26 March 2014

The Everard Baths


New York was once littered with public bathhouses. The last of them closed in the 1970s. But one can still find many of the buildings they used to occupy in plain sight. The old bathhouse on E. 11th Street near Avenue B and what is now called the Brooklyn Lyceum on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn are two prominent examples.

This off-white, not so terribly grand looking structure was the Everard Baths. It was not a public bath, but a commercial bath. It operated from 1888 to 1985. It was founded by James Everard, a wealthy financier brewer. The building actually had a previous purpose, as a church. So I guess the building itself is actually older than 1888. At the time, 28th Street was a swell location. The theatre district was in nearby Herald Square and there were many swanky hotels in the area. Everard had private "steam cabinets" and several different styles of bathhouses.

The place had a rocky history. (All bath houses did. Get a bunch of naked strangers in one building and something untoward is bound to happen eventually.) A soldier was found dead here in 1898. A manager and nine patrons were arrested in 1919 for lewd behavior. Another raid came the next year.

In 1921, the baths were sold to one Abraham Harawitz, who promised $100,000 is improvement.

By the 1920s, it became a gathering place for the gay community. Some of its celebrated patrons included Emlyn Williams, Alfred Lunt, Gore Vidal, Rudolf Nureyev, Truman Capote, Larry Kramer, Ned Rorem and Lorenz Hart. As such, it is perhaps the most written-about gay bathhouse in New York history.

Tragedy struck on May 25, 1977, when a fire broke out. Nine people died. Amazing the two destroyed floors were rebuilt and the baths reopened, but Mayor Ed Koch closed Everard for good in April 1986.

In recent years, the space has been many things. I went to a play here in the late '90s.

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