In early 2014 we had a mild respite from the cold and I was roaming about in the East 50s when I spotted an architectural gem from the late Beaux Arts period I hadn’t previously known about on East 54th between 1st and 2nd Aves., a massive NYC Parks “recreation center.” It was constructed in 1911 with bath facilities for neighborhood folks, not all of whom, at the time, had running water, heated or not. It’s one of a number of bathhouses constructed around town in this period. Inside you will find interlocking Guastavino-tiled vaulted ceilings in the lobby and gym, and marble walls. During this period, public architecture wasn’t built cheaply or shabbily and there was always some kind of detail to be found.
Today, East 54th Street Recreation Center hosts basketball tournaments, volleyball games, classes in the fitness room, and dances for teens, among other community programs. A recent $3 million renovation funded by Council Member Gifford Miller included a $1 million refurbishment of the pool, an overhaul of the plumbing and electrical systems, and a renovation of the lobby including the installation of a picture window looking into the pool area. NYC Parks
In the Beaux Arts era visual clues were added to identify buildings. Since this building has always hosted public baths and a swimming pool, “flying” fish and a trident (wielded by King Neptune in depictions of classical mythological tales) appear at the tops of the Doric pilasters.