The Combat Zone began to form in the early-1960s, when city officials razed the West End and former red light district at Scollay Square, near Faneuil Hall, to build the Government Center urban renewal project.
Lower Washington Street was already part of Boston's entertainment district with a number of movie theaters, bars, delicatessens and restaurants that catered to night life. It was located between the classic, studio-built movie palaces such as the RKO-Keith and Paramount theaters and the stage theatres such as the Colonial on Boylston Street.
With the closing of the burlesque theaters in Scollay Square many of the bars began to feature Go-Go dancers and later nude dancers. During the 1970s when laws against obscenity were relaxed many of the smaller movie theaters that ran second-run films became adult movie theaters.
During the Combat Zone's heyday, some of the larger strip clubs were the "Teddy Bare Lounge", the "Two O'Clock Club", "Club 66" and the "Naked I" which featured local celebrity Princess Cheyenne. Besides the strip clubs and X-rated movies theaters, numerous peep shows and adult bookstores lined most of Washington Street between Boylston Street and Kneeland Street. LaGrange Street, a small one-way street which runs between Washington and Tremont Streets, was the principal gathering spot for street prostitutes. Most congregated in front of, or near "Good Time Charlie's" at 25 LaGrange Street. All of these establishments are now gone and the buildings are being demolished. The Pilgrim Theatre, one of the last old time burlesque houses, was the site of a political scandal when in Dec. 1974 the then Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Wilbur Mills, seemingly inebriated, appeared on stage with stripper Fanne Foxe "The Argentine Firecracker". The Pilgrim then ceased to feature live shows and instead switched to X-rated movies and was a cruising site for men to have sex with men.
The Combat Zone's demise can be attributed to a number of factors. Among them are the rising property values that made the downtown locations more attractive to real estate developers. In 1974, the Boston Redevelopment Authority began a containment policy by designating the existing businesses to be part of the official adult entertainment district known as Liberty Tree Park. The highly-publicized 1976 murder of Harvard football player Andrew Puopolo focused attention on crime in the area. A new Emerson College dormitory (and eventual relocation of the entire campus), Suffolk University administrative offices, a relocated branch of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, a new $300 million development which includes a Ritz-Carlton Hotel and a Loews cinema, and a renovated Boston Opera House all opened in the area in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A new luxury apartment tower is currently under construction at the corner of Washington and Beach streets.
The introduction of home video and the Internet made it possible to view adult movies and other erotica at home without going to a possibly dangerous red light district. In addition, the advent of AIDS can not be ruled out as a contributing factor. Zoned out of the rest of Boston, the strip clubs have moved to the suburbs and become more up-scale.
Years of grassroots activism by neighboring Chinatown residents, aggressive police work and massive urban renewal projects instigated by the Boston Redevelopment Authority helped to stem crime and close most of the adult businesses. All that remains of the former Combat Zone as of 2005 are two small strip clubs, Centerfolds and The Glass Slipper, along LaGrange Street, and a few adult book and video stores on Washington and Kneeland streets. Prostitution and drug sales are still issues in nearby Chinatown, the Theatre District, Bay Village and Park Square.