Happy 5th Landmark Birthday, East 11th Street Baths!
How time flies – five years ago last March, the former East Eleventh Street Baths between Avenues A and B became an official New York City Landmark. I remember it very well; I wrote the designation report, after all!
Last year, I featured this building on Off the Grid as one of my favorite things. The Indiana limestone and intricate stone carving are quite breathtaking and demonstrate the high-quality craftsmanship of well over a century ago. This historic block, directly north of Tompkins Square Park, also includes buildings in the East 10th Street Historic District, which was designated on January 17, 2012 (my very first day at GVSHP, actually).
Last time, I focused on the surviving design details as well as the use of the site as a public bath for the neighborhood’s poor immigrants. Today, I thought we’d look at what’s changed.
While conducting research for this building, I visited what is now referred to as the Public Design Commission located in City Hall. (I encourage you to schedule a visit to look through PDC’s Archives, which includes files on city-owned properties.) A real treat was looking at the original architectural drawings from 1903. This is something you don’t always come across in building research!
I don’t have all of those drawings on hand to share here today, but the above photograph from 1934 (click photo for source) reveals what I saw in those 1903 drawings. As you can see, the biggest change can be found at the three archways. The 1934 photo shows two wood revolving doors on the outer arches – one to the men’s waiting room and baths and the other to the women’s side (it might be difficult to tell here, but the original drawings show that “MEN” and “WOMEN” were marked on their respective entries above the revolving doors). A decorative wood window providing light to an office was located at the central archway.
The first floor plan at left also shows what visitors once experienced after entering the building. The revolving doors led to completely separate waiting rooms; doors from here took bathers to “rain baths,” as they were commonly first known. This particular bathhouse officially opened on December 18, 1905 and offered 94 showers (67 for men, 27 for women) and seven bathtubs (two for men, five for women) on the first and second floors.
Soon after the 1934 photo was taken, changes were on the horizon. Drawings from 1943 revealed that the metal grille transoms, which originally visually united all three archways, were to be replaced with glass block, and the wood doors were to be replaced with aluminum ones.
The above photo from c. 1985 shows that cinder blocks and roll-down gates were installed for garage use. This likely happened in the early 1960s after the public bath ceased to operate here in 1958. As you can see, the building was in need of a little TLC…
Today, the metal gates at the archways seem to give a nod to the original revolving doors with its circle-in-a-rectangle design scheme (could that be intentional or a nice little coincidence?). The revitalization of this former bathhouse is due in large part to the wonderful efforts of noted photographer Eddie Adams and his wife Alyssa who bought the building in 1994. After Eddie’s death, Alyssa continues to operate the Bathhouse Studios, as it’s now known, as “one of the premiere photo rental spaces in New York City.”
Tomorrow, GVSHP, the Historic Districts Council (HDC), the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative (LESPI), and the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC) are thrilled to be co-sponsoring an event here. We will be celebrating two of our greatest East Village victories in 2012: the designation of the East 10th Street Historic District and the larger East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. You can learn more about these two districts on our Resources page.