MEXICO: Death of Aunt Jane?

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The dusty air of Tijuana echoed last week with the sharp sound of hammer blows. The bartenders of three of the biggest saloons in town—Vick's Place, the Midnight Follies, the Blue Fox—were nailing up the shutters. For Tijuana, which in Spanish means Aunt Jane, death seemed drawing near. One of the most colorful results of U. S. Prohibition was the growth of a chain of drinking and gambling resorts stretching all the 1,600 miles of the Mexican border. Of these, Ciudad Juarez opposite El Paso on the Rio Grande is probably the most commercially successful. By far the best known are rowdy Aunt Jane and her swanker neighbor, Hot Water (Agua Caliente). Aunt Jane's reputation was enhanced by her proximity to flamboyant Hollywood, four hours by motor. Her income was enhanced by her proximity to the U. S. naval base at San Diego, 16 mi. away. Physically Aunt Jane is a mess, a dusty, treeless collection of wooden shacks and electric signs with a red light district blatantly advertised by a huge windmill outlined in neon tubes. During the Noble Experiment when 20,000 cars a day used to pass the border station at San Ysidro, Aunt Jane's prices were extraordinarily high. Thirsty California pilgrims were expected to pay the equivalent of U. S. speakeasy prices for whiskey and beer. Aunt Jane's trade fell off sharply with the return of 3.2% beer above the border. Business had fallen so far last week that Californians were freely predicting the death of Aunt Jane within the month. Knowing observers were not so sure. Quietly President Abelardo Rodriguez of Mexico has signed a decree making a "free port" of Tijuana and all Mexican land within a 30-mi. radius, thus including Agua Caliente and its elaborate hotel and gambling casino. Transportation costs are high, but with no import duties to pay Aunt Jane's bars may lure back their film and naval trade with whiskey at 15¢ a drink.