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Thread: A Gay Bathhouse in Harlem? Hey, It's No Secret

  1. #1

    Default A Gay Bathhouse in Harlem? Hey, It's No Secret

    New York Times

    January 19, 2003
    A Gay Bathhouse in Harlem? Hey, It's No Secret

    The sign that hangs outside the basement entrance of the Mount Morris Turkish Baths in Harlem reads, "Men Only." The small lobby redolent of eucalyptus oil and steam is filled with brochures warning of the dangers of casual sex and AIDS.

    A list of house rules is posted up front near the reception desk, where an attendant sits behind a metal grate collecting the hourly fees required to rent a locker, a dressing room or one of the numerous cramped, wooden chambers that contain no more than iron-framed beds.

    The first rule is printed in boldfaced capital letters: "No sex permitted." Farther down the list, however, is another rule: "Dispose of used condoms carefully."

    Twenty years ago, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the gay bathhouse scene was nearly run out of town when state officials enacted a raft of laws banning many homosexual gathering places. The New St. Marks Baths in the East Village, for example, was shut in 1985 by the City Department of Health and was replaced nine years later by a video rental store.

    The Mount Morris bathhouse, the only one in the city that caters to gay blacks, has been operating continuously since 1893 and survived the crackdown essentially for two reasons. First, it is far from the city's gay meccas, on a quiet, unassuming block of Madison Avenue at East 125th Street, across the street from the offices of the Rev. Al Sharpton. Second, it has matured through the years, remaining a place to meet new people and enjoy a steam, but with the reality of the city health code's prohibition on open sex.

    "I always tell the clients, `If I can't bring my wife down here, it isn't right,' " said Walter Fitzer, who owns the place.

    Mr. Fitzer is a retired mechanical engineer and a volunteer firefighter in his hometown, Lynbrook, N.Y. He is 61, white and a heterosexual, which makes him an unlikely candidate to be running a bathhouse known for attracting gay black men.

    He will say things like: "Bathhouses have been gay since the days of the Greeks. It's no big secret." At the same time, he will point out that the Mount Morris baths have always been ecumenical when it comes to sexuality.

    Harlem royalty like Joe Louis and Sam Cooke used to sweat here years ago, and it is nothing to see French tourists, straight businessmen and Hasidic Jews perspiring in the steam room, side by side, he said.

    "You wouldn't really know it's a gay place," Mr. Fitzer said. "You come down here, and it's not like you can pick people out."

    Mr. Fitzer inherited the business 30 years ago from his wife's side of the family, which ran the bathhouse since the teens and early 1920's. The place was built in the 1890's, he said, by a group of downtown doctors who used it as a health spa for their respiratory patients.

    Sometime in the 1930's, he said, it began to draw a gay clientele. These days, it is the one of the few vestiges of Harlem's gay life, which reached its apotheosis when the poet Countee Cullen married Nina Yolande Du Bois, the daughter of W. E. B. Du Bois, in 1928, but two months later sailed off to Europe with his best man.

    The Mount Morris bathhouse may be the only place of its kind to have a poem written about it. In the 1960's, Chester Weinerman wrote "Mt. Morris Baths, New York," in which he described the "ancient, loving rooms" and the "furtive heritage" of the spa.

    It may also be the only bathhouse anywhere to employ an education director. His name is Dr. Eugene A. Lawson, and he has worked as a principal at a handful of New York public and private schools.

    Five nights a week, Dr. Lawson, whose degree is in education, oversees a lecture series in the back room, where speakers from advocacy groups like the Gay Men's Health Crisis and the Minority Task Force on AIDS discuss topics of particular interest to gay men. There are lectures on being gay in high school and on gay men raising families.

    "A lot of our fellows are bisexual," Dr. Lawson said, "so we have lectures on that subject, too."

    Six years ago, Dr. Lawson persuaded a handful of teachers, all bathhouse regulars, to start a G.E.D. program for local youths who had dropped out of school. Today, the program counts 270 students.

    "It's a community thing," Dr. Lawson said proudly.

    Mr. Fitzer does his own work for the community. He allows a dozen or so homeless men to pay $20 a night to sleep in the bedrooms, not much bigger than telephone booths, which once had holes drilled in their walls to facilitate anonymous gay sex.

    "They have to be out in the morning and everything they have goes with them," Mr. Fitzer said. "I can't run a hotel, but it's the least that I can do."

  2. #2

    Default A Gay Bathhouse in Harlem? Hey, It's No Secret

    Funny, I posted this in another forum and got NO responses! I think it's a great story!

    A bathhouse in continuous use for over 100 years and it's in Harlem of all places.

  3. #3

    Default A Gay Bathhouse in Harlem? Hey, It's No Secret

    Actually I did get one response....from a Canadian...

    "I fail to see what is that interesting about this story.
    The only odd thing I find, is that it sounds like it's not really a gay bath-house because people use it that aren't gay. Any gay bath-house is strictly for gay men, and there are never straight men in them by mistake."


  4. #4


    to the odd thing you find ...I have one thing to share are stunninly misinformed....thats all

  5. #5


    to the odd thing you find ...I have one thing to share are stunningly misinformed....thats all

  6. #6


    Who are you talking to - the poster who hasn't been here in five years, or the person from another forum that was quoted, who is unknown?

  7. #7
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003


    That looks like a bot.

    The answer is too generic, no specifics, on a post that is 8 years old. You REALLY need to search to find this, and coming in with generic guns blazing on your first post... and posting twice (echo posting)?


  8. #8


    Stop guessing on this stuff. It's not a bot.

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