Gay History – May 25, 1977: The Deadly Fire At New York City’s Everard Baths – Video

Everard Baths

 

The Everard Baths was a Turkish bath founded by financier James Everard in 1888 in a former church building.  Everard operated the Everard brewery on 135th Street converted it to a bathhouse in 1888. Everard’s bathhouse was originally intended for general health and fitness.

Time passed and The Everard became patronized largely by homosexuals by the 1920s and became the community’s preeminent social venue from the 1930’s onward.and had the reputation at that time as being one of the “classiest, safest, and best known of the baths,” eventually picking up the nickname “Everhard”

A visitor to The Everard described his experience there in 1927:

Up some stairs at a desk an ashen bored man in shirtsleeves produced a ledger crammed with illegible scrawls. I added mine, paid my dollar, was handed a key, towel and robe, hung the key on my wrist and mounted to a large floor as big as a warehouse and as high: intersecting rows of private rooms each windowless cell dark except from the glimmer from above through wire-netting shredded with dust and containing a narrow workhouse bed…[he later heard] a casual whisper, a sigh lighter than thistle-down, a smothered moan. Then appeasement: the snap of a lighter as two strangers sat back for a smoke and polite murmured small talk, such as they might exchange in a gym

Over the next 50 years patrons included such notables as Alfred Lunt, Lorenz Hart, Charles James, Gore Vidal and Rudolf Nureyev.and Truman Capote.

But on a quiet morning on  May 25, 1977  nine patrons (ages 17 to 40) were killed in a fire: seven from smoke inhalation, one from respiratory burns, and one who had jumped from an upper floor.

The fire spread rapidly through the building, filled with 6 1/2 foot-by-4-foot cubicles separated by only half partitions. By the time firemen arrived at the scene, on West 28th Steet between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, flames were roaring through two floors and the bathhouse. Many occupants ran onto the street wearing only towels. Some were injured jumping from the third floor. About a dozen others were brought down from windows by firemen.  All in all between 80 and 100 patrons left the building; the indefinite number was because the club did not have registration at the time. Most of the victims were identified by friends rather than family.

Fire officials said firemen had to hack their way through many windows that had been sealed with sheetrock or asbestos.

Fire Commissioner John O’Hagan’s men found a number of spent fire extinguishers in the charred ruins of the two upper floors. A sprinkler system had been installed at the baths but was not hooked up to a water supply.  The bathhouse had been ordered to install the sprinkler system a year ago, but the deadline for its operation was not until the coming July 27.

Despite total destruction of the top two floors, the two floors were rebuilt and The Everard Baths baths would reopen and stay open for another nine years until April of 1986 when it was closed by New York City mayor Ed Koch during the city’s campaign to close gay sec venues during the AIDS epidemic.

 

List of the Fatalities:

HILLMAN WESLEY ADAMS, 40, South Plains, New Jersey.
AMADO ALAMO, 17, Manhattan.
ANTHONY CALARCO, Bronx.
KENNETH HILL, 38, Manhattan.
BRIAN DUFFY, 30.
PATRICK KNOTT, 38, Manhattan.
IRA LANDAU, 32, Manhattan.
YOSEF SIGNOVEC, 30, Czech.
JAMES CHARLES STUARD, 30, Manhattan.

 

 

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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2 Responses

  1. Jay Blotcher says:

    Thank you for this unsettling piece of history. Important to remember such tragedies.
    (Please note, in your bio, the words ACT UP are separate and do not have a hyphen between them.)

  1. April 26, 2015

    […] Read more  (plus  VIDEO)   at Back to Stonewall. […]

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