Known by many names but most frequently “the Block,” the circuit defined by Salem, Portland, Franklin, and Myrtle Streets was Worcester’s most popular zone for gay male cruising and prostitution beginning in the early 1970s.
In 1976, the Gay Community News’s A Gay Person’s Guide to New England listed the area by the Worcester Public Library as the place where “after dark, not-so-little boys come out to play.” Ten years later, then Vice Squad Sergeant Philip Dussault speculated that Portland Street was one of the “top ten places” in the country “for homosexual men to meet.” Since the police averaged only about thirty-five arrests a year on the Block, Dussault knew that the Block was about more than prostitution and considered it “mostly a situation with homosexual men seeking out other homosexual men.”
As the place where men went to meet other men for sex, the Block attracted those exploring their sexuality as well as those secure in their sexual identity. It also attracted runaways, young drug users, and others willing to turn tricks for cash. The dynamics of the Block remain obscure since newspapers reported only on its illicit nature and those who sought sex and social interaction there left no accounts.
Still, in the three decades of the Block’s heyday, a kind of ritual emerged:
Potential customers cruise slowly by, the young men lounge in the parking lot outside the public library on Salem Street or saunter slowly around the block. . . . A car stops, a conversation takes place, a young man slides into the passenger seat, and the car drives off. The payoff—sex in exchange for money—takes place somewhere else.
Prostitutes also worked the pay phones in the Salem Street Public Library parking lot. “Now and then, one of the phones would ring. A boy would answer, take instructions, and go off.“