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By Jay Thorwaldson

About this blog: I was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly from June 2000 to January 2011, capping a more than 50-year career in journalism and writing since Los Gatos High School, where I was editor of the student newspaper and president of the speech...  (More)

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On Deadline blog: Massage parlor column rubbed some the wrong way

Uploaded: Feb 27, 2012
My column in last Friday's Weekly (Feb. 24) triggered a few interesting responses, and rubbed some readers the wrong way -- especially current massage therapists. Could one say they might be a bit thin-skinned?
But they have a point that judging today's certified, well-trained massage therapists by the sex-parlor masseuses of the 1970s is unfair.
And one person corrected my addition: December 1976 was 35 years ago, not 33, of course. I should have put in "more than" ahead of "a third of a century ago," as the controversy spread over many months before city officials felt they could move.
One person asked in an e-mail why the current enforcement and revisiting of the massage ordinance has come up now, and wondered as I have if this isn't a solution seeking a problem. Ah, it's preventative.
And I heard from the operator of the "one legitimate massage business" referred to repeatedly in the Palo Alto Times news stories, which then was known for its training in sensual massage and located on Bryant Street a block north of Lytton Avenue in downtown Palo Alto. It is now known as the Massage Therapy Center and since 1981 has been on California Avenue, offering training and therapeutic massage.
Following is a sampler of some of the e-mails, including the one from the Massage Therapy Center.
"I enjoyed your perspective and historical commentary on the massage scene in Palo Alto 33 years ago," Lucia C. Miracchi, owner, therapist and counselor at the center, said in an e-mail. "... We are the direct descendants of 'that one legit massage parlor' and have been fighting long and hard to legitimize therapeutic massage.
"In fact, we are probably the most established, long-lasting therapeutic massage business in Palo Alto that prides itself for this service without the addition of spa treatments, facials, hot stones, cucumber slices, or body wraps.
"How much more legitimate can you get?" she asks. Good point.
Not so pleased was physician Randall Weingarten, who wrote:
"I read with chagrin your self-congratulatory column today in regard to the 'Great Massage Parlor Raid.' ... Your column did less for the historical record and more to tarnish the value and integrity of massage, movement and contemplative/body awareness therapists of today.
"By reminding us of the ways that men and women have abused and may continue to be abusing this privilege of human touch you continue to emphasize the dark side of this essentially healing and educative practice," Dr. Weingarten wrote.
"Holistic health care working in collaboration with traditional and contemporary medical care is an inherently cooperative enterprise. Pharmaceuticals and herbal supplements, massage therapy and physical therapies -- all have different but complimentary aims: to bring to bear kindness, compassion and skillful care for our human ailments illnesses and restorative aims.
"We cannot ignore or blind ourselves to serious, illegal transgressions in all fields of human endeavor, including providing erotic play or prostitution under the guise of touch therapies.
"However, your article -- as so much in our media today -- glorifies the ugliness of life, and diverts our attention from the ways in which we can care for and serve each other in diverse ways."
That's a pretty heavy judgment for a column that was about an incident from history, not doing an assessment of today's massage-therapy profession. And I certainly wasn't trying to glorify the operations of what the Palo Alto Times called the 17 "sex parlors" in town. If anything, the column might be considered an object lesson in how bad or extreme things could get if allowed to go over the top of community norms and standards.
Massage therapist Elizabeth Robinson also took issue with the column, and made some good points:
"I usually find great wisdom in your reflections, but I did not see a glint of it in your recent article on massage. Though it may have been fun for you to relive the 'old' time issue of scantily clad women in massage parlors and your still unrevealed source, for me it brings up only the dark side of massage and bodywork, and nothing about the positive."
Robinson, who follows the Moshe Feldenkrais school that emphasizes a mind-body connection and involves the client in the therapy, has been doing bodywork for 22 years. She wonders what the deal is today in terms of Palo Alto's renewed focus on massage.
And she asks why massage therapists should be singled out to pay a tax for practicing while other health professionals aren't, and notes that doctors often suggest massage as a way of dealing with stress from work, illness or grief.
She said police talk in City Council meetings about "the burden of doing undercover work in illegitimate massage parlors" and asked if it wasn't "equally burdensome for them to do undercover work with gangs, drug pushers and violent criminals."
And the key question: "How much of an issue is this in the city of Palo Alto?"
She said she has no problem with requiring certain levels of training or certification, but said this "is an opportunity to modernize old notions, not increase negative images."
Well, modernizing old notions seems to be well underway.
Another reader, Steve Follmer, was already engaged in writing to City Council members about the proposed tightening of the massage ordinance.
"I enjoyed your article about the great massage parlor raid. I am writing to ask if you or the Palo Alto Weekly could continue this tradition of investigative journalism." (That's a tradition of which the Weekly has long been proud.)
Follmer asked if there might be a connection between a recent article reporting that the California Massage Therapy Council is contributing $1.2 million to renovate California Avenue and the city's review of its massage ordinance.
"Whatever the merits of that project, why exactly is a state Massage Council spending money on street repair? Does their charter include deep tissue work for asphalt and sidewalks?"
"I notice that suddenly, 33 years after the raid, 15 years without a need for an ordinance, the police and City Council are shocked, shocked, to discover that there is massage going on in Palo Alto. This is all too much of a coincidence. The CMTC exists to prop up expensive massage, and here they are buying off Palo Alto with 1.2 million dollars, in exchange for Palo Alto's support in destroying inexpensive massage. ..."
"I don't see any statistics showing Palo Alto suddenly becoming a destination for illicit massage."
Now to hear from some advocates of tightening and enforcing the massage ordinance.
Note: Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com with a cc: to jaythor@well.com.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by John, a resident of ,
on Feb 27, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I remember when one of the [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] (under the cover of a 'massage parlor')was on Cambridge Ave. I didn't mind (to each his/her own). However, it became a problem when the johns started getting mad at each other, out of jealousy over a particular [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]. The fights spilled out into the street, and cops, with smiles on their faces, went to war with them, swinging their big sticks. The cops won, and the [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] were hissing at them, on the sidewalk. At this point, I decided that I was no longer so liberal in my thinking, because I was just starting to raise my young family in the area, and I didn't want to have to face all the passions that prostituion poses on our streets.

