returned a verdict exonerating Superintendent Child saying “King came to his death from a gunshot wound inflicted by Child without felonious intent.” Following the inquest, Warren quietly completed his “stay” at the reform school.
To Hollywood and Back
Perhaps during his time at the reform school, Warren developed an interest in art, particularly in art related to theatre. After leaving reform school, Warren headed out to Los Angeles, California, where he studied theatrical art and props, possibly at the Chouinard Art Institute then located in Los Angeles at 743 S Grand View Street. Warren also did some work for RKO Orpheum and the Fanchon and Marco Studios in Hollywood. Years later, Warren proudly spoke of doing film set work for the legendary Mae West, who he eventually booked to appear on stage at the Tropics.
Warren returned to Salt Lake City in 1932 and was again living in the Thomas family home at 188 E. St. He soon began working in the theatres around Salt Lake City. A 1932 article in the Salt Lake Telegram declared, “Warren Thomas provided special scenery and effects for “One of the Family,” a comedy-drama production under the direction and supervision of Huron L. Blyden that took place at the Playhouse Theatre, located at 132. S. State Street.
Another 1932 article titled, “New Theatre Enterprise Offers Vaudeville Bill” in the Salt Lake Tribune also noted Warren as the advertising and business manager of Salt Lake’s new theatrical company, The Salt Lake Musical Comedy Guild. The article notes the guild “has opened for a season of entertainment at the Hippodrome Theatre,” located at 121 E. 2nd South. Warren is quoted saying “The Company’s presentations will be of great interest to the Salt Lake public as it represents the living stage that the city has been without for some time.”
In June of 1932, Warren Thomas’ Exposition Revue was performing at the Playhouse Theatre in Salt Lake, and the Crest Theatre in Provo, Utah. The June 9th edition of the Deseret News described the Exposition Revue as a “musical comedy trip around the world in dance and song, with comedian singers, dancers, and a glorified beauty chorus on the stage.”
The June 14th edition of the Daily Herald in Provo noted that the Exposition Revue at the Crest “proved to be a winner, making the entertainment one of the finest ever staged before the public of Provo.” They continued to praise the production noting that “the costumes and stage settings are unusually attractive and add greatly to the entertainment.”
Warren’s success was briefly interrupted on July 7 when he began a 30-day stint in the city jail after pleading guilty to liquor possession about a week prior, as noted in the Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune reported, “Judge M.J. Bronson fined Thomas $150, but the defendant went to jail when he was unable to pay the amount.” On July 25th Warren was pardoned by the city commission on request of Hugh Blyden who noted to the commission that the defendant had a number of dependents who needed his support. Blyden also said that he would give Warren a steady job and be responsible for his conduct. The petition was endorsed by Judge M.J. Bronson, among others. After his release, Warren went back to work and his artistic talents continued to be noted and praised in theatre reviews in the Salt Lake area.
On July 3, 1934, Warren married Gertrude Piett in Salt Lake City. Gertrude Piett was born on September 15, 1915, in Salt Lake City Utah to Gerardus Bruno, a cabinet maker by trade, and Gertruida Paulina Scholze. Gerardus migrated to the United States from Holland in 1908, then traveled to Salt Lake City. It has been written that Gerardus arrived in the United States with only $30. After a brief period of working and making money, Gerardus sent for Gertruida in 1909 who then joined him in Salt Lake City where they married on July 10, 1910. That same year they had a son, John Gerrit, and, in 1915, a daughter, Gertrude.
In 1935, Warren and Gertrude were living at 120 3rd East in Apartment #107. Warren was working at the Roxy Theatre and also doing freelance work in the city. On January 11, 1936, the Utah Manufacturers Association held its 31st Annual Convention at the Hotel Utah. The convention highlighted Utah manufactured products and was attended by prominent politicians and business leaders. Hundreds of prizes containing products made within the state were given away to attendees. Guests were entertained by various programs, but according to the Salt Lake Tribune, “topping the list of gay offerings will be the ‘Romance of Utah Manufacturing’ representing in pageant, tableaux and playlet form, practically every Utah era from pioneer days to the present time.” The Tribune also noted that “Special scenery by Warren Thomas, Salt Lake City scenic artist, will authenticate the presentation of pioneer and present-day Utah manufacturing and industrial scenes with song and dance accompaniments. Views of the Salt Lake Valley, Salt Lake City business buildings in the fifties, and the driving of the Golden Spike, with replicas of the old engines used in that event, are among the scenic effects to be on view.”
From Salt Lake City to Denver
In 1937, Warren and Gertrude left Salt Lake City for Denver, Colorado where Warren took a job at the Center Theatre located at 1621 Curtis Street on Denver’s Theatre Row. The 1937 Denver city directory notes Warren’s occupation as “Artist.” The couple lived in a rowhouse once located on the southeast corner of 22nd Street where it meets California, just north of the city.
The 1400-seat Center Theatre was opened on December 23, 1907, and was originally called the Majestic. Around 1913 the theatre’s name was changed to the Empress and according to local newspapers, the shows at the theatre ran the gamut of entertainment ranging from vaudeville acts to musical comedies to acrobatics to dancing marathons to eating contests. In 1936, the Empress was sold for $75,000 and reopened as the Center Theatre.
Warren spent about a year working at the Center Theatre before taking another job at the Denham Theatre, once located on the northeast corner of 18th and California (now a parking garage). Warren and Gertrude also changed residence in 1938 moving to 1620 Grant #215.
In 1939, the couple moved again to 4601 W. Byron located on the north side of Sloan’s Lake, west of the city of Denver.
The creation of Sloan’s Lake is the unintended result of a farmer, Thomas S. Sloan, who dug a water well in 1861 then “watched in amazement and concern as the water in the well overflowed and flooded the long dry prairie valley where it was located.” When the water stopped flowing Sloan had a 200-acre lake. Sloan continued to work the land but in 1872, sold his property and moved south to Pueblo.
In 1874, I.M. Johnson purchased 80 acres on the north side of the lake and planned to open a grand formal park but could not get the financial support to turn his vision into a reality. The lake was dormant for quite some time, used mostly by ice cutters and skaters in the winter.
In 1891, the Manhattan Beach Company purchased the Sloan’s Lake area “and brought it into its greatest glory.” Before the grand opening in June 1891, extensive work was done on the property including the planting of thousands of trees, shrubs, and flower gardens. Three thousand loads of California sand were also hauled in to create a 500- foot sloping bathing beach. The third-largest auditorium theatre in the United States at that time was also built on the property. Ten-thousand people visited Manhattan Beach on opening day and the park thrived for years until December 26, 1908, when a late-night fire left much of the park a pile of smoldering ashes by morning.
Another park was soon created but the site couldn’t return to its glory days. By the 1920s, Sloan’s Lake had reverted to swamp and cattails, a habitat for blackbirds, ducks, and geese.
In the Spring of 1940, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) approved a grant of about $750k to be used toward park improvements in Denver. The city would be adding an additional $50k. “About 1,000 men will be employed for 12 months on the construction of a swimming pool, new park areas, and boathouses at Sloan’s Lake,” among other improvements. For most, it was the birth of something new. For those who remembered the magnificent amusement park that once stood between Sheridan, West Byron Place, and Wolff Street, it was a rebirth.
Warren and Gertrude moved again about a block away from Sloan’s Lake to a single-story row house located at 2666 Utica street. Warren was still with the Denham Theatre working as a “commercial artist.” The city directory notes Warren making $2,700 and the couple paying $30 a month for rent. Beyond his work at the Denham Theatre Warren and Gertrude were also associated with the concessions at the recently remodeled Sloan’s Lake Park, such as boat rentals and water skiing offered at the White Acre Boat Dock.
In 1941, there was a Regatta at Sloan’s Lake. The printed program listed the events of the “the biggest combined water regatta in the west” and also provided some history about the lake and listed various recreation opportunities available to visitors. On the cover of the program was artwork done by Warren, which included drawings of small sailboats, motorboats, and a man and woman on water skis. Warren also wrote one of the articles that appeared in the program titled, “Water Ski and How” in which he provides a brief overview of water skiing, particularly as it relates to Sloan’s Lake.
