And you begin to understand how an attitude might have developed over the years that the way to deal with the city is to grease a few palms and then go on doing things as you please. Sloan tells the story, for example, of Tony of the King of Pizza, whose shop is in the Zone and who agreed, at Sloan’s urging, to put an expensive new façade on his building. Despite that, a building inspector showed up one day and tried to shake the guy down. The attempt failed. Tony complained and the inspector was transferred.
But others would willingly pay. “They would say to me,” recalled Sloan, “’We don’t mind paying these guys off. They’re doing us a service. They take special care of us.’”
Combine this observation with Licensing Commissioner Straight’s comment that it’s hard to believe the fire, police, health and building departments, not to mention the city and state licensing agencies, “cannot control a very few blocks,” plus state ABCC Chairman Herb Goodwin’s observation that “I can’t recall getting a Combat Zone case from the Boston board on appeal prior to January,” and you’re left with the real possibility that more than just the Zone proprietors had been, well, comfortable with the status quo down there for a very long time.
“For some undetermined reasons,” offered the SIU report,” the Boston Licensing Board has traditionally enjoyed immunity from demands of accountability.” The report goes on to suggest that “such oversight may be attributable to corrupt overseers or because holding the Boston Licensing Board accountable is a function lost in the myriad of bureaucratic confusion.”
The licensing board, in turn, can’t act on complaints it doesn’t receive (though it does have a history of shelving Combat Zone violations), and it relies entirely on the police to write up the complaints. Yet the SIU report, in addition to its hair-raising accounts of police payoffs (including one about a Vice Control detective who has been a frequent guest of the Two O’Clock, where he and a female friend were seen accepting a magnum of champagne, “compliments of the house”) points out that of the 88 complaints referred to the licensing board by the District One Command Staff during the period studied, only 40 were alcohol-law violations.
That’s all changed, of course. The licensing board, which received a total of 444 Combat Zone-related complaints in all of 1976 (120 came during the last two months, when the heat was on) has now already received and acted on nearly 500 in the first half of 1977. And as Police Supt. Doyle succinctly puts it, “Every single licensed establishment down there is now under suspension or revocation.”
Most of these closings are still being delayed through the courts. Park Square’s Teddy Bear Lounge for example, was never even issued a 1977 license-its ’76 license was revoked by the ABCC in the aforementioned straw ownership case-but it’s operating still, under an order of the Superior Court judge who will hear the club’s appeal. Meantime, the club (based on personal observations by this reporter) openly violates the licensing board’s rule against entertainers “mingling” with customers and that against nude dancing outside the Combat Zone. And the board seems totally at a loss as to what to do about it.