Change came to Mason City, Iowa, in the mid-'60s. The state approved liquor by the drink in 1963, and the first bars gradually appeared in town. Then came go-go dancers, and by 1965 they were topless. "Things that started in Des Moines pretty soon channeled down to cities our size," says the city's Chief of Police W.D. ("Wes") Greenan. "At first people got pretty upset, but there was nothing legally we could do."
In 1970 Richard Davis, a Des Moines businessman, applied for a license for an "adult" moviehouse in Mason City. The mayor refused to sign the license, but Davis took the case to court and won. "There was nothing we could do then, and nothing we can do now," says Kenneth E. Kew, a news director at a local TV and radio station at the time, and today the mayor.
The pornographic bookstore arrived in 1973, complete with 16-mm. films and a hefty display of sex devices. Sales are up 25% since the first year, and the number of female customers is increasing. Yet many patrons are still furtive. As Charles Walk, editor of the Mason City Globe Gazette says, "If you walk out of there with a brown paper bag and run into your wife's hairdresser, you know what the talk's going to be at the hairdresser's for the next three weeks."
It was also in 1973 that the College Inn, a popular dance spot, installed all-nude dancers, and four other competitors followed. They scarcely caused a ripple. One recent night, as "Latasha," 18 and from St. Paul, bumped away in the buff as the Shelter Lounge's "body of the week," Owner Lynn Vale scanned the room and pointed out a local agent for a major life insurance company and the head salesman for a leading farm-equipment manufacturer. "You haven't got any bums in here," said Vale.
But the arrival of Mason City's first massage parlor was not taken so calmly. The town fathers scared off the first owner with an avalanche of building-and safety-code restrictions. But Robert and Monica Baldwin opened Monica's Massage on the same site last month. Baldwin, an ex-boxer, hotly denies any sexual services at Monica's. Word around town is that he is almost correct: voyeurism is the main attraction, with a little masturbatory help here and there. Mayor Kew offers the familiar refrain: "Much to our dismay, there was nothing we could do; just make sure they abide by the codes."
Now Mason City has five all-nude bars, a massage parlor, an adult movie-house and a porn bookstore. TIME Correspondent Barrett Seaman reports that the city's reaction falls "somewhere between resignation and benignity." As Editor Walk puts it, "Nobody's running up and down the streets throwing rocks." Ken Gutterman, 50, owner of Lock Photos, a camera shop, says: "I just accept it, but I've never been in one of those places in my life."