by Kevin Walsh

Scattered around town are reminders of a time when hot water wasn’t necessarily a given, and there had to be an alternative to bathing in cold water. The city built a series of public bathhouses in the early 20th Century to address this need, and Brooklyn was given five.

This one, on Huron Street near Manhattan Avenue (a very eclectic block, actually), retains just about all of its original exterior appearance. The architects were inspired by the Roman Empire baths of long ago and constructed Ionic columns (these are actually pilasters, or half columns) and chiseled lettering with the traditional V instead of U. As the date indicates, it opened in 1903 and eventually averaged 1000 bathers per day. By mid-century hot water was almost universal in apartment buildings, and the bathhouse closed — it’s amazing it’s still there, and it’s now bordered by large, bulky metallic-panelled buildings that really set it off.



Tal Barzilai December 20, 2012 - 7:02 pm

This is the first time I have seen a picture of a former bath house that wasn’t in Manhattan.

Joe Fliel December 21, 2012 - 8:36 am

This bathhouse was still in use when my parents arrived from Europe in 1952. As a matter of fact, their first apartment, at 75 Eagle St., had a bathtub in the kitchen (doubled as a counter with a plywood board placed on top of it) and there was a shared bathroom in the hallway on each floor. until recently, there were a lot of apartments like that in Greenpoint. Those were the ones listed as being located in a “landmark” building. Translation: the joint is one level above condemned. Not too long ago, I was helping a friend look for a new apartment. I happened to go to see one on Powers Street. There was an improvised shower in the kitchen, with a shower head sticking out of the wall, a cold water pipe and a drain which was Rube Goldberged to the kitchen sink. Oh, it had a vinyl shower curtain attached to a circular rod which was also jerry rigged to the wall. The guy who owned the house wanted $1400 for this testament to hubris.

Larry December 21, 2012 - 3:53 pm

There’s a much larger one on 4th Ave.

joe December 21, 2012 - 5:42 pm

would love to see the inside of one, do you know of any pictures of that?

dave c. December 21, 2012 - 9:29 pm

So, what is it used for today?

Joe Fliel December 22, 2012 - 12:51 pm

It’s been used for different manufacturing purposes over the years. Up to about ten or so years ago, a Colombian gentleman, whose name evades me at the moment, operated a custom framing company for artwork. He moved to, and is presently located on McGuinness Blvd., up the street from Harry Brainum Jr. It’s a well known business; and he’s been featured in a number of news stories on his success. Incidentally, Harry Brainum, Jr. is now the oldest continuously operating business, owned by the same family, in Greenpoint (est. 1918). It took over that title after Irving Feller was forced into closing Manhattan Furriers (est. 1916) by the intrinsically evil, neighborhood-destroying, tasteless purveyors of dystopian crapitecture, Belvedere Partners, in 2011.

Renee Neumann December 22, 2012 - 12:42 pm

Kevin, do you know whatever became of the spa and huge indoor salt water pool at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn? My entire family used to love swimming there (my Mom won some swim meets there and it’s where my parents met!). Even after we moved to Staten Island, in the late 1950s and early 1960s (before they built a YMCA a mile from our home), my grandmother would still take me there occasionally on weekdays when it wasn’t so crowded. We’d swim, she’d get a massage from the European-trained masseuses, and on the way home we’d stop for a late lunch at an Automat. If I remember correctly, the St. George pool had a high mirrored ceiling, and marked lanes (for competition or also to alleviate crowding with lots of patrons who were there for serious swimming laps?). I think that at one time this was the largest indoor saltwater pool in America and I’d be interested to know what became of it. From your Forgotten fan, Renee

Joe Fliel December 22, 2012 - 9:03 pm

renee (that’s my sister’s name, BTW), the EAC (Eastern Athletic Club) took over the section of the hotel containing the pool. These numbskulls saved only a small section (with a uniform depth of 3 1/2 feet of chlorinated water), walling it off from the remainder of the pool. That part now serves as a gymnasium. They also had the mural demolished because the architect performing the renovations, Walter C. Maffei, said that it had a crack and posed a “public safety” issue.

John McKeown December 23, 2012 - 9:36 am

There is a family story concerning ancestors who lived in Manhattan (Yorkville I believe). There was no hot running water, and so they joined the local YMCA as soon as they could in order to take hot showers.

John Dereszewski December 25, 2012 - 2:20 pm

My mother and her sisters and brother made many trips to the Huron St. baths during the thirties and the forties. At that time, her family shared a watercloset with the next door neighbor. While they might also have had a bath tub in the kitchen, they probably found the baths to be a better place to get clean.

While I remember one instance where my newly married aunt and uncle had to cope with an apartment with a bath tub in the kitchen – they maved out pretty quickly – this situation had pretty much disappeared in Greenpoint by the 1960’s – though a few rare exceptions may still exist.

Metropolitan Pool, the the northside section of Williamsburg, also served as a bathhouse during this time.

Dan December 26, 2012 - 2:52 pm

When was the last public bath closed in NYC?

Kevin Walsh December 26, 2012 - 7:58 pm

There is still one open, on East 10th

Debbie January 15, 2013 - 8:59 am

I am trying to get any information on 2 bath houses. One was on Montrose Ave in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and the other was on Wilson Ave in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Can’t find anything on the web. It’s like they never existed. Thanks to all and any who can shed some light.

Cory Seamer January 5, 2014 - 10:20 pm

While researching the Public Bath on Huron Street I found some information on the Montrose Ave and Wilson Ave Public Baths. The Montrose Avenue Bathhouse (1903) was a two story brick building at 14 Montrose Ave with a stone facade occupying a 50ft. x 100ft lot and was built at a cost of $97,000. If you look in google satellite view you can make out the lot line along a dividing wall on the current Walgreens building. The Wilson Avenue Public Bath (1908) was a three story structure built at a cost of $165,000. The Montrose and Wilson bathhouses were both closed at the same time during Borough President John Cashmore’s tenure. After their closing the Huron Street Bathhouse and Duffield Street Public Bath were the only two public baths still open in Brooklyn. The architectural detailing would have been similar to other public baths in the city since public baths in NY were to be modeled after the Roman baths.

I hope this helps even though I did read this FNY post or comment until a year after your public request for information.

irene wahlberg April 16, 2015 - 1:05 pm

I used to live at 155 Huron Street a couple of doors down from the Huron Street bathouse.
I used to go there when I was a child to use the bathroom and the two old Irish women that sat in the middle used to yell at me and told me to use the bathroom in my apt.
I did use the bathtub there once when the one in my apt was being repaired for something.
The bathhouse closed about 1960. The stoop was much longer. When Jochnowitz furniture dealer he cut the stoop down. I guess it would be easier to bring the furniture in for storage.


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