“The readers of the Electrical Review have doubtless heard of the Tenderloin Club, of New York. It is a famous organization and there is nothing like it in the heavens above, the earth below or the waters beneath. It stands alone as the Bohemian Paradise of New York. Its membership is composed of a large number of newspaper men, musicians, artists, actors and geniuses, and includes some of the brightest intellects to be found in that large and forceful contingent of the metropolis which has ‘a disregard for the conventionalities of society.’”
— The Electrical Review, March 19, 1892
In March of 1894, Anthony Comstock, his assistant George Oram and six men armed with axes descended upon the brownstone clubhouse of the Tenderloin Club.
The press reported, “Comstock was armed with a warrant issued by Judge Taintor in the Tombs Police Court yesterday, charging the members of the club with keeping indecent pictures, which threatened to injure 15-year-old Eugene Leonard, the negro hall boy of the club. Comstock had authority to destroy all the indecent pictures in the place, and to arrest all persons in charge of them.”
As 15-year-old Eugene Leonard was the only person present, Comstock arrested him.
His men then went on a “tour of destruction” through all the rooms. The ten famous “Dado” panels, painted on canvas attached to the walls in the double parlor, were ripped to shreds. The panels depicted scenes of the Tenderloin during its halcyon days and were painted in 1891 by member artists Archie Gunn and Walt McDougall.
One report noted, “A number of photographs, including that of a colored lad, were also seized. The picture of the colored boy represented him in knee trousers, with legs bare below the knees. Mr. Comstock said this was an obscene picture, as were all the others.”
Pictures that could not be torn down were hacked to bits, and the walls stripped bare. With Comstock directing the men, “everything in the place that savored of nudity was demolished.”
Thirty paintings and photos were confiscated, after their frames and glass had been broken, and the fragments loaded into a police wagon, with the hall boy. Press accounts noted that the club looked like it had been struck by a tornado.
At the Tombs court, Comstock displayed the pictures and 15-year-old Eugene Leonard to Judge Taintor. He then took possession of the pictures and left the hall boy in the care of the Tombs prison, with bail set at $500.
The club’s president, John W. Keller, when given the news in Philadelphia, said, “I don’t know what to make of it. I do not understand it.” The rumor mill, however, had it that Comstock had been sicked on the club by former members who sought to even some scores.