In the column, I reported that Hazel Price, Tracy’s longtime “madam with a heart of gold,” had died 50 years ago, on Nov. 27, 1960.
That report prompted several Tracyites and former residents to recall their contacts with the Tracy madam who was known for her generosity, which provided assistance to a number of families and individuals.
None of the recollections had anything to do with being customers of Hazel’s core business, I should note.
Former Mayor Dick Hastie told me that as a high school student in the 1940s, he delivered milk early each morning for Bud Kaiser’s Alaska Dairy.
“Three times a week, we would deliver milk and cream to Hazel’s,” he recalled. “She would invite us into the kitchen, where she always had donuts or sweet rolls for us.”
Dick recalls that Hazel was a squarely built woman, with hair sometimes tinted in a reddish hue.
“She was very outgoing and had a real interest in current events and what was happening in Tracy,” Dick said.
I talked to Dick yesterday about Hazel’s as we drove over to Stockton to visit Art Sasser in a convalescent hospital. Art was glad to see us, and sang some songs such as “I’d Do It My Way” while strumming an acoustic guitar. Between tunes, we talked about the “old days” in Tracy.
I asked Art about driving a cab while still a high school student in the mid-1940s. Yes, he replied, he had driven a number of “customers” from the Greyhound Bus Depot to Hazel’s. And he confirmed an earlier report that there was an alarm system at Hazel’s that, in case of a raid, alerted the girls to leave through a backdoor, pass through a secret opening in the fence and walk across the alley to a garage, where an old ambulance was waiting to take them to Livermore.
Roy Lockwood, now living in Fresno, recalled working evenings after high school in the 1940s at the Shell station at 11th Street and Holly Drive.
“I directed a lot of young men to Hazel’s,” he said. “Go south on Central to Sixth Street, then west to C Street, across the tracks and east on Third. You can’t miss it.”
Sometimes in the late 1930s and early 40s, Hazel would take a cab to the West Side Market, which was located where Jack Elliott’s E Gallery and Performing Annex is just across the alley from the Grand Theatre.
Nick Margaros recalls that, as a teenager, he bagged groceries for his father, Gus, who operated the market.
“Every once in a while, Hazel would arrive in a cab and shop for groceries,” Nick recalled. “One day she bought close to $100 worth of groceries, and that was a lot of money in those days.”
Nick carried the bags of groceries out to the waiting cab, and Hazel turned around and handed him a dollar bill as a tip.
“Do you want some change?” Nick recalls asking.
“‘No, honey,’ Hazel replied. ‘It’s all for you.’”
Nick was dumfounded.
“Usually, I was tipped a nickel or a dime, but a whole dollar — that was something I remember to this day. Yes, Hazel was indeed generous.”
Willie McGuire e-mailed from Oregon that he delivered groceries after school and on Saturdays in the 1950s to Hazel’s from Tracy Grocery (at the corner of Central Avenue and Ninth Street).
“I was young and pretty innocent in those days and didn’t have a clue about Hazel’s,” he recalled. “But I do remember that the young ladies did wear waitress uniforms, and I thought it was odd that there seemed to be a number of bedrooms in the house.”
In those days, Willie wasn’t alone among a number of school boys in Tracy who had heard about Hazel’s, but had only a vague idea what her establishment was all about.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.