On January 15, 1943, Warren enlisted with the U.S. Coast Guard. He noted in a 1998 interview that his duties included minefield charting as a navy lieutenant commander. In the August 17, 1945 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune Warren’s step-mom is noted as having three boys in the service; Warren and his half brothers Gwyn and Robert Thomas. Warren’s rating is noted as “BM1/c,” or Boatswain’s Mate First Class.
According to the Navy Enlisted Occupational Standards a Boatswain’s Mate:
“trains, directs, and supervises personnel in ship’s maintenance duties in all activities relating to marlinespike, deck, boat seamanship, painting, upkeep of ship’s external structure, rigging, deck equipment, and boats; take charge of working parties; perform seamanship tasks; act as petty officer-in-charge of picketboats, self-propelled barges, tugs, and other yard and district craft; maintain discipline as master-at-arms and police petty officers; serve in, or take charge of, guncrews or damage control parties; and operate and maintain equipment used in loading and unloading cargo, ammunition, fuel, and general stores.”
Warren was stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda located in Alameda, California, on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, adjacent to Oakland. The U.S. Coast Guard Training Station was located here among many other operational and training facilities.
Because of his experience working in theatre, it has to be assumed that Warren spent time touring the Theatre District in San Francisco. An area known as the International Settlement was well known at that time as the place for sailors to go for all sorts of entertainment.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Warren’s release date was October 2, 1945. Warren returned to Denver where he and Gertrude continued to provide concessions at Sloan’s Lake and, according to the Denver city directory, Warren was again working as an artist, perhaps back at the Denham. But a new adventure was about to begin southwest of Denver in an area called Westwood.
Westwood, Charlie Bell West, and the Doodle Bug Tavern
In 1946, Westwood was an area about six miles southwest of the city of Denver located between South Federal Blvd, west Alameda Avenue, south Sheridan Blvd, and west Mississippi. County Road No. 8 cut a diagonal path across the square area from the northeast corner to the southwest corner. County Road No. 8 was later renamed Morrison Road which originated at Colfax (now Old West Colfax) just west of the South Platte River and ran south-southwest to the town of Morrison, located just inside the foothills of the Front Range. It was one of the main routes across the rolling prairie lands that lead to the mountain parks, although not the most pleasant one to travel on. Before major improvements were made to the road around 1915, especially the 17-mile stretch from Sheridan Road to the town of Morrison, a traveler might find themselves rattled by bumps, stuck in a rut, or axle-deep in the mud. Improvements to the road created more traffic and eventually more growth along Morrison Road. The Colorado Department of Transportation noted that “the once pastoral communities flourishing with farms, dairies, and orchards on Denver’s periphery were being reborn as residential subdivisions.” A 1946 newspaper article described the ensuing growth of the Westwood area:
“Before the depression of 1929, the area was little more than rolling prairie land. Westwood developed during the depression when times became hard, cheap land was the only land people could afford. It became a shack town, trailer town and tent town. Building lots were sold for $1.00 down and 50 cents a week. Then came World War II, and shack town became a boom town. The Denver Ordinance Plant (present day Federal Center) was built west of Denver. Westwood was near the plant and land still was comparatively cheap, with building restrictions almost non-existent. Arms plant workers flocked to the town of Westwood. Houses, some below Denver’s standards, were rapidly built. In 1946, lots were selling on West Alameda for $10,000 a pair. Businesses increased from corner groceries to swank road houses, several with gross sales of $100,000 a year.” (Westwood neighborhood plan, 1986).
Westwood became a “boomtown” and one of the many industrious individuals who benefited from it was 56-year-old Charlie Bell West. West owned the Doodle Bug Tavern at 4842 Morrison Road. Business at the Doodle Bug Tavern was good, until the evening of March 27, 1946. The March 28th edition of the Rocky Mountain News reported, “West entered the tavern late last night with a gun and ordered the patrons out.” West then called Westwood police chief Albert Bower stating, “I am drunk as hell! You come over here and I’ll shoot you full of lead!” Highway Patrolmen Bill Orsman and John Knight went to the tavern just after 8:30 p.m. to investigate. They were greeted with a blast from a shotgun that peppered their patrol car. The patrolmen called for reinforcements and a four-hour shootout followed. Shot blasts first came from the Tavern’s second-floor windows. The patrolmen returned fire with multiple tear gas bombs throughout the standoff, which filled the second-story apartments. West responded with shotgun blasts and a tirade of insults.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Charles Foster told the Denver Post, “We had several opportunities to shoot West but we all knew the man and wanted to take him alive if we could.” A thick cloud of tear gas slowly began to blanket the area around the tavern where crowds were gathering. Among the spectators was West’s wife Frances and daughter Betty. West moved to the basement to avoid the tear gas but eventually returned to the second floor.
Determined to end the standoff, Patrolman Ralph Shimel of the Denver Police, along with Sheriff Foster and undersheriff Melville Comer, scaled the roof of the tavern. Shimel moved down the roof to a gable window when he suddenly came face to face with West who was at the window trying to get some fresh air. West reached for his gun but Shimel fired first, trying to shoot West in the leg, but instead hitting West in the right chest. Shortly before West died he told Sheriff Foster, “I’ve been sore as hell at the Westwood cops. I wanted to kill the whole damn outfit.” West died twenty minutes later. He was laid to rest in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.
After the gas and dust had settled, and repairs were made, the tavern was back in business. Ads for the Doodle Bug appeared in the local paper The Westwood News during the remainder of 1946, and into early 1947 inviting folks to come out and “Swing to the tune” of various performers such as Russ Dymond and his Colorado Buckaroos, Red’s Rhythm Kings and Frank Wales and his Doodlebuggers while indulging in “fancy mixed drinks.” Business at the Doodle Bug appeared to be doing well, however, at some point in mid to late 1947 the tavern was sold. The buyer was a man who, in 1947, was going by the name of Warren St Thomas.
Warren St Thomas’ Tropics Opens Tomorrow!
In 1947, Warren and Gertrude were living in a modern home on the north side of Sloan’s Lake at 4635 Byron Place, about five miles north of the Doodle Bug Tavern. It can only be assumed that the recent residential growth taking place in Westwood at that time was the reason Warren chose this location over a location in downtown Denver. Perhaps Denver didn’t allow the type of business Warren was planning to open. Regardless Warren quickly set about converting the old Doodle Bug, what he later referred to as “a floundering neighborhood tavern site,” into a tropical plush oasis he called Warren St Thomas’ Tropics.
Soon, the Tropics was ready to go. The doors opened on Saturday, March 20, 1948. The grand opening was announced in an ad in the Rocky Mountain News the day before. It was a subtle ad offering customers an “exotic tropical setting,” “unusual tropical drinks,” “genuine southern pit barbecued meats,” and “dancing to the band who is predicted to be the next big sensation in Denver.”
The Tropics club was a first of its kind in Denver. What inspired Warren to open such a unique club is perhaps related to his time in the Coast Guard and spending time on southern Pacific coast beaches, where there was often found a night club reflecting the tropical environs. Warren spent much of his time in the San Francisco Bay area and perhaps spent some of his nights in tropical-themed bars sipping on unusual tropical drinks and being enthralled by the setting.
In Sacramento in 1944, not far from San Francisco, there was a club at 1019 J Street called The Tropics. It also offered dancing and music in a “seductive atmosphere of true Hawaiian charm.” Perhaps Warren spent some time there, was taken in by the atmosphere, and decided to repeat it back home in Denver. Regardless of how it came about, for many Denver residents a night out at Warren’s club was like taking a vacation in, well, the tropics. The first ads for the Tropics announced “a tropical hurricane every hour with sensuous dancers,” and music provided “by Shelley Rhym and his 7-Piece Band.”
