Located in the Basement of the Ariston Hotel at the corner of Broadway and 55th Street in New York City, the Russian and Turkish baths at the Ariston were designed by architect George “Galbert” Caldwell and owned by Herman Hoefer. The Baths provided a public setting for the free sexual expression of the queer, biologically male community. In mid-February of 1903, the police began to spy on the establishment. Undercover officers took note of the encounters taking place there, and on February 21st, Police raided the Baths, detaining 60 men and arresting 14. According the the Minneapolis Journal (February 23, 1903), “The raid on the Turkish bath in the basement of the Ariston at Fifty-fifth-st. and Broadway, on Sunday morning, was the source of satisfaction to Commissioner Greene, who said it was one of the biggest raids made. The evidence, he said, has been gained by Central Office men, and Acting Inspector Walsh.” The Sun (New York City, February 25th, 1903) writes, “Magistrate Pool spent all day yesterday in the West Side police court listening to the charges against fifteen of the men arrested in the Sunday morning raid on the Ariston baths, Fifty-fifth street and Broadway. He held eleven for felony, nine under $2,000 bail each, one under $1,700 and one under $3,500.” The following is an example of the type of questioning that took place during early Spring of 1903, from the microfilmed court transcripts in the John Joy Criminal College’s Lloyd Sealy Library in New York City:
Q: What did you notice the defendant do?
A: He walked over to the couch that the man Walter Bennett was lying on…And he placed his penis in the anus of the man Walter Bennett, and kept it there for a short time.
Q: Now, did you notice the state of the defendant’s genital organ or penis, at the time that, as you say, he placed it in the anus of the man Walter Bennett?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: In what state was it?
A: It was in a state of erection.
Q: And what, if anything, did he do to Bennett other than that act?
A: Oh, he laid down, after he withdrew his penis from –
Q: Well, after he withdrew his penis, did you notice the penis of the defendant?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: And in what condition was the penis of the defendant, after he had withdrawn it from the anus of Bennett?
A: In a state of collapse
Of the thirty-seven men who were arrested, many were charged with gross immorality, convicted, and sentenced. This incident marks the first homophobic police raid.
Located at 28 West 28th Street in New York City, Everard Baths was opened by James Everard as a Turkish Bath . By the 1930’s, it was well known for providing a distinguished social venue for the queer community, and continued to do so until it closed in 1985. It is known as the “classiest, safest, and best known” of the bathhouses (Miller, 1995), eventually earning the nickname “everhard”. On May 25th, 1977, the Everard suffered a deadly fire, which killed nine patrons (ages 17 to 40) which destroyed the top two floors entirely. The floors were rebuilt, and the baths reopened, however, it was shut down in April 1986 by New York City mayor Ed Koch, as a part of the New York City Health Department’s decision to shut down all off the city’s bathhouses in response to concerns over the spread of AIDS. Openly queer novelist James McCourt wrote about the Everard Baths in his book, Queer Street: Rise and Fall of an American Culture, 1947-1985: “Everybody went to the Everard Baths…From Alfred Lunt and Lorenz Hart to Charles James dressed up in a long sheet tied into a 1913 hobble skirt to Gore Vidal to Nureyev. Et cetera! The place reeked of the experiences of men caught up in history, of the destinies of their own kind, of war and chemistry and a life truly lived (McCourt, 111).”
The Lafayette Baths
Starting in 1916, the Lafayette Baths were owned by brothers Ira and George Gershwin. American painter Charles Demuth reportedly frequented the Lafeyette Baths, and some of his art is said to have been inspired there.