This week we have two milestone anniversaries that relate to my old stomping grounds, Carmine Street.
On this date, May 6, in 1908, the public bathhouse that is now the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center opened. Today this is at the 7th Avenue South end of Carmine Street, but in 1908, 7th Avenue South didn’t exist. It was created in 1917 to allow for the construction of the 7th Avenue IRT subway (now the 1, 2 & 3 lines, which run directly underneath), and connects Varick Street to 7th Avenue, which used to begin at West 11th Street.
And on May 8, 1898, the parish of Our Lady of Pompeii moved into the church that had previously been occupied by the parish of St. Benedict the Moor. This building was located on 6th Avenue, near Carmine Street. In those days, 6th Avenue began (or ended) at Carmine Street. It wasn’t until 1930 (after 5 years of destruction and construction), that 6th Avenue was extended to Canal Street and connected to Church Street in Lower Manhattan, and that church was demolished (this was done to allow for the construction of the IND subway line underneath, now the A, C, and E trains).
I wrote last week about Jacob Riis, and in that post I mentioned Dr. Simon Baruch, whose studies of public health led to the city’s creation of public bath houses. In an earlier Off the Grid post you can read how the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center began as one of these public bath houses. “The facility was opened to the public on May 6, 1908 as one of several bathhouses in Manhattan commissioned by Mayor William L. Strong. In 1895, after decades of lobbying by social reformers, the State Legislature passed a law requiring free bathhouses in cities with populations over 50,000. By 1911 there were 12 such facilities serving ‘the great unwashed’ in the city, as an antidote to the overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions of tenement life.”
In 1938 all the remaining public bathhouses in the city were placed under the jurisdiction of the NYC Department of Parks. The Carmine Street Recreation Center was re-named for Tony Dapolito in 2004.
At the other end of Carmine Street, near where it meets 6th Avenue at Father Demo Square, you will find Our Lady of Pompeii Church, on the corner of Bleecker Street. This building was constructed in the 1920’s after the demolition of the prior Our Lady of Pompeii Church. Serving the predominantly Italian immigrant community of the South Village, on May 8, 1898 the parish Our Lady of Pompeii moved in to the church previously occupied by the parish of St. Benedict the Moor on Sixth Avenue at the corner of Carmine Street. You can read more about that here. St. Benedict the Moor had been a Roman Catholic church for an African-American community that lived nearby on Minetta Street (and Minetta Lane, and Minetta Place.)
Next time you’re in the South Village, take a walk along Carmine Street from one end to the other. Think about 1898, when the church was around the corner on 6th Avenue. Think about 1908, when the public bath house opened a few blocks away. Think about 1917, when big wide 7th Avenue South brought the subway to Houston Street and Christopher Street. And think about 1930, when big wide 6th Avenue, replaced the El, and connected the South Village to Lower Manhattan. Do you think they knew then what traffic would be like today?