By June of 1948, the Tropics expanded beyond “sensuous dancers” and was advertising “Torrid Dances” and “Girls, Girls, Girls!” One of the early torrid girls at the Tropics was Dottie “the Chicago Fireball” Carlton, and many more would follow. Warren’s club was an immediate success. He later said in an interview, “Almost at once the Tropics became one of Colorado’s plushest night clubs in the Rocky Mountain area.”
Beyond running the Tropics, Warren and Gertrude continued to provide park concessions at Sloan’s Lake. They made the papers in November of 1948 when they sued the city who was looking to cancel the concessions contract they had with the couple. That year the Tropics also sponsored the #8 Roadster at Englewood Speedway, a track once located on the northeast corner of Federal and Oxford until 1972 when it closed. The location is now the Oxford Federal Business Park.
Warren and Gertrude’s steady success was interrupted on Saturday evening on March 20, 1953. Tropics waitress Lucy Puglaielli was at the club alone preparing to open. Puglaielli decided to turn on the television but found it to be unplugged. The interior of the club was dark and she struggled to locate the electrical outlet located behind a piece of furniture. For better light, she lit a match and attempted again to plug in the TV set. The flame caught the base of a curtain on fire. The fire started around 5:30 pm. By the time the fire department arrived the Tropics was engulfed in smoke and flames that filled the sky. It could be seen for miles. The fire took an hour to put out. Warren and Gertrude arrived at the scene around 5:45 pm to find the club completely destroyed. Warren’s initial thought was that it was arson until Puglaielli confessed later that evening to accidentally starting the fire. The Denver Post wrote that “Had the fire have started a few hours later the club would have been packed with customers and many lives might have been lost.”
The Tropics was insured for $60,000 but Warren claimed the total damages at $200,000. The cost of rebuilding was not Warren’s only concern, he also had signed contracts worth thousands of dollars with scheduled entertainers and would have to pay thousands in penalties to cancel those contracts. He also noted that the fire put twenty-two Tropics employees out of work. Although the fire was devastating, Warren told the Denver Post that he planned to rebuild the club immediately, saying, “tomorrow, if I can arrange it.”
The entire club had to be rebuilt. Warren hired a West Coast architect named Richard Crowther who, while living in San Diego, worked as a neon light designer, helping design the pastel spires of San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition. Crowther also achieved international renown for his work in solar and holistic architecture.
In 1948, Crowther was hired to give a facelift to the unique Rocky Mountain fairyland called Lakeside, a Denver amusement park. The facelift included designing ticket booths and ride entrances, most of which still exist at the historical park. According to Denver’s weekly publication Westword, Crowther also designed several luxury homes in Cherry Creek North, “an upscale neighborhood that he helped start.” He also designed several office and retail buildings in the same area. Set among the Cherry Creek shops, for example, is a striking two-part office complex at 310 Steele Street and 3201 East 3rd Avenue. The sleek, low-slung buildings sport ribbon windows slashing across light-colored walls, flat roofs at different heights, and triangular atriums marking the skyline. Among Crowther’s most important commissions were the three Cinerama theaters he did for the Cooper Trust in the early 1960s. One was once located at 960 South Colorado Boulevard in Denver. Crowther was the obvious choice to design the new Tropics.
Just three months after the fire, the Tropics was rebuilt and back in business. Billboard magazine noted Warren’s Tropics is “once more in business with a larger club, bigger acts, larger bands, and more advertising.” The rebuilt Tropics opened just in time for tourist season. Maureen ‘the Spider Lady’ Evans and ventriloquist Skinny Stroud who headline hourly shows sharing the spotlight with vocalist Jasmine, Jerry Bryant at the keyboard, and the swingingest guitar man ever Joel Cowan, who could play the guitar layin’ down, standin’ up, behind his back, over his head, and between his legs. The following weekends offered entertainment from such talent as Serena the underwater stripper, exotic contortionist Betty Shay, Pat Paradise, with emcee duties by Dave Gardner.
1953 was a tough year for Warren in more ways than one. A headline in the January 16, 1954 edition of Billboard titled “Thank Heaven 1953 is Gone!” stated Warren was glad to see the year go, noting the fire in March, a burglary at his home, and around Christmas, his wife Gertrude sued him for divorce. What caused the divorce was not published, however the divorce and subsequent court filings continued well into 1956 and ultimately led to a settlement. In the December 14th edition of the Rocky Mountain News from that year, an article appeared titled “Tropics Stays Open as Owner Settles Alimony Suit” The Rocky wrote, “The Tropics nightclub in Denver was still open Thursday as its owner Warren St Thomas negotiated an out-of-court alimony settlement with his former wife Mrs Gertrude Urbana.” Gertrude was seeking a payment of $50,000 and requested the court to authorize a public sale of the Tropics to get it. Warren responded that he had misconstrued the method of payments, particularly the date at which they were to start. The payments commenced and the issue was settled. The Tropics would stay in Warren’s possession and would be open for business. The article closed out offering some free advertising stating the Tropics was currently featuring stripper Emily Foster, The Four Breezes, and Sheree Hart.
Within a short period of time both remarried. Gertrude married John Urbana, who as noted in the city directory around that time, was a bartender at the Pink Lady Bar & Grill on 18th in downtown Denver. Warren married Donna Roach, a musician and entertainer based out of Long Beach, California.
Dona Marie Roach (later spelled Donna) was born on May 30, 1933, at St Joseph Mercy Hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, to Harold William Roach and Elsie Block. The Roach family was living north of the city at 2321 Myrtle Street at the time. Donna’s father was from Howard, South Dakota, northwest of Sioux Falls. He was working for the R.J. Reynold Tobacco Company as Division Manager. Donna’s mother was from Boyden, Iowa, a small farming community southeast of Sioux Falls.
Donna first made the papers on August 11, 1935, as a 2-year, 2-month-old contestant in a prettiest baby contest at the fifth annual Sioux City Journal Picnic at Riverview Park. Donna was one among the estimated thousands of children who showed up for the event and activities. Unfortunately, Donna did not receive the silver trophy that day or win the Shetland pony prize either. Nonetheless, it can be assumed Donna thoroughly enjoyed the picnic and riding the train, merry-go-round, tilt-a-whirl, and the chair-o-plane. The day also included athletic events and drinking orangeade provided by the Galinsky Brothers Fruit Company. Donna appeared in the papers again May 2, 1937, where she was noted as the flower girl at a luncheon honoring past presidents of the Women’s Association of the First Congregational Church.
The Roach family then moved from Sioux City to Cherokee, Iowa according to the 1940 census, but didn’t stay there long. According to a 1967 article in the Long Beach Independent, a publication based in Long Beach, California, Donna had lived in the city since she was seven years old, suggesting the family moved to California in 1940. A military draft registration card for Donna’s father Harold also notes the Roach family living in Long Beach, California, in 1942. The Independent article also states Donna did some work in movies as a child actor. At 9 years old, Donna appeared as a little girl in an Al Jolson show and later with Edgar Bergan. While a student at Lindbergh Junior High, Donna played the accordion, apparently well enough to perform at area events such as the meeting of the North Long Beach Women’s Club where she provided accordion and voice selections. According to the Independent, in March 1945 Donna performed some accordion solos prior to the Jane Addams PTA meeting. In 1946, she was listed among the members of the Melody Four, a group of piano-accordion players who provided entertainment at the YWCA for the Long Beach National Business and Professional Women’s Club initiation of new members program.
By 1948, the Roach family was living at 5459 Cerritos Avenue in Long Beach. Donna was a member of the musical group, the Accordianettes, which included Donna, Betty Wlasick, and Blanche Botter. On March 25, The Accordianettes played modern and Irish music for the Women’s Democratic League of Long Beach St Patrick’s Day party.
