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Down with washtubs!

Nov 7, 2011 11:58 AM | 1 comment

Located on the corner of Fourth Avenue and President Street, Public Bathhouse no. 7 opened in 1910.  The structure was designed by Brooklyn resident Raymond F. Almirall, whose works include the Emigrant Savings Bank and four branches of the Brooklyn Public Library; Bushwick, Eastern Parkway, Pacific, and Park Slope. The bath boasted the largest indoor pool in the City and showers for up to two hundred people.  Before the days where in-home showers were common and deodorant was a hygienic necessity, bathhouses were used year round as public washing facilities and during the summer, as a place to cool off. 

1922. Flooded Fourth Ave at Carroll Street.  In the middle background is the bathhouse.

This is not the first bathhouse to draw the notice of Brooklynology.  An Axel Hedman-designed building, now gone, was the subject of a previous post.  This past weekend I made a visit to the Brooklyn Lyceum (formerly Bathhouse No. 7) and while I sat sipping my dark roast coffee, I found myself wanting to know more about the history of the building.  While the pool has been drained and the showers have been dismantled, there are still some lingering clues that a bathhouse once occupied that space; notifications above the grand doors led to separate men's and woman's entrances, a sign atop the building faintly reads, "Public Bath," and benches inside the modern cafe hide the old shower drains.

Brooklyn Lyceum, 2011

The bath was a popular desination for residents of South Brooklyn, particularly in the summer months.  It was closed in 1935 for renovations and remained that way until a group of protestors voiced their need for the facility.  On July 8, 1937, a group of sweaty kids rallied outside the boarded up bathhouse, led by Joe Rutico, known as the "King of the Kids."  Protesters shouted, "Down with Washtubs. We want our shower baths."  One young girl yelled, "No more sitting in the gutters to keep cool!"  Soon after, 1,500 neighborhood residents met at the bathhouse and threatened to go on a "Bath Towel March" to City Hall, if Parks Commissioner, Robert Moses, failed to reopen it.  Moses considered the house a "disgraceful institution" and urged residents to use the new pools in Red Hook and Sunset Park.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. July 10, 1937.


 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 9, 1937

Eventually, the protesters were victorious and Bathhouse no. 7 reopened in March 1938.  The reinstated facility included two major changes: half of the shower stalls were removed and the pool was filled in and replaced by a gymnasium.

The building was abandoned in the 1970s and remained vacant until the dilapidated structure, complete with a leaky roof and pigeons living in the rafters, was purchased by Eric Richmond in 1994.  In 2000, the building was reinstated as the Brooklyn Lyceum.

Today, the 3,600-square-foot brick-layered Lyceum is a multipurpose space, capable of holding parties, fundraisers, carnivals and concerts.  Mr. Richmond hopes to one day write a play about the history of the building, including a mock bath towel march, but for now, is happy holding local events and shows in the historic facility.



11/8/2011 12:09:37 PM #

I've gone to the Brooklyn Lyceum for a zine fair, an aerial performance, and a Rude Mechanical Orchestra benefit (and maybe other events I can't recall now). Very cool to read about the building's history. Some enterprising activist should use the Bath Towel March idea for a future fundraiser or action of some kind!