Sunday, February 23, 2014

Brooklyn Lyceum - Public Bath No. 7

Two point prospective photo of Brooklyn Lyceum
Brooklyn Lyceum - Public Bath No. 7 (227 4th Avenue Park Slope)
Public Bath No. 7 (aka Brooklyn Lyceum) at 4th Avenue and Presidents Street in Park Slope was built as part of an almost forgotten progressive movement to improve the quality of life for the poor. Progressive reformers hoped that providing baths would improve the health, social status and upward mobility of the financially disadvantaged. Prior to tenement laws which required bathroom facilities in every flat, many of the urban poor had few bathing options. So, like other public baths constructed during the progressive era, Public Bath No. 7 was built to provide a place for local tenement dwellers to bathe.[1] 

Women's and Men's entrance pediments
Public Bath No. 7 Entrance Pediments
Public Bath No. 7 was the last of seven public baths to be built in Brooklyn and is one of only three surviving bathhouses in the borough. Designed in the Neo-Renaisance style by Raymond F. Almirall (1869-1939), the bath opened in 1910 and was Brooklyn's largest and most ornate municipal bathing facility.[2] Almirall was a Brooklyn architect educated at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, Cornell and Ecole des Beaux-Arts and designed four Brooklyn libraries (Bushwick, Eastern Parkway, Pacific and Prospect) sponsored by Andrew Carnegie.[2][3]  The Neo-Renaisance style of the bathhouse was based on precedents set by the "People's Bath" in Manhattan, as well as design recommendations from the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP) architects Cady, Berg & See.[2] The AICP's aesthetic recommendations included a design vernacular based on Roman architecture; facades were to be “imposing in appearance with an architectural style recalling ancient Roman public baths with classical pilasters, columns, arches and cornices”.[1] With its roots in the City Beautiful Movement, the goal of the architectural plans and detailing was to impart a sense of importance related to bathing by associating the bathhouses with other important civic structures like libraries, banks and courthouses. The layout of the bath included a swimming pool and laundry in the basement; on the first floor was the central office with men's and women's waiting rooms flanking either side, an atrium overlooking the pool behind the office, as well as bathing facilities that included 30 showers for women, 41 showers for men and 9 tubs.[2] In the late 1930s Brooklyn's public baths were renovated by the WPA. Renovation work included "new marble enclosures and copper mesh screening to replace the original soapstone stalls, setting of non-slip ceramic tile, construction of terra cotta and block partitions, shelves, granite steps, and hung cement plaster ceilings and walls".[4]

Ornamental Details
Public Bath No. 7 Ornamental Details

Two ornamental details faux drain spout with bronze water and sea creature with trident
Faux Drain Spout & Sea Creature with Trident
In addition to its architectural association with Roman baths, the building's facade design included ornament that alluded to its purpose. The bathhouse is built of stone, brick and terra cotta with aqueous themed ornamental detailing on the facade. Green terra cotta water spills from a blue drainage spout and below the cornice and in-line with the spout is a terra cotta sculpture of Triton wrapped around Poseidon's trident.

Public Bath No. 7 has been repurposed a few times since it closed in 1937. In the 1940s the bathhouse was converted to a municipal gymnasium but closed again in the 1970s. Next, the building was used to house a transmission repair service.[5] In 1994 the building was purchased by Eric Richmond with the intent to convert the structure into an office for a computer consulting business, commercial space for rent and possibly a location for a restaurant.[6] Richmond turned Public Bath No. 7 into the Brooklyn Lyceum, a co-work and event space that hosts a range of of activities including classes, music events, film shoots, theater productions, weddings and more.[7]

New York city had a total of 25 public baths, seven of which were located in Brooklyn.[1] 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 on Huron Street: Closed 1960 (Cowood Gilders)
Public Bath at 486 Hicks: Demolished 1941 (construction of the BQE) - Architect A. S. Hedman
Public Bath at 42 Duffield Street near Concorn Street: Demolished (Condos)
Public Bath at Wilson Avenue and Willoughby Avenue: Demolished
Public Bath at 1752 Pitkin Avenue: Existing, Closed 1949 (V.I.M.) - Architect A. S. Hedman
Public Bath No. 7 at Presidents Street: Existing, Closed 1937 & Landmarked 1984 (Brooklyn Lycium) - Architect Raymond F. Almirall
Public Bath at 14 Montrose Avenue near Union Avenue: Demolished (Walgreens)

Thomas F. McAvoy memorial attached to street sign next to Brooklyn Lyceum
Thomas F. McAvoy Memorial
Adjacent to the Brooklyn Lyceum is a memorial to Thomas F. McAvoy, a homicide victim in one of New York's cold cases. During a snowstorm on March 9th 1976 Mr. McAvoy, a 49 year old father of 2, was shot in the head next to the Park Slope bathhouse. The police were never able to determine a motive and the weapon was never found.[8] 

  1. Williams, Marily Thornton Washing "The Great Unwashed" Public Baths in Urban America 1840-1920. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1991
  2. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Public Bath No. 7 Designation Report. New York 11, September 1984.
  3. Morrone, Francis An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn. Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 2001
  4. "Work Finished on Greenpoint Public Baths" Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 21 September, 1939.
  5. "Brooklyn Lyceum Slated for Auction" Brownstoner. Online. 5 February, 2013.
  6. Steinhauer, Jennifer "Old Bathhouse to Come Alive" New York Times 1994.
  7. Brooklyn Lyceum Website
  8. Mitchell, Kerrie "The Coldest Case" New York Times. Online. 20 August, 2006.

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