In February of 1949, Donna’s Accordianettes took second place in the Talent Quest contest in Long Beach, which was hosted by the Crest Theatre, once located at 4275 Atlantic Avenue. The following month, The Accordionettes took first place in a talent contest at the Fox Granada Theatre. In July, Donna was one of ten “lissome lasses” who competed to be the Queen of the North Long Beach Lions Club Fair and Centennial Celebration. Donna continued to play and sing at various events in and around Long Beach and was also a regular in beauty contests while a student at Jordan High School. Donna graduated from Jordan High in 1951. Later that year she was one of the twelve finalists for the “Miss Petite” crown in Long Beach.
Donna played many shows throughout 1952, including overseas USO shows of Ann Blyth, Alan Mowbray, and Yvonne De Carlo. That same year while touring in Alaska she married Portland, Oregon-based ventriloquist Ted Taylor on September 6th. After leaving Alaska, Donna returned to do more shows around the American Southwest then departed the U.S. in December with the Raymond Burr Group as part of a USO show touring Iceland, Greenland, and Labrador. The Group traveled 12,000 miles in 16 days and entertained approximately 145,000 men who attended 51 separate programs at 10 bases and eight hospitals.
From January through April of 1953, Donna and Ted were doing shows together around the Southwest. On January 23, Ted and Donna billed as “Pacific Coast favorites,” played Bugsy’s in Tucson located at 125 N. Stone Avenue. In April, Ted and Donna played the El Morroco at 120 S. Sixth Avenue. It was noted in an ad for the event that Donna provided “electraccord melodies and vocal refrains done in a manner to charm you.” On April 4, the Tucson Daily Citizen noted that “vocalist-musician Miss Roach is accomplished on the electraccord, one of only three or four of the instruments now used in the entertainment field. Band Leader Lawrence Welk has featured her electraccord on his radio show.” In February of 1954, Donna Roach was booked through Dave Strouse’s Empire Entertainment Agency located in the Empire Building in Denver. The February 20 issue of Billboard magazine noted that Donna “is pulling in excellent crowds” with her electric Bonivincini accordion at Warren St. Thomas’ Tropics.
Back to the Tropics
As previously mentioned, Billboard magazine declared in 1954, that 1953 was a tough one for nightclubs due to, among other things, the growing popularity of television. Billboard wrote that the only clubs that are doing well are those that employ big names and strip acts. The Tropics was one of the successful clubs. The Tropics employed 30 girls at the time, with three of them being strippers. It was said that the waitresses at the Tropics “outdo the attractions at many a night club.” Warren stated that “When I bring in a big name stripper, the place is packed. I’ll have big-name strippers in here most of the time.”
In February 1954, Donna Roach was one of the entertainers performing between the strip acts at The Tropics. Warren and Donna must have made quite an impression on each other because, according to an article in the June 30, 1955, edition of the Douglas County News, they were married. Donna became a regular performer at The Tropics. A 1956 notice in the April 5 edition of the Colorado Transcript would suggest Warren and Donna might not have actually been married in 1955. In the 1956 notice, Ernest Bonvicini of Bonvicini Accordions filed a “complaint on contract” on “Mrs Ted A. Taylor, also known as Donna Marie St Thomas.”
Regardless, business at the Tropics was doing great while, according to Billboard, “most clubs in the Denver area are weeping into their tills.” The article continues, “Thomas continues to pack them into his Tropics. Denver’s burlesque supply, with many bookings of exotics and strippers who keep the crowd coming back and draw tourist and native alike even on usually slow early weeknights.” It was noted by Billboard that the “lovely Donna and her electric accordion continues to add the necessary touch of finesse to what could easily become another bump and grind club.” In February of 1955, Sally Rand performed her famous Fan Dance at the Tropics. In September, the Queen Of Exotic Dancers Tempest Storm spent a week at The Tropics. Just two months later Evelyn West “the $50,000 Treasure Chest Girl” was performing at The Tropics. The big names were indeed packing the club nightly.
In 1956, Cabaret Magazine published two articles on Warren St Thomas’ Tropics. One appeared in their Summer Edition titled “Denver’s Torrid Tropics.” The other article titled, “How to Run a Nightclub and Make Money” appeared in their September issue. These two articles provide the most detail about The Tropics, and its owner.
The summer edition article calls The Tropics “Denver’s most successful night club which features top-name talent, realistic South Sea surroundings, and choicest cuisine.” The Tropics pulled in “the cream of Denver’s mining-railroad-livestock aristocracy, including such newsy names as Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe, Harry James, and Fred Waring, who flocked to see the gals strip the light fantastic on the elevated stage.” The Tropics was not just a favorite of the aristocracy, it was also beloved by the entertainers themselves who appreciated the plush setting and appreciative audience. As the article notes, it was the “scintillating strippers most favorite places to peel.” Cabaret continued,
“The almost too realistic tropical decor transports the customer to a South Sea paradise, complete with genuine palm trees. There are six-foot voodoo masks lining the walls, electrical tropical storms, scenic effects and real water disappearing into drains and containers that appear to be banisters. In the Alligator Room, there is a pit containing two live gators that are constantly fed goldfish — in keeping with the swank atmosphere and fare. During the summer, a large sliding glass wall opens onto an outdoor dance floor and garden. Inside the club, the hydraulic stage lifts to any height up to six feet, and on this stage appear the country’s best-known strippers. Patrons treat their eyes to a minimum of four strippers nightly, and their stomachs to what some professional observers have called the best food to be found in an American Club. Normally the caliber of customers that frequent his club would not go out of their way to see a burlesque show, but they do come to see the equivalent of such shows at the Tropics. The secret is simple, St Thomas explains. Just have a setting of class if you want a nightclub jackpot. Sure our shows are risque; now and then, when we have headliners like Ricki Covette or Do May, the spice runs pretty high. But I’ve yet to hear a woman customer complain of being offended by a show.”
Cabaret went on to describe an evening show at the Tropics:
“The house lights dim, the drummer begins a slow, native rhythm and the beam of a spotlight captures a lovely female figure in its oval. The dance begins, a slow gyration of limbs and torso to the rhythm of the music, which continues to increase in momentum. The audience is captivated by the scene and pulses begin to quicken and keep rhythm with the ever-increasing drumbeat. Intermittently, filmy garments that conceal lovely charms fall away until, with the last rising crescendo of the beat, the last piece of concealment drops to the floor, and the dancer is revealed in all her natural charm.”
In Cabaret’s article “How to Run a Night Club and Make Money” the author writes:
“Despite a large staff, St Thomas personally oversees everything that goes on from the evening’s opening till its close. Denver was ready for a high-volume club when I came on the scene, St Thomas says. That means a club that offers everything a visitor could imagine, and at prices that wouldn’t send him away screaming into the night. I believe in avoiding anything that doesn’t smack of top quality and of selling that quality at considerate prices. A customer who comes to the Tropics always returns because he knows he’s going to have the time of his life, without being robbed in the bargain. What constitutes the time of one’s life? St Thomas obviously has the answer, because in the ten years his doors have been open, he has had a steady and overflowing patronage. Nitery Bonifaces throughout the United States invariably show up at the Tropics as they pass through the West, to study this remarkable success story and to see how they too might prosper.”
Cabaret suggested that “Warren’s favorite act is Donna, his young and attractive wife who, when she is not at home minding their daughter, swimming pool, Thunderbird and Cadillac, plays the Electricord and sings light opera at the Tropics.” When asked about a rumor in certain parts of the country that nightclub stripping is on the way out, Warren responded, “I think it’s done for if enough customers are convinced that the strip is presented for the sole purpose of taking their money away from them. If a Patron’s drinks are watered while he’s watching the stage, and if the girls are hired not so much to take their clothes off as to romance him into spending money on them later on at the bar, then he’s a jerk naturally, for allowing the whole institution to prosper.” Cabaret noted, “countless numbers of customers who pour in night after night would seem to back this up.”
During the 1950s big-name talent were becoming legends, and new talent was slowly becoming big talent, and most of them at some point along the way performed at The Tropics.
