Today In Gay – May 25, 1977: The Deadly Fire At NYC’s Everard Baths – Video
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 1920’s it became the community’s preeminent social venue and had the reputation of 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 Everard 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, 1975 nine patrons aged 17 to 40 years old were killed in a fire that raged through the establishment. Seven died 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 and many patrons did not want to be publicly identified . Most of the dead were identified by friends rather than family.
Fire officials said firemen had to hack their way through into the inside since many windows had been sealed with sheetrock or asbestos.
In the aftermath 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 July 27th. of that same year.
Despite total destruction of the top two floors, they were rebuilt and The Everard Baths baths would reopen and stay open for another nine years until April of 1986 when it was closed down by New York City Mayor Ed Koch during and 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.