Saturday, December 21, 2013

Public Bath on Huron Street - Greenpoint Bathhouse

Historic nineteen forties tax photo of public bathhouse on Huron Street
Public Bath on Huron Street Historic Photo - circa 1940
Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives
Greenpoint Huron Street Bathhouse
Public Bath on Huron Street
The Public Bath on Huron Street is one of the few remaining structures from an important but almost forgotten movement for progressive urban reform. Prior to tenement laws which required bathroom facilities in every flat, many of the urban poor had few bathing options. The objective of the Public Bath Movement was to improve public health, as well as the dignity and upward mobility for those living in tenements. 


Type B NY Public Bath Floor Plan
Pitkin Avenue Public Bath

Most of the public baths in New York City were planned and designed based on recommendations from Dr. Simon Baruch and the Association for the Improvement of the Conditions of the Poor (A.I.C.P.). Dr. Baruch, dubbed "father of the public bath", was a professor of hydrotherapy at Columbia University, an outspoken advocate for public baths and the father of financier Bernard Baruch.[1] Included in the A.I.C.P. recommendations were two standard lot sizes, a preference for "shower baths" over bath tubs and greater capacity for male bathers.[1][6] The A.I.C.P. architects Cady, Berg & See provided two model plans, the "Type A" for small city lots and "Type B" for larger lots.[6][7] The Public Bath on Huron Street was built on the "type B" 50' x 100' lot and its layout is almost identical to that illustrated in the plan of the Pitkin Avenue Public Bath shown above.[6]

The Huron Street Public Bath was built in 1903 at a total cost of $103,724 and opened in 1904.[1][2] Similar to the other public baths in NY built at the turn of the last century, the Public Bath on Huron Street is a Classical Revival style building designed to be “imposing in appearance with an architectural style recalling ancient Roman public baths with classical pilasters, columns, arches and cornices”.[1] The Public Bath was renovated by the WPA in the late 30s along with the other Brooklyn public baths; work included “repairs and replacement of mechanical equipment, new roofing and skylights, new tile walls and floors, new marble enclosures for the showers, replacing the old soapstone stalls, as well as details of outside renovation such as sand blasting and the resetting of entrance steps”[3] The Huron Street bathing facility was steam heated, an amenity that was lacking in the coal fire furnace heated public bath across the creek in Long Island City. When reviewed by a reporter in 1956 the building contained 25 shower stalls for women, 62 for the men and 2 tubs, one on either side of the bathhouse. The layout of the bath included a separate entrance for men and woman with a booth in the middle, which at the Huron Street location offered soap and towel rentals.[4] 

At its peak the Huron Street public bath served over a thousand people a day on average but by the time it closed that number had dropped to 25.[5] In 1955 the state law requiring each county to maintain a public bath was amended. After the amendment passed, the Greenpoint bathhouse was no longer mandatory, leaving it vulnerable to city cutbacks.[4] Most of Brooklyn’s public baths closed between 1949 and 1953[5] and by 1956 the Public Bath on Huron Street was the last remaining public bath operating in Brooklyn.[4] The Huron Street facility was decommissioned and closed its doors on December 12th 1960. After closing, the building was eventually auctioned off by the city and is now owned by the proprietor of a custom gilding and framing company (Cowood Gilders) that is operated on the first floor of the building; the building’s second floor is rented out as artist studios.

New York city had a total of 25 public baths, seven of which were located in Brooklyn.[1] With the exception of Public Bath No. 7, the public baths of Brooklyn were designed by either architect Axel S. Hedman or Louis A. Voss.[7] Below is a list that includes all of the Brooklyn public baths, as well as their fate from what I have been able to surmise by using information from various articles and by using Google Streetview.

Brooklyn Public Baths:
Public Bath at 139 Huron Street: Constructed 1903-04 Closed 1960 (Architect Louis H. Voss)
Public Bath at 486 Hicks: Constructed 1903, Demolished in 1941 for construction of the BQE (Architect A. S. Hedman)
Public Bath at 42 Duffield Street near Concorn Street: Constructed 1905, Demolished
Public Bath at Wilson Avenue and Willoughby Avenue: Constructed 1908, Demolished
Public Bath at 1752 Pitkin Avenue: Constructed 1903, Closed 1949 (Architect A. S. Hedman)
Public Bath No. 7 at Presidents Street: Constructed 1906-10 (Architect Raymond F. Aimirail)
Public Bath at 14 Montrose Avenue near Union Avenue: Constructed 1903, Demolished


Bathhouse Cornice Removed
Public Bath Missing Cornice

Like the PLAV building located on Lenard Street, the cornice of the bathhouse has been removed due to maintenance costs and liability concerns and replaced with concrete. Because of these concerns, as well as local law 11 requiring the repair or removal of any projecting masonry deemed unsafe on all buildings greater than six stories, many cornices on old New York buildings have been removed.

Greenpoint Bathhouse Entrance
Public Bath on Huron Street Entrances
The sexes were segregated within public baths. The filled in fenestration on either side of the first floor represents the separate entrances for men and women.


Bathhouse Terracotta Ornamental Detail
Public Bath on Huron Street Terra cotta Ornamental Detail
Bathhouse Ionic Capital Detail
Pilaster Capital of the Ionic Order
Terracotta Plaque
Terracotta Detail "Erected"
Terracotta Plaque
Terracotta Detail "Public Bath"
Terracotta Plaque
Terracotta Detail "A D 1903"

Terracotta Plaques and Intermediate Cornice

References:
  1. Williams, Marily Thornton Washing "The Great Unwashed" Public Baths in Urban America 1840-1920. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1991
  2. Robinson, George “Cold-Water Flat Days” New York Times Online. 4 January, 2004
  3. Corby, Jane “S.R.O. Days of Yore Appear Gone Forever” Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
  4. Milburn, Terry “Soaps Up a Story in a City Sudsatorium” Daily News. 5 February 1956
  5. “Last Public Bath Is a Washout” no citation given. 17 December 1960
  6. Gerhard, William Modern Baths and Bathhouses New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1908
  7. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Public Bath No. 7 Designation Report. New York 11, September 1984.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the information. It would be great if this structure could be preserved and utilized for the benefit of the neighborhood. Good luck with Landmarks.

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  2. Fascinating - and I hope it gets the preservation it deserves! Do you have any plans to write about the other bathhouses on that list? Its an interesting foot note in the cities history that these were once so prevalent.

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    1. I did a recent post on Public Bath No. 7, AKA the Brooklyn Lyceum a couple of weeks ago. Eventually, I will get to the Pitkin Avenue Public Bath in Brownsville as well. Unfortunately though, the Pitkin Avenue bath looks like it has been vandalized by its current tenant.

      http://brooklynrelics.blogspot.com/2014/02/brooklyn-lyceum-public-bath-no-7.html

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  3. Thank you, Cory. As a neighborhood resident, I appreciate that someone is taking the time to document these buildings and explain their historical importance.

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