Friday, December 23, 2016
The Irregular Guide to New York City Entry #8: Bathing in Public
(Above: The former Public Bath #7 in Brooklyn)
If you’re exploring the Gowanus Canal, you should pay a visit to Public Bath #7 on the corner of Fourth Avenue and President Street. Today, few such buildings remain, but in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, public baths like this one could be found all over the city. In those days, few people were lucky enough to have bathtubs in their homes. And only the wealthy had showers. If you were poor, a public bath may have been your only way to get clean. What better way to get to know the neighbors than to shower with them, right?
(Interested in learning more about what it was like to be poor back then? Just visit the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side.)
Public Bath #7 is now known as the Brooklyn Lyceum, a multi-use space with a gym, theater, and café. These days, its swimming pool is empty, and its showers were removed long ago. But look closely, and you’ll spot ample proof of the building’s past. Grab a snack at the café, take a peek under the benches, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. If you’re staying in Manhattan, don’t miss one of the most beautiful public baths ever built in the city. (In fact you can even take a dip! The facility is still in use as a recreation center.) The Asser Levy Public Baths (built 1904–1906) are located on East Twenty-Third Street at Asser Levy Place.