I wonder if Jay ever witnessed one of these fights? He seems pretty naive to me.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Feb 27, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I have witnessed fights outside of saloons, baudy houses, schools and drug stores. Shall we shut them down too? All this to keep someone from a voluntary exchange of money for a consensual service?

Posted by John, a resident of ,
on Feb 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm


I watched at least three fights outside that place, all of them in mid-day. These were not your regular bar fights, they were vicious jealousies for the same gal. Sorry, old boy, but I don't buy your premise.

Posted by Elizabeth Robinson, a resident of ,
on Feb 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I'm wondering if Mr.Follmer is mistaking the MTC which is the Calif Metropolitan Transportation Commission who funds the (VTA) Valley Transportation System and is the hopeful revenue source for the California Ave Transit Hub Corridor Enhancement Project. The California Massaget Therapy Council (CAMTC) is a state wide organization to help massage therapists understand the laws and regulations governing the massage profession.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Mar 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

John, your ability to divine the reason for bar fights is amazing. Brothel fights, however, are rare, because everyone gets his chance.

Posted by John, a resident of ,
on Mar 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Walter, having been in a number of bar fights, in my younger days, it is about alcohol numbing the senses and defending/promoting one's ego. It is not about jealousy, which is a much stronger emotion. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] Capiche?

The bottom line is that [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] should not be allowed back into Palo Alto. We have already been there, done that. If you want a [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff], do it discreetly, through the yellow pages or Internet. That is how Las Vegas does it, yet even LV still goes after them. In Nevada, the legal [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] are out in the desert. Let's not go back to bad old days.

Posted by Sparty, a resident of ,
on Mar 2, 2012 at 3:55 am

Illicit massage parlors not a problem?

I'd say the money that Palo Alto PD spent to set up in an office and do the sting across from the massage palor off California Ave is a problem.

Funny how all these massage historians in the industry are so clueless about it. Or are they?

Posted by Aquamarine, a resident of ,
on Mar 3, 2012 at 11:43 am

What "massage parlor" across from Calf Ave, Sparty?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of ,
on Mar 5, 2012 at 12:27 am

Moderator, **please** remove the words denigrating female prostitutes in John's posts (although I hope you chuckle, as I did, that his name is John). While I understand his disgust at the fighs he mentioned, it was many years ago & his language is inexcusable on a public forum. Thank you in advance.

Posted by Terrell Mcgreevy, a resident of another community,
on Jan 6, 2016 at 11:25 pm

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