City Seeks Community Input on Conversion of Abandoned Baruch Bathhouse
Now approaching its 117th birthday, the Baruch Bathhouse, nicknamed the “White House” by NYCHA-dwellers, may soon return to the ranks of the living after decades of dormancy. Indeed, the facility hasn’t been utilized since the city cemented the place shut in 1975.
Well, the Parks Department is looking to issue a “Request for Expression of Interest” (RFEI) for the abandoned structure, the first step in exploring design ideas for potential reuse. The subject of its potential conversion will be heard at the Community Board 3 subcommittee for parks matters later this month.
“We’re interested in what uses the community would like to see for the Baruch Bathhouse,” a Parks Department spokesperson told us in an email. “That’s what we’re hoping to learn at the [CB3] meeting.”
This building has been through a lot. At the behest of Dr. Simon Baruch, a former surgeon in the Confederate army and physician in the Lower East Side slums, the city completed and opened the Rivington Street Bathhouse at 326 Rivington Street in March 1901. It was the first free public bathhouse of its kind, and featured an indoor and outdoor bathing pool, 45 showers and 5 tubs for men, as well as 22 showers and 5 tubs for women. The bathhouse was apparently such a success that long lines in the summer of 1906 nearly caused a riot.
The facility was renamed in honor of Baruch in 1917, four years before his death.
In 1939, the doctor’s son, Bernard Baruch, donated to the city most of the land on which the current park sits. A year later, the bathhouse was renovated and playground built on the site. However, the Parks Department eventually shuttered the the building in 1975 during the city’s financial crisis because it had become “too dilapidated to operate.” It never reopened.
Embarrassingly, it’s been reported that NYCHA employees allegedly don’t know what the building is, or once was. “I’ve never seen anyone in there,” one custodian previously told Curbed. “No clue what it’s supposed to be used for.”