There are so many spectacular look up moments to have in New York City I can’t even remember all the ones I’ve had in my nearly 19 years here. Or even most of them. Research shows that we tend to remember the experiences we have alone more vividly than experiences we have with other people. A lot of my look up moments have happened alone. They are burned into my brain like a kind of creative fuel I run on. But I had a recent look up moment with someone that I want to share with you.
We were walking around the East Village on a spontaneous cookie crawl. We hit up DeRobertis (good thing since it tragically closed a few weeks later after 110 years) (and don’t even get me started on Bruno closing after 40 years) (and Gobo closing! How can my favorite vegetarian restaurant be closed?!), Veniero’s, and Insomnia Cookies. Skittering around on a sugar high, I looked up and saw this:
The old-school etching above the doorways said Free Public Baths of the City of New York. The building was massive. What was it now? Upon further inspection at the open gated entrance, we discovered the building is now an upscale photography studio. But what did it used to be? We researched and found out something really cool. There was a whole public bath movement in New York City back in the 1840s. People who lived in the old East Village tenements didn’t have access to bathtubs or showers in their apartments. They came to the Free Public Baths, which had seven bathtubs and 94 showers. After bathrooms became standard in apartment buildings, the Free Public Baths closed in 1958. Then it was used as a garage/warehouse until 1995, when it became the photography studio it is today.
How fascinating is that? I never even knew about the public bath movement. And I probably never would have discovered this important part of New York’s history if I hadn’t looked up as we walked by.
In a city where old-school institutions are closing due to skyrocketing outrageous rents, it’s reassuring to look up and see that the historical flavor of New York City is still all around. I will continue to look up…and learn way more about my city love.