Greenpoint Gazette

History Notes: Bathing in Public in Greenpoint

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Green St. between Franklin St. and Manhattan Ave. has become one of the most rapidly developed sections of the neighborhood through the help of basketball-great-turned-Brooklyn-developer and California resident Magic Johnson. Johnson’s six-story, 130 unit condominium building at 110 Green St. will feature an indoor pool and a 360-foot high multicolored glass spandrel. The massive structure cuts through the lot with the back side of the building extending through to Huron St.

The luxury condos have spurred developers to take an interest in the block with a handful of new apartments following Johnson’s lead and the newly opened bar t.b.d. on the corner. As I was walking along Huron St. to observe the backside of Mr. Johnson’s construction project, a Roman style Public Bath, complete with scrolled columns, stood out among the construction skeletons flanking either of its sides.

The Huron Street Public Bath was opened for over fifty years to accommodate Greenpoint’s bathing needs. The bath opened in 1903 at 139 Huron St., verified by the date etched onto the preserved façade. According to a New York Times article, the facility averaged over one-thousand bathers a day at the height of its popularity. During this time, many homes lacked private baths, so these public wash basins were a public health necessity, especially at a time when tenement buildings were prevalent and often overrun. A 1897 edition of the New York Times stated that “…New York and other American cities are far behind those of Europe, especially London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Paris and Berlin, in the municipal provision which is made for the comfort and welfare of all the component parts of their citizenship.” Brooklyn had a total of five public baths with four of the five closed by 1953 and the Huron Street Public Bath being the last to shut its doors in 1959.

Other than a corrugated steel door and a few additions by graffiti artists, the façade of the building is largely intact. Currently, Conwood Gilders Ltd occupies the ground floor, where it has been for over thirty years, making gold-leaf picture frames and restoring furniture. The top floor of the building has been converted into an artist studio and living space, which was confirmed the day I visited by two men in shorts who entered the building with two 36-can cases of Bud Ice Light. A gigantic gold-framed mirror was visible in the entry way of the building that could have been remnant of either the current or former frequenters of the building. Though the need for a public cleaning station is not as necessary today, hopefully the building will remain intact among its high-rise neighbors.

Address & Phone

Greenpoint Gazette
597 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222
phone: 718-389-6067

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