A lot of other changes were taking place in 1950s America as well. The country saw a big increase in manufacturing and home construction. The white middle class expanded. The Civil Rights Movement was born. Unions comprised half of the American workforce. Highways were being laid out while Detroit rolled out car after car after car. Conformity was the social norm while the Cold War created a politically conservative climate. Communism was the boogeyman and everyone seemed suspect.
Consumerism filled the lemony-fresh suburban homes with new appliances, furniture, clothes, ceramic knick-knacks, and glass doodads. Playboy was a relatively new “classy gentleman’s lifestyle magazine” filled with ads, writings from respected authors, cartoons, and images of nude women. While Playboy quickly became a respected publication, America’s attitude toward night club striptease was changing, from acceptable exotic entertainment to something “objectionable,” particularly with its older customer base. Of course, the act of striptease in the ‘50s was not really that different from that throughout the ‘40s. The location of where it took place certainly changed, which perhaps was the reason for the change in attitude toward the striptease. When burlesque became striptease, or rather the strip act “went solo” from burlesque, the tease was moved out of the theatres and into nightclubs across the country. Many of those night clubs offered “exotic dancers,” “strippers,” “peelers,” or “torrid dancers.” The entertainers were certainly not being referred to as burlesque dancers. If they were it was not burlesque, as defined by purists such as Barney Gerard. To purists, burlesque was like a minstrel show that included comedians, exaggerated reenactments of life, low comedy leg shows, vaudeville acts, risque jokes, double entendre, and deliberately absurd interpretations of literary works, but not smut, which is basically what Gerard and others from the early days of burlesque considered later manifestations of burlesque. Various articles during the mid-fifties were talking about the death of burlesque. A sure sign that this might be the case came in December of 1955 when Billboard stopped running its Burlesque Bits column.
One thing was certain. The girls who were initially filler for comedians in the old days had quickly become the headliners, and the comedians became the filler. Many of the male comedians then headed for television, not necessarily an easy option for women, who took possession of their acts and headed out on the road to the hip nightclubs springing up throughout the country during the ‘50s and into the ‘60s. Denver area booking agents, such as Dave Strause and Bob Corash, struggled to fill requests for dancers in the Rocky Mountain area. While the stage lights dimmed on burlesque, striptease increased in popularity. Nightclubs hosting professional dancers and musical entertainment quickly found a dedicated customer base, both locally and with travelers crisscrossing the nation for business or pleasure.
“Business is Great!” That’s what it said under a January 1959 Tropics ad in the Rocky Mountain News. The ad also included an image of Warren dressed in a suit, wearing a big smile, holding a phone to his ear, and surrounded by women’s legs. Another Tropics ad that same month advertised the “Sextacular of 1959!” Former brunette turned blonde, Donna St Thomas, was featured in the ad as the “Lovely Songstress.” The Western Stock Show also took place in January and the RMN noted that Warren has “lined up a special treat for Stock Show visitors.” The treat was the exotic dancer Tana the Persian Princess, who was “one the most popular entertainers in town.” 1959 was off to a great start.
In the summer of ‘59 Warren took a “scouting trip” to Los Angeles and soon thereafter Rusty Lane, “the most in-demand strip teaser among hundreds in Los Angeles” and Nancy Lewis, “one of the West Coast’s up-and-coming exotic dancers, were performing at the Tropics. Lewis, who was also an actress, was booked for three weeks and packed the club each night. Also that summer Warren’s wife Donna took a gig at Roy and Bernadine Dinkins’ Flamingo Lounge in Grand Junction, Colorado. The June 14 edition of The Daily Sun noted “Donna St Thomas, who has been playing nightly at the Flamingo Lounge, has extended her engagement there for one week.” The ad for the engagement notes Donna as being “direct from a 2-year run at the Tropics.” The ad also notes that “This will be the only engagement she will ever play outside of the Tropics.” According to Colorado native and musician Judy Collins’s book “My Life in Music,” this was not the case. Collins wrote that Donna St Thomas was performing at the Gilded Garter in Central City, a former mining town turned tourist trap located in the mountains west of Denver. As Collin’s recalled, “At the Gilded Garter I opened for a rock-and-roll singer named Donna St. Thomas. It was a strange set. I came out in my tights and Robin Hood silk top to sing “The Gypsy Rover,” “Maid of Constant Sorrow,” and other songs for an hour, followed by a short break where people could order more drinks. Then Donna sang “Rock Around the Clock,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Heartbreak Hotel,” shaking her body and showing off her well-endowed figure. Donna was married to Warren St Thomas, who owned both the Gilded Garter and the premier strip joint in Denver, the Tropics.” Quinn stated that Warren often boasted about being the person who discovered Judy Collins. A young and unknown Bob Dylan also played at The Gilded Garter during his short stay in Denver in the Summer of 1960. Couldn’t it maybe be suggested that Warren discovered Bob Dylan months before he landed in Greenwich Village?
Toward the end of 1959 things apparently were not going well between Warren and Donna and on September 16, 1959, the couple filed for divorce. Warren continued running the Tropics and moved to 257 Pearl St. #205. Donna returned to southern California and began showing up in ads for music venues around the West. She continued to use the name, Donna St Thomas.
In 1960, the Paramount Theatre at 16th and Glenarm in Denver was showing the original Ocean’s 11, Walt Disney’s Pollyanna had parents “loading up their cars for movies under the stars” at the local drive-in theatres, Donna Reed was on TV, and the Tropics was offering an “entire stage full of lovely strip-teasers” along with comedy from Easter Domino and music from the 4 Breezes. Warren married a woman named Sofia (or Sofija) and business at the Tropics was booming. Beyond a dedicated local base of customers, many visitors to Denver and some traveling through would make a point of stopping into the Tropics to catch a show. According to a comment made on the “Save the Signs” website in 2017, somewhere in southwest Denver there was a roadside billboard for the Tropics that displayed a hula girl in a grass skirt whose hips were motorized which made the grass flow from side to side.
The Chez Paree and King Cole Room were established restaurants in Denver long before Warren opened the Tropics. Many lounges in Denver were offering food, music, and dancing during the late ‘40s and into the ‘50s, as did the Tropics. However, Warren’s ads quickly changed after opening from the dinner-music-dancing set to dinner-music-exotic dance shows and quickly again to strip-tease shows. Risque Tropics ads which included hand drawing of strippers, likely drawn by Warren, that contrasted many of the nightclub and lounge ads grouped around them in the pages of the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post. Denver residents still discuss those ads.
By the late 1960s, ad spaces in the papers had changed so much so that it’s often difficult to differentiate between a Tropics ad and a Chez Paree or King Cole Show Bar ad. Denver’s restaurateurs were getting into the striptease game, though some were advertising it as “burlesque,” or “Burlesk.” The Victory Theatre at 16th and Curtis was offering “Burlesque from Japan” and there was now a Playboy Lounge on Colfax. Most of the new clubs offering striptease were located in the city of Denver. Warren was still going strong out in the suburbs on Morrison Road. Striptease was continuing to evolve, as was the public perception of it. Stripteasers had to increasingly compete with the scantily clad actresses on the television and those in bikinis on the beaches. Such a trend would suggest that total nudity was inevitable.
Warren continued to bring in top name talent to the Tropics and the crowds of both men and women kept coming out to Westwood to see the shows. In October of 1960, the Rocky Mountain News noted “one of the most magnetic names in show business” Sally Rand was bringing her famed fan dance back to the Tropics. Exotic dancer Ecstasy who was America’s second-highest-paid stripteaser, also performed at the Tropics in October. Of course, Tempest Storm was as popular as ever and would regularly pack the clubs in Denver. In 1961, Tempest filled the house each night for a two-week engagement at the Tropics. By this time Warren was also going by the nickname “The Saint” in some of the newspaper ads and often referred to the Tropics as a “theatre restaurant.” Amateur striptease contests became a regularly scheduled event as well, which perhaps suggested where striptease was heading. Warren also changed residences in Denver frequently through the remainder of the decade.
