100 Cherry Street Public Bath

South of Manhattan Bridge, between Catherine and Market

Opened: 1909

Cost: $205,348

I'm not entirely certain where this bath house was. The current address numbering scheme would place it where the Knickerbocker Village is currently located, although this may not have been true in 1909. The south side of Cherry street is Tanahey Playground, but that land was not condemned for park purposes until 1949. It is likely that the bathhouse was located on land that is currently the Alfred E. Smith Houses.

The Alfred E. Smith Houses is a 12-building, 1,931-unit NYCHA complex on 21.75 acres that was completed April 1, 1953. The superblock layout cut off Cherry Street at Catherine Street. The complex is named after a former NY governor (1919 - 1927) and Democratic presidential candidate (1928). Smith was also influential in early 20th century municipal redevelopment on the lower East side (where he was born). He is also notable for appointing future development czar Robert Moses to the NYS Council on Parks in 1924, a move that would lead to a radical transformation of infrastructure in the NYC metro area - not all of it for the best.

Within the complex, a possible location of the former bathhouse is the current Alfred Smith Recreation Center (erected in 1963), or perhaps the current Jacob August Riis School. An old high school behind the recreation center and next to the Alfred Smith Playground was spared the wrecking ball when the complex was built, although the school is now a family shelter.

Cherry Street used to run all the way Southwest to where the Brooklyn Bridge West approach currently stands. Number one Cherry Street was George Washington's presidential mansion. Tantilizingly, the anchorage contained habitable space at one point and two bricked-in entrances hidden behind on-ramps to the FDR drive are vaguely reminiscent of the separate men's/women's entrances used for bathhouses. However, it is unlikely that that address was ever 100 Cherry Street.

If the current numbering scheme is correct, Knickerbocker Village is the old location. Knickerbocker Village sits on five acres bounded by Catherine, Monroe, Cherry and Market streets and houses around 4,000 people in a sequence of 12-story buildings clustered around two central courtyards. At the time it was completed in 1933, it was unusual for its scale and it presaged the urban renewal efforts of the 1950s and 1960s. The complex was built on the "Lung Block", an squalid group of overcrowded tenements with one of highest rates of tuberculosis in the city. 386 poor, mostly-Italian families were evicted to clear space for this new middle-class housing complex, partially built with Federal funds.

Regardless, the Cherry Street Public Bath was somewhere along here, serving Irish immigrants just south of a wonderful concrete arch under the Manhattan Bridge approach and only a few blocks from the Rutgers Place public bath. (historical sign), (historical sign).

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