Places that Matter

Mt. Morris Turkish Baths (former)

Popular bathhouse and one of the last in NYC, founded in 1898
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This establishment was founded in 1898 by a group of Jewish doctors, when Turkish (hot air) baths were an important part of the religious and social traditions of Eastern European Jews. The doctors lived on the upper floors, using the basement as a professional spa. In the 1920s, Finnish immigrant Hugo Koivenon bought the baths and incorporated Finnish features such as "needle showers" and vitea treatments. East Harlem residents (especially those living in the neighborhood's many cold water flats) came for the sauna, steambath and therapeutic pool.

During the 1930s Mount Morris Baths began to attract a gay clientele, and was for a long time the only gay bath in the city to admit African American men.  In 1985, the City Department of Health closed down many of New York’s gay bathhouses due to mounting fear of the AIDS epidemic, but Mount Morris survived unscathed. Located on a quiet block of upper Madison Avenue, and discouraging open sex, Mount Morris attracted a mixed clientele that included area residents and patients of nearby North General Hospital. Mount Morris became known as well for its emphasis on sex education, providing condoms, lubricant, and brochures, and also hiring an education director who held a lecture series five nights a week on topics of interest to gay men, and ran a popular G.E.D. program. In 2003, the baths were closed down by the city due to “structural problems”; many believe other motivations were at play.

—Aviva Stampfer, July 2010

Sources:

George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic, 1994.

Alan Feuer. "Mount Morris Journal; A Gay Bathhouse in Harlem? Hey, It's No Secret." New York Times, 19 Jan. 2003.

"A Harlem Renaissance." New York Blade, 1999.