In 1960, Warren had created the film company American Arts Films. Evidently he was planning to get involved in the movie business but American Arts Films didn’t show up on the radar till some time later. Warren likely had connections in the film industry. He consistently traveled to Los Angeles on scouting trips looking for talent to book at the Tropics and was familiar with the Alameda, California area from his years in the Coast Guard. His ex-wife Donna’s family lived in Long Beach so he likely spent a good amount of time in that area as well during their years together.
The first film to come from Warren’s film company in 1967 was Day of the Stripper. According to a review from the 1967 edition of Daring Films & Books, the film answers the questions, “what is it really like being a stripper? What goes on in her private life, her private thoughts, her very private moments, alone and away from the bright lights and the ogling crowds?” The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures provides a summary of the film:
“Tiger Lilly’s day begins in the afternoon, with a swim and some trampoline exercise. Night finds her preparing for her act at a strip club, while Bambi performs on stage. As the next act, Revere and Roche, is performing “Beauty and The Beast” onstage, a similar drama is going on in a backstage dressing room where beauteous Billy Jean is pursued by her partner, Kavich, a tiger. After Vicki O’Day’s tassel-twirling striptease, Tiger Lilly descends in a gilded elevator cage for her own act. She is followed by Tempest Storm. Tiger Lilly returns to her dressing room with Billy Jean and soaks away the greasepaint in a bubble bath.”
Perhaps Warren was inspired by similar “sexploitation” films such as Striporama (1953), Varietease (1954), or Teaserama (1955). Regardless, Day of a Stripper was a success and ran for 11 weeks in Times Square. It was also dubbed into three languages.
Around the same time that Day of a Stripper was playing in theatres, Warren decided to buy a boat. The boat was a 120-foot steel yacht built in 1927 by White & Co LTD, out of Southampton, England for Herbert Molson the former owner of the Canadian Brewing company and son of brewery founder John Molson. The yacht was launched in Cowes at the Isle of Wight in 1927 and christened the “Curlew,” after being transferred to the owner Herbert Molson in Montreal Quebec who used the yacht on The Great Lakes. The Curlew could sleep eight passengers and five crew members.
In 1942, the Curlew was purchased by the U.S. Navy and renamed the USS Leader. The Curlew, converted to a coastal patrol yacht was equipped with two 20 mm machine guns, two synchemine rails, two rocket batteries, and a crew of 25.
In 1949, the Curlew was purchased from the War Shipping Administration at a boat surplus auction for former President of Mexico Abelardo L. Rodríguez and renamed “Chito” which was the nickname of Rodriguez’s son.
In 1956, Jack Hyde purchased the yacht and renamed it “Hyding.” And around 1964 the Hyding was purchased by Warren St Thomas. It’s been said that he purchased the yacht in Tampico, on the East Coast of Mexico, and sailed it up to Sausalito, California where it was docked.
Warren continued operating the Tropics but filmmaking was also getting much of his attention. His next film project was the film Playpen which he wrote and directed. The film was screened in San Francisco in April of 1967 and released to theatres across the country in November of that year. The film was promoted in newspapers across the country well into 1968, and was Warren’s most successful film project.
The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures provides a summary of the film:
“Farm girl Tiger Lily dreams of becoming a Ballet dancer. She is forced by Len, her stepfather, to perform endless menial tasks and to sleep in a goatshed. Two hillboys attack her, and Len only watches. Later he offers her to his cronies for money. Tiger runs away to the city, becomes a dancer in a nightclub and is desired by both a bisexual stripper and the club operator. The stripper forces her to have relations with me in hopes that Tiger will become a lesbian. Tiger learns that her mother has died. She leaves the city and goes to her mother’s grave. There she encounters her stepfather and she accuses him of killing her mother. Enraged, he kills her. After death she recalls the things she would have liked to have done while alive.”
Gone Topless & Lady Godiva
Meanwhile, in Denver, competition from downtown strip clubs offering ever more flesh continued to grow. “Topless” appeared to replace the word “striptease” in most newspaper ads. Along with the Tropics, Chez Paree, and King Cole Show Bar, some of the other clubs offering topless girls in 1968 were The 400 Club, The Bunny Club, Sid Kings, Denver’s Oldest Bar, Mad Rushin, Club Banjo, Playgirl Nightclub, and The Body Shoppe. And the list was growing. Warren’s Tropics was becoming less of a unique destination place. As suggested by Denver historian Phil Goodstein, the Tropics distinctive flair was fading in the late ‘60s. Goodstein wrote that “Conventioners were no longer willing to make special commutes to the Tropics since numerous other clubs were closer to downtown.” And beyond offering strippers, some of Warren’s competition also featured topless waitresses too, according to Goodstein.
In 1968, Warren was in the local Denver newspapers for a promotional stunt that took place on 16th street in downtown Denver. At about noon on Tuesday, March 5, 1968, Warren rented a horse from Saddle Lane Stables at 100 S. Havana. In downtown Denver, Marie Antonee, a 22-year-old stripper from the Tropics, whose real name was Toni Mackey, climbed into the saddle and rode down 16th street from Broadway to Curtis wearing nothing but “a long gold wig and flesh-colored briefs and pasties,” according to Rocky Mountain News. The modern-day Lady Godiva stunt stopped traffic and got the attention of citizens, tourists, newspapers, and the police, the latter waiting with a paddy wagon for Mackey to arrive at the corner of 16th and Curtis. Reporters seemed as equally offended by the lack of authenticity in the 1968 interpretation of this historical act as they were with the audacity of the stunt itself.
Of course, the objective of the stunt was attention, and attention it received. Mackey was able to gather some clothes before being taken to police headquarters. She was charged with “performing a lewd act and wearing less than the city’s new topless law allows.” Mackey’s court date was on March 12. The Rocky wrote that “the Lady Godiva of 16th street will have company when she appears in Denver’s Municipal Court. Sharing star billing with Miss Antonee will be Tropics nightclub impresario Warren St Thomas whom police have charged with thinking up the whole stunt.” The charge of performing a lewd act was dropped against Mackey but she was charged with violating the city’s anti-topless ordinance, although she was wearing pasties. Warren was quoted by a reporter saying “the pasties Miss Mackey wore were of sufficient size to cover her breasts in accordance with the law because I checked them myself prior to the ride.” Both Mackey and Warren were released on bond. Following their court date, the Tropics ran an ad with a drawing of a lady on a horse stating “Lady Godiva is still riding topless nightly.” Little more was published on the Lady Godiva stunt and it can only be assumed that fines were paid and all parties moved on.
Late in 1968, it appeared Warren was trying to reinvent the Tropics. An ad appeared in the paper for “The New Tropics.” There was no word of strippers, exotics, topless girls, or “girl, girls, girls.” In the ad, the New Tropics was offering the “Now Sound” for “over 21 swingers” with dancing every night except Sundays to “name rock and roll groups” such as The Playmates. And no cover charge for Ladies until after 10:30 pm.
The Times Are Changin’
The late 1960s was a unique time in America. There was a moon landing, revolutionary music, Woodstock, long hair, peace signs, free love, and the birth of the Golden Age of Porn. The first adult film productions were not professional by any stretch. They initially, and briefly, consisted of silent black and white film “loops” of low quality. However, in 1969 Andy Warhol wrote, produced, and directed the film Blue Movie. Warhol’s movie was the first erotic film depicting explicit sex to receive a wide theatrical release and was the catalyst that inspired others to take the craft from the loop to full-length film, complete with sound, scripts, lights, cameras, and action.
Warren took part in the burgeoning new industry and in 1969 produced the very low budget softcore adult film, 3 in a Towel. Although Warren didn’t write or direct the movie he might have had some influence on the film’s location as it was filmed near Sausalito, California where Warren’s boat the Hyding was docked. The Hyding briefly appears in the film. The film’s main character is Romeo Bruno who imagines and acts out a day of being irresistible to women. First-person narration from Bruno is delivered throughout the film. He soon finds himself with three ladies who party with and entertain Bruno on a boat out on the San Francisco Bay. The film closes with the three girls coming out of the shower and sharing one towel. The film didn’t get much in the way of reviews. Most online movie review sites describe the film as, “A dude dreams of making it with hippie chicks of loose morals.”
