Illicit massage parlors wage comeback as bathhouses 

click to enlarge A website offering reviews of sex workers includes posts about prostitution at the current Villa Aroma site on Geary Street. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • A website offering reviews of sex workers includes posts about prostitution at the current Villa Aroma site on Geary Street.

Massage parlors shut down for illegal activity including prostitution are now back in business in the Tenderloin, and they are trying to obtain permits from police to operate as bathhouses.

Villa Aroma at 801 Geary St. and Total Comfort Spa at 450-B Jones St. have applied for city permits as bathhouses, according to police records.

Previously, businesses licensed as massage parlors operated at those addresses until their city permits were revoked for "illegal activity," according to the Department of Public Health.

Those businesses served as fronts for "prostitution, human trafficking, and sex slavery," wrote Susie Wong of the Tenderloin Futures Collaborative in an email to police.

Sun Spa at 801 Geary St. was shut down in July 2007, and Sunflower Massage at 450-B Jones St. was closed in 2010, health department records show.

It's not clear which, if any, permits the businesses now in operation have, but concerned Tenderloin residents say they continue to offer prostitution and other sex services —a claim seemingly verified by online reviews of available services.

"It draws people to the neighborhood that we don't want," said Marianne Smith, who lives in an apartment across the street from Villa Aroma.

While the business names have changed, the appearances are the same: no windows, a locked gate opened only by a buzzer, nothing inside visible from the street, and all entrance and departure activity recorded by a video camera.

"What they do there is not what I do," said Smith, a licensed massage therapist with a practice in the Flood Building.

Customers of Smith's have in the past asked for sexual services, mistaking legitimate massage providers for the illicit ones, she said.

Villa Aroma appears to offer sex services, according to posts on, a website where users write reviews of sex workers.

"Talked her into $120 and had a bad experience," one user wrote of a May visit to Villa Aroma.

Eight bathhouse permits are currently being processed by the Police Department. It's not clear if the other proposed bathhouses also were former sites of massage parlors. A spokesman for the health department said Thursday that such records would not be available until Tuesday.

The Tenderloin has six licensed massage parlors, and there are 150 citywide that have licenses, according to the health department

Villa Aroma and Total Comfort could receive permits as soon as next month.

The current operators, whose personal names and business names were not released, have permit hearings scheduled for July, said Lt. Troy Dangerfield of the Police Department's permit office.

The City has in the past cracked down on illegal massage operations. In 2008, then-District Attorney Kamala Harris and then-Mayor Gavin Newsom called a news conference in front of 801 Geary St. to denounce a proposed ballot measure that would have legalized prostitution.

Harris, now state attorney general, and Newsom, now California lieutenant governor, have said the massage parlor operating at the location of what is now Villa Spa was a front for human trafficking and sex work.

"If people really knew what was happening in these massage parlors, there would be outrage," Newsom said at the time.

A representative for neighborhood Supervisor Jane Kim said Kim's office has not "received any complaints."

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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