La Villa de Hubba Hubba

— By all accounts, Archie Moore was more or less an old-fashioned kind of guy. The "Old Mongoose," who died on December 9, 1998, just short of his 85th birthday, was the world's light heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1962 and fought 221 fights, winning 196, 143 of them with knockouts. He came to San Diego in 1938 and remained until his death, building in 1959 an impressive 14-room brick mansion on E Street in Southeast San Diego, where he lived with his fifth wife, their five children, his aunt Willie Pearl, who had raised him from infancy, and various struggling young athletes he took in from the surrounding ghetto.

Moore was a flashy dresser who wore diamond stickpins and fedoras and was partial to vested pinstripe suits and red silk ties. In his prime, he glided around town in a white Cadillac Coupe de Ville, puffed long stogies for effect, and built a big backyard swimming pool for himself in the shape of a boxing glove. He made sure that the white gate to his property was monogrammed with two big Ms and the doorway to the home was flanked with twin chimneys, each curling in the shape of a helix. "I saw some chimneys like that back in the '30s," Moore told the Los Angeles Times in 1972. "I said to myself, 'My house will have chimneys like that.'" The pool room was reputed to have had the biggest billiard table in the city.

Aunt Willie lived in a pink- and white-frame cottage out in back, which the Times described as "a neat little house with a vegetable garden and bougainvillea and lavender mums." The newspaper also reported that an unnamed "San Diego real estate man" observed that "Archie chose to build his house in the colored section, among his people, and a lot of people admire him for that." Other accounts had it that the site had formerly been home to a restaurant Moore had run in the 1940s called "Archie Moore's Chicken Stand." Archie himself said he had so situated his mansion because "he wanted to play his music as loud as he liked." He told a reporter that the E in E Street "stands for Easy Street."

But by the time he hit his 80s, Moore and his beloved cul-de-sac had seen better times. His health began to give out, and the neat little street turned into an industrial strip, lined with warehouses and machine shops. What residences remained became ramshackle dumps, and even Moore's once-tidy little estate was clogged with weeds and overgrown vines. And then in the early 1990s, Thad Poppell moved in up the street and opened a party house for swingers.

Poppell, a retired butcher, was the king of San Diego's burgeoning wife-swapping lifestyle. For at least two decades, he had been running places for consenting adults to pay a fee and party naked. He once tried to open a nude church in La Mesa. The sheriff busted him for running a party house in Solana Beach. The cops shut down his mobile swinging establishment in an antique bus. In all, seven cities raided him, denied him permits, or ran him out of town before he finally found a home in Archie Moore's neighborhood.

San Diego zoning officials assured Poppell that he had finally found a location for a party house that met all the requirements of the city's new adult-entertainment ordinance: a run-down industrial area, miles from churches, playgrounds, schools, synagogues, and a lengthy list of other venues the city had created to make it all but impossible for Poppell to find a place for his cottage sex business.

But even after Poppell managed to comply with the city's requirements, city fathers, especially councilmen Juan Vargas and George Stevens, were not happy, and bureaucrats began searching for any kind of way, legal or not, to shut him down for good. Police cars started showing up unannounced in front of Poppell's abode on party nights, flashing their lights and trying to scare off patrons. Building officials met privately in the office of a city councilman to discuss how to close down the house with a flurry of new citations.

Then Poppell struck back, suing the city in federal court for violating his constitutional rights. In November 1996, a jury -- presented with boxes of internal memos between city planners plotting against Poppell -- ruled that the city had conspired to engage in a vendetta against San Diego's king of swingers. Poppell was awarded $200,000. U.S. Judge John Rhoades refused the city a new trial. The case caught the attention of advice columnist Ann Landers, who wrote, "Dear Readers: While I don't approve of conducting business in the nude, constitutional rights have to be defended. I don't know if Judge Rhoades was appointed or elected, but if I lived in San Diego and Judge Rhoades were running for re-election, he would certainly get my vote."

Even Archie Moore professed to have no problems with the sex club down the street. "I never had any complaints about Mr. Poppell," he told the Associated Press. "As a matter of fact, I've never met Mr. Poppell."

Thus, by the time of Moore's death in 1998, Poppell's sex club was well established on E Street. And this May 17, according to county records, Moore's daughter Reena, trustee of the Moore Family Trust, sold the Old Mongoose's mansion to Poppell for about $800,000. Moore's son, Archie Jr., called a reporter to voice displeasure with his half-sister Reena, but the deal was done, and Poppell began moving in.

Today, Archie Moore's house is known as "La Villa," and the pool shaped like a boxing glove is open for skinny dipping. "La Villa is now located in downtown San Diego, California, 5 minutes east of the Gaslamp District," says the club website. "This is one of the most exotic party houses in Southern California. Some of the attractions are the Pool, Jacuzzi, Sauna, Dance Floor with Disco Lights, and Private rooms with King Size Beds. The parties are limited in size so an invitation is necessary.

"We have designed a very elegant and secluded club that is both exciting for seasoned swingers and comfortable for virgin couples. There are no pressures or attitudes at La Villa. Although the facilities are very upscale and elaborate, the atmosphere is completely casual. There are no cliques, only friendly and sociable couples. We want you to enjoy yourselves and keep coming back. Impress us with your smile and charm, not your ego."

Maybe Archie wouldn't have minded, but what would Aunt Willie Pearl say?

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