On Friday, February 14, 1969, a Tropics ad appeared in the Rocky Mountain News. The ad stated, “Warren St Thomas will close the Tropics Saturday night after 24 years of operation.” The ad offered “2-4-1” drinks noting, “All the old gang, all my friends as well as enemies are invited to have one on Warren.” The location would remain available for banquets, private parties, and roadshows. Denver Post writer Barry Morrison reacted to the news in his column writing, “One of the worst surprises of the year came Wednesday when Warren called to say he would be closing the Tropics for good Saturday night.” Morrison reflected on many of the events he witnessed at the Tropics and the entertainers that performed and visited there. Morrison continued, “Changing times dictate that Warren close. He used to have nearly all the girlie shows to himself. But as he pointed out, there are now twelve strip houses and eight topless go-go places.”
Warren told the Rocky Mountain News that “the business was no longer profitable and big-name acts have priced themselves out of business, and the ones I can get people won’t support. They say they can see the same thing on television.” He continued, “The topless clubs dealt us a death blow. Nobody has to come clear out here to see burlesque. It’s everywhere,” Warren stated that he’ll do the closing the same as he’s done the show for many years. “I’m going to do the thing I’ve always done best with. A bunch of girls.” After closing on Saturday, February 15, the Tropics was closed for business. Warren dedicated his energy to movie making full time.
One month later Warren was in the local news again. On March 15, a Rocky Mountain News headline stated “Ex-Club Owner Jailed in Filming.” The article noted, “the 54-year-old former nightclub operator turned motion picture producer was jailed Saturday as a result of a private premier of alleged pornographic film in his home,” which was then located at 300 Vine St. The article continued, “St Thomas was arrested by Detective Bob Willoughby and police-women Barbara Walley who attended the private film show as guests along with another couple and a woman companion of St. Thomas.” Warren was not aware that two of the guests were undercover police officers. Warren was quoted as saying “Well, let’s get the party on!” before starting the film. Once the film was rolling Warren was arrested and his film projectors and film reels were seized. The charge was possessing pornographic material. It’s assumed that a fine was paid as there is no record of Warren serving any time in jail. On January 15, 1970, Warren and Sofija St Thomas were divorced.
A Garden of Eden
Soon after his divorce, Warren left Denver for Sausalito. He would later note in a 1973 unplanned interview with Gabrielle Schang from the Berkeley Barb while both were at the Off Broadway club in North Beach, a neighborhood in northeast San Francisco, to see Tempest Storm perform. Warren told Schang, “as soon as I got the chance, I got a divorce and left Colorado after selling my night club.” Schang also wrote that rumor has it around the club scene in San Francisco that “when Warren left Denver he was actually run out of town, and that when he split he left a message behind on the marquis of his old night-club The Tropics. He spelled out ‘Fuck the Denver Police.’” If Schang confirmed this with Warren, she didn’t put it in her article.
Warren moved onto his yacht, the Hyding, which was docked in Sausalito and became known for hosting many parties onboard. The famous and infamous attended, including Janis Joplin, who once stayed the night on the boat. Joplin was a regular in Sausalito and had her own table at the local, and now legendary, waterfront restaurant/bar/music venue, The Trident. Warren continued making films. In 1970, Warren produced the film Am I Female? and in 1971 produced and appeared briefly in the film Russky. Both films took place in the San Francisco Bay area. By 1971, Warren’s yacht the Hyding was sold and he was living on a vintage tugboat that he converted into a houseboat named “The Flyer.” The Flyer appears in the Russky film. Warren told a friend that the tug was built in the 1890s and the hull was all African Ironwood. While discussing Warren’s tugboat Quinn recollected Warren’s sense off humor, specifically as it related to his creativity. Quinn stated, “On the deck of his tug houseboat, starboard side, he had a life sized fake Alligator that used to freak-out tourists who wandered the docks looking at all the odd houseboats. He told me that he made the alligator himself. It looked real! It’s mouth was open and it had a white cowboy boot in the mouth, as if the rest of the cowboy had already been eaten!”
Although Warren declared himself retired from the night club business, he soon became the owner of the Garden of Eden club located at 529 Broadway in North Beach. Warren told Schang that he was “never expecting to get into the business again.“ When Schang asked what Warren’s “function was in the area” he responded, “my function is helping these fellows with clubs here on Broadway. Most of the managers are from Denver like me. I came here and got rid of their bands for them and put on shows because it helped business. “ A former stripper at the Garden of Eden who was interviewed for this article noted that Warren was associated with many of the clubs on Broadway including Big Al’s, the Roaring 20’s, the Hungry i, and the famous Condor. The words “Contact Warren St Thomas” appeared often, for various venues, in the “Dancers Wanted” classified ads of San Francisco publications. According to Quinn, Warren took great pride in designing the neon sign for the Garden of Eden, and often reflected on the struggle in getting it hung. Warren applied his stagecraft to the interior of the club by designing lifelike trees around the stage. A former dancer at the club said she would often incorporate one of the trees into her act.
Schang asked Warren “what is your connection with Tempest Storm? Warren responded that “Tempest worked for me in Denver for 17 years.” At 11 pm, Tempest Storm appeared on the stage. Schang wrote, “She wears a silver evening gown and brilliant blue eye-shadow. She has long, flaming red hair. First, she removes her gloves. The background music is, “Something in the Way She Moves”, and her movements are definitely turning the audience on. There were hoots and low whistles. When she finally removes the dress she still sports a slinky bikini outfit. Men are panting but she lets them all down in the end. At one point she utters aloud, “Suffer” to the audience…enrapturing the business-suited men.”
The Charming School
Warren was not only back in the night club business, but he was also in the school business. According to a June 1972 article by Carol Matzkin Orsborn in the San Francisco Examiner, the management of six North Beach clubs joined forces that year to open San Francisco’s first Charm School for Topless and Bottomless Dancers. The group called themselves the “Big Al Corporation Combine” and they hired Warren as the school’s Dean. Warren suggested he was “forced to take the position when his latest exploitation film [Russky] about the adventures of a hippie turned out to be too heavy for his audiences.”
Aside from Warren as Dean of the charm school, “faculty” included veterans of musical comedy chorus lines and vaudeville. The objective of the school was to train dancers to be comfortable, confident, and of course, nude on stage. School staff assisted the dancers in developing routines that audiences would be more receptive to. Matzkin noted that “Warren, looking the part of the romantic side of a Jacqueline Susanne novel, is well suited for the job.” Coincidentally Warren had been listed among Sausalito’s “Who’s who in Haute Couture,” as noted in the May 18, 1972 issue of Marin County’s Independent Journal.
Matzkin pointed out that “It doesn’t matter whether the girls can dance or not. Between Chico and Hully Fetico and Warren, most of the girls soon catch on to the basic movements.” Warren stated that “It was hard enough getting girls to move well in the days of vaudeville. Now we’ve got to get the girls to do the same damn things, only this time without their clothes on.” It’s unknown how long the charm school stayed in business.
On August 29, 1973, Warren’s dad passed. Many years later, Warren would share with Quinn stories about his parents, grandparents, and childhood. He noted his dad’s accomplishments and even showed Quinn a copy of his dad’s book Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle Choir Goes to Europe. There’s no evidence that Warren stayed in contact with his family for much of his life, but his conversations with Quinn would suggest he was somewhat sentimental and proud of their accomplishments.
