East 23rd Street Bathhouse Public Bath
East 23rd Street at Avenue A
Perhaps the most lavish, substantial and well-preserved of the public bath buildings is the 23rd Street bath designed by architects Arnold W. Brunner and William Martin Aiken. The building was intended to echo the style of the ancient Roman baths and was inspired by the "City Beautiful" movement (also reflected in the ornate design of the original subway stations), that theorized that citizens would behave in a more civilized manner if they were surrounded by more civilized architecture. The Roman Revival style building (Neo-Roman) features vaulted ceilings, balconies, mullion windows, skylights, and stone urns. The building was built to serve what was then the primarily Irish immigrant residents of the "Gashouse District"
New outdoor swimming and diving pools and an expanded playground were added in 1936 with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation taking jurisdiction over the bathhouse and recreation center in 1938. In 1974 the building was landmarked and underwent and extensive renovation from 1988 to 1990. In 1993, the Asser Levy Playground opened as one of the first playgrounds in Manhattan build for disabled children.
The facility was renamed for Asser Levy, a Jewish colonial pioneer who fled Brazil with a group of 23 Jews and sought refuge in New Amsterdam in 1654. Levy survived strong challenges by dictatorial governor Peter Stuyvesant to become the first Jewish citizen of the colony, the first Jew to join the militia and own property, the New World's first kosher butcher and a founding member of the country's first Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel, whose 1897 synagogue on Central Park West was co-designed by bathhouse architect Arnold Brunner. (historical sign)
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