Filed Under Immigration

Lincoln Park Baths

The construction of city-run public bathhouses in Cleveland began around the turn of the twentieth-century as municipal leaders became concerned about health and sanitation in the city’s teeming immigrant neighborhoods. Many of Cleveland’s poorest residents at this time did not have bathtubs in their residences. According to an 1899 survey, only one bathtub existed for every 600 Cleveland homes. Even those who did have tubs could not always afford to heat bath water and thus used their tubs for storage instead of bathing. Aside from improving sanitation, the proponents of public baths believed that public bathhouses would help teach middle-class American values to the city’s newly-arrived European immigrants. Personal cleanliness, they argued, would instill self-respect and improve moral character, making better American citizens out of immigrants.

The city opened its first bathhouse in 1904 at 1609 Orange Avenue and initially charged $.02 for a bath or shower. New bathhouses soon opened in other immigrant neighborhoods, including the Lincoln Park Baths in Tremont in 1921. Between 1904 and 1921, ten public bathhouses were opened and run by the City of Cleveland, the Lincoln Park facility being the last. Interestingly, the term “bathhouse” is a misnomer since few (and eventually, none) of the houses contained bathtubs. They did, however, have dozens of showers—generally separate stalls on the main floor for men and women, and open children’s shower rooms in the basement, separated by gender.

A 1920 Cleveland Foundation survey marveled at the fact that 482,000 baths and showers had been taken at the four bathhouses that had been built by 1918. The report rhetorically (and clumsily) asked, “May we not assume that these 482,000 baths were by all odds better baths, by reason of having been taken under public showers, than they would have been if taken under the multifariously improvised arrangements that have to be resorted to in the many homes, in the more congested districts, that lack bath tubs?”

However, Cleveland bathhouses (Lincoln Park included) provided more than bathing services. Many contained gymnasiums, swimming pools, playgrounds, meeting spaces, and community clinics. In this way, the bathhouses took on the role of community centers, where neighborhood residents could interact with one another and participate in enriching activities outside of their home, school or workplace.

Despite the fact that bathers paid a fee to use the baths, the bathhouses always cost the city money to operate. In 1918, for example, Cleveland’s four bathhouses took in $17,000 while expenditures came to around $56,000. And although bathhouses in Cleveland went through a period of expanded use and importance during the Great Depression, actual bathing declined in the years following World War II as indoor plumbing and private, in-home bathrooms proliferated. Declining revenues and high operational costs in the aging facilities eventually led all of the city’s bathhouses to close by 1954.

Like many government buildings built in the early 20th Century, elegance, style and a sense of power, durability and stability were central. For example, Lincoln Park Baths’ terra cotta tile roof and round-arched clerestory (an upper portion of a wall containing windows for supplying natural light to a building) clearly were meant to emulate an elite Roman bathhouse. The building’s surface is raised/textured stucco, framed by Doric columns and ornamented with three carved, raised fish murals: one on either side of the door and one over it. Other ornamental touches include smaller, sculpted, nautilus shell murals; “egg and dart” molding below the roofline; and a highly inviting central walkway connecting the front and back.

Recast in the 1930s as Lincoln Park Recreation Center, the facility remained open as Tremont, and many other inner-city neighborhoods, fell further into poverty, neglect, and disrepair. Shower facilities remained in the building’s basement, but plumbing was removed from the upper floors and replaced by open space for meetings, ping pong, pocket billiards, basketball, boxing, medical dispensaries, boy scout meetings, dances, drama and orchestra rehearsals.

By the early 1980s, the Lincoln Park Recreation Center’s condition was such that an estimated $600,000 was required for plumbing, wiring, masonry and window replacement, and to reduce hazards of asbestos insulation and repair a leaking roof. Unable to swallow these costs, the facility closed its doors in March 1984.

Only two years later, Westlake-based Zaremba Company bought the building with intentions to make it the anchor of an imaginative and aggressive plan that also included “six free-standing townhouses and a duplex.” The structure’s reincarnation was underway. In 1996, redevelopment was complete and the Lincoln Park Baths/Recreation Center was now the Lincoln Park Condominiums. Three floors consisting of four units were available: two three-story units totaling 2065 square feet and two single-story units of 1094 square feet each. Four years later, one of the larger units sold for $269,000—roughly ten times the median price of a typical Tremont residence, and precisely ten times as much as the entire appraised value of the facility prior to its renovation.

Audio

Public Baths Become Luxury Condos Dr. John Grabowski, Krieger-Mueller Associate Professor in Applied History at Case Western Reserve University and Director of Research at The Western Reserve Historical Society, talks about the transformation of the Lincoln Park Baths. Source: Courtesy of John Grabowski

Images

Lincoln Park Baths, 2009 Opened in 1921, the Lincoln Park Bath House offered showers for only a decade or two, but continued as a public recreation center until the early 1980s. The building was converted into luxury condominiums in 1996. Source: Center for Public History + Digital Humanities Date: 2009
Broadway Bath House, 1940 A man inspects leaking water heaters at the Broadway Bath House in 1940. The city erected this particular bath house at a cost of around $20,000 in 1906 in a predominantly Polish neighborhood near Broadway Avenue and East 77th Street. It was the last remaining public bath house in the city when it closed in 1954. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1940
Coit Road Bath House, 1929 A 1929 drawing of the Coit Road Bath House, erected in Cleveland's Collinwood neighborhood. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1929
Clark Avenue Bath House, ca. 1930s The Clark Avenue Bath House at 5706 Clark Avenue was built in 1908 at a cost of $32,000. At the time, it was located in what was then largely a German and Czech neighborhood on Cleveland's west side. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Clark Avenue Bath House Gym, 1939 Like many other bathhouses, the Clark Avenue Bath House contained recreational facilities, including the gymnasium pictured here. In 1918 more than 21,000 men, women, and children attended gymnasium classes at the bathhouse. They participated in gymnastics, calisthenics, and in team sports such as basketball and floor hockey. In this photograph from 1939, boys practice gymnastics while avoiding wet spots caused by a leaking roof. The facility closed in the early 1950s. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Orange Avenue Bath House, 1929 The 3-story facility which opened at 1609 Orange Avenue in 1904 was the first bath house in Cleveland to be run by city authorities. When it first opened, neighborhood residents (at the time, mainly Jews) could bathe there for $.02. The bath house also held a gymnasium, laundry rooms, and spaces where various clubs could meet. In 1920, a Cleveland Foundation survey reported that Jews had moved away from the neighborhood around the bath house and had been replaced largely by Italians and African-Americans. While the baths remained widely used (166,961 baths were taken at the facility in 1919), the report noted with regret that participation in recreational activities at the Orange Avenue Bath House had declined following the demographic changes. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1929

Location

Metadata

Michael Rotman and Chris Roy, “Lincoln Park Baths,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 2, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/154.