In 1975, Warren’s film Russky was re-released as “Carnal Connection” but still didn’t get the reception that Warren was hoping for. In 1976, Warren produced another film, a pornography film titled Easy Alice. The film starred adult film actors Annette Haven and Joey Silvera, among others. Joey Silvera oddly enough plays Joey in the film. Warren makes an appearance in the film as well. His character is appropriately enough, “The Bartender.” IMDB summarizes the movie as “Joey, a San Francisco lowlife and occasional porn star, takes a one day shoot, after which he wanders aimlessly around the city meeting random people and having anonymous sex.” A more detailed perspective was found on the web forum site Adultdvdtalk.com. Site user and film reviewer “Classix Comment” stated:
“Easy Alice is an easy film to pass over. It’s generic title, seemingly low budget and presumably cheap production values render it a “typical grindhouse flick” from the mid 70s, however if one looks beyond its tawdry shell, Easy Alice is easily one of the most complex and underrated features of the golden age of sexually explicit cinema…Easy Alice is one of many hardcore films which is critical of porn, but unlike most such films, Easy Alice takes a humanistic look at the people involved in the films rather than commenting on their morality…Easy Alice is a depressing and realistic look at the hardcore film world.”
Easy Alice was the last film that Warren was credited with producing or working on. His attention again turned to the night club business.
In November of 1982, the San Francisco Examiner published an article titled “Broadway’s Changing Look.” The article discusses changes taking place on the three-block stretch of Broadway that “for years has been the skin-show capital of Northern California.” “Office creep” and public works projects were driving away club patrons and driving up rents for businesses. The sidewalks and restaurants on Broadway were increasingly being filled with an “influx of white collars” in three-piece suits who were not patronizing strip clubs, while indirectly driving away those who did. Warren “owner of the Garden of Eden” was quoted in the article stating, “Nightclub business gets worse every year. I really don’t see how all the clubs can stay open.” Warren noted that rent for the Garden of Eden went from $800 to $2500 a month and would go up to $3000 in 1983. This forced drink prices to go up, which forced patronage to go down. Nightclub press agent Davey Rosenberg complained that “skin shows are doing more business in Salt Lake City than here.” Rosenberg predicted that Broadway was becoming the new Financial District.
In the mid-1980’s Warren parted ways with his business partner and again retired from the night club business. The breakup resulted in a court battle that Warren eventually won, however, he later noted to Quinn that the case cost him a fortune in lawyer fees. Warren settled into retirement spending his days sitting on the dock of the bay, particularly sitting on the deck of his boat at Pelican Harbor located at the base of Johnson Street and tooling around Sausalito in his red Cadillac Eldorado Convertible.
Back to the Beginning
In 1987 the 73-year-old Warren seemed to come full circle. A September 29 article in the Sausalito Marin Scope noted Warren doing work for the Marin Civic Light Opera. The article states that for the production of the famed Broadway musical hit “Brigadoon,” “Scenic artist Warren St Thomas managed to create Scotland’s hills and rock fences in movable set pieces that work well and give the visual effect of the rugged highlands.” And again in December of that same year, Warren was again noted for his work with the Marin Civic Light Opera. This time he was praised for “capturing the Iowa town of River City and it’s turn-of-the-century Main Street expertly” in the production of The Music Man. In 1988, Warren’s 1963 film Day of a Stripper was featured at San Francisco’s Strand Theatre at 1127 Market Street as part of their monthly Deviant Cinema series. When talking to the San Francisco Examiner about Day of a Stripper, Strand Theatre operator Mike Thomas stated, “It’s not porno, but it’s very spicy for ‘63.”
On Saturday, June 12, 1993, Warren volunteered his talent for the Centennial celebration of Sausalito’s firefighter’s parade and Firemen’s Ball. Following the parade visitors to the Open House were treated to an exhibition of old photos and pictures of past volunteers and city firefighters. They were also provided a chance to view a mural by Warren of the Hunter Hotel Fire of July 4, 1893. The Sausalito Marin Scope wrote, “The mural recalls July 4 a century ago when the residents watched much of Sausalito burn.” Warren not only created art around the city but was also a regular supporter of the Sausalito Arts Festival.
In 1992, Quinn went to work at the Bay Model for the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). It was while working there that he met Warren who he says “was our resident artist who was working 4 hrs a day under the AARP program.” Quinn noted that “there were three huge murals along three walls inside the Bay Model building that Warren had painted in the late 1980s. The two immediately developed a friendship and Warren would tell Quinn about his years growing up in Utah, his years in Denver, his travels, and his family, among other things. Quinn continued to reflect on Warren stating that “I used to go over to the boat after work. I only worked about four blocks away; and repair things for him. One year, I put a whole new roof on it for him. Another time, I repaired the escape hatch he had in the ceiling over his bed, and then he had me build and install a ladder from the roof over his bedroom down to the outside deck. He was worried about the boat catching on fire. I don’t think he had any enemies. He never mentioned any. But back in the 1980s and 90s, there were people who would set other people’s boats on fire in Sausalito, mostly the ‘Anchor-outs’ who couldn’t afford a berth and were anchored and living offshore from Sausalito in Richardson Bay.” Quinn continued, “I repaired lots of small stuff on the boat too. He knew how to do it all himself but was too old at that point. He struck me as knowing a lot about boats and sailing. He told me that when he got drafted for WWII, that he got into the Coast Guard. He was the ship’s artist. When his ship would go out to places he would sketch the scenery, including naval battle scenes. He showed me a few 8×10 photos of him during the war sitting at his drafting table smoking a cigarette with his feet up.”
In the late ‘90s, Warren’s health was deteriorating. Quinn noted, “When his emphysema got so bad that he could no longer walk up and down the gang-plank when the tides were low, he had to move off of the boat into low-income housing in nearby Marin City.” The low-income apartments were originally built during WWII to house workers from the Marin Shipyard in Sausalito. After the Shipyard closed, the apartments became low-income units. Quinn stated that “Warren was very embarrassed to have wound up there.” Regarding his health and welfare while in public housing, Quinn stated that, “the county provided an in-home care assistant.” In 1995, Warren took a day off from his resident artist duties at the Bay Model to attend a party for Tempest Storm, who officially retired from regular performance at the age of 67. They had both come a long way from the dancing days at the Tropics.
During the first two months of 1998, Deborah Toschi began interviewing Warren with the plan to write and publish his biography. Unfortunately, she was unable to complete the project. Warren died on March 15, 1998, of natural causes in Marin County Hospital possibly related to complications with emphysema and pneumonia, the former likely due to working nightclubs for decades. Quinn got a call from Warren’s care assistant the following day to let him know. Quinn noted that there was no funeral for Warren and was unsure if anyone had claimed his remains or his belongings from his home. Quinn attempted to reach out to Warren’s family to give them the news.
Regarding his tug boat, Quinn wrote that “after Warren died it mysteriously ended up floating loose in the Bay. The US Army Corps of Engineers got called to bring it in, as it was a “navigational hazard.” Quinn stated that “next thing I hear from one of my coworkers is that they are crunching an old tug houseboat and found some movies in it. I was too late, it was already crunched into little splinters and deposited into large debris boxes waiting for the trucks to take the wood to the recycling area.” Quinn stated that he regretted not being more proactive in preserving Warren’s belongings but sadly noted that “at the time I didn’t think anyone would want any of it. He had only asked me to care for his murals, which I’ve done.”
Out to Sea
Warren’s last wishes were that he be cremated and his ashes poured into Raccoon Strait, a waterway of the San Francisco Bay between Angel Island and the Tiburon Peninsula. Warren was cremated by the Neptune Society of Northern California in Marin County. His ashes remain on a shelf, unclaimed.
4842 Morrison Road
After the Tropics closed Richard Crowther’s creation went through many name changes. It was called The New Leaf for some time. Then it became the Country Opry, “The right spot for country music lovers.” And as of this writing, it’s a night club called Stone. Although 4842 Morrison might never return to its glory days, it’s hoped by this writer that the City of Denver considers the benefits in preserving Richard Crowther and Warren St Thomas’ work, and the city’s own history. Hopefully, this article provides justification for doing so.