A proposed zoning change to allow gay bathhouses and other adult sex venues to open in the city’s historic LGBT neighborhoods is close to being finalized in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee voted 2-0 Monday, April 18, in support of the changes to the city code needed for Eros a sex club for gay, bi, and trans men, to reopen its doors at 132 Turk Street where the infamous gay Bulldog Baths had operated in the late 1970’s and 1980’s.
“Bathhouses are a common feature in LGBT communities in many cities around the world, and they used to be quite common in San Francisco as well,” noted gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman at the committee hearing.
Mandelman has spearheaded the legislative effort to undo a prohibition since it was enacted in the 1980’s during the height of the AIDS epidemic. It effectively led the city’s gay bathhouses to close their doors, with the only one left in the Bay Area being in Berkeley.
On February 5th, 1981 more than 200 plainclothes police officers raided four Toronto bathhouses leading to the largest mass arrest since the October Crisisten years earlier. In total, 289 gay men were charged with being “found-ins of a bawdyhouse” and two were charged with “buggery”.
Men speaking out in the aftermath of the raids described severe misconduct on the part of the police. Some reported being photographed naked, others said police took down their employers’ names and phone numbers and several men stated that police had referred to them as “queers, faggots and fairies”. Moreover, one man reported that several officers used sledgehammers and crowbars with abandon, smashing windows and breaking down doors. This last fact is corroborated by the $38,000 in damages reported by the four bathhouses after the raid (nearly $175,000 in 2020 dollars). In contrast, the police report stated that the officers behaved in a “professional manner.”
A documentary on the bathhouse raids and the ensuing protests quotes Duncan McLaren, one of the men who was charged as a found-in at the Barracks bathhouse.
McLaren describes his victimization by the police:
“We ended up in the shower room and we were all told to strip… But I think one of the most chilling things was… one of the cops said, looking at all the showers and the pipes going into the shower room; he said ‘Gee, it’s too bad we can’t hook this up to gas’.
The following evening, over 3000 members and supporters of Toronto’s gay community united to demonstrate against these raids. A second protest was held on Feb. 20 at Queen’s Park, with over 4000 people gathering to call for increased rights and protection for gays and lesbians in Canada. In the aftermath of the raids, the Toronto City Council commissioned an investigation into community relations between the police and the gay community.
The event marked a major turning point in the history of the gay and lesbian community in Canada; the raids and their aftermath are today widely considered to be the Canadian equivalent of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. Mass protests and rallies were held denouncing the incident. These evolved into Toronto’s current Pride Week, which is now one of the world’s largest gay pride festivals.
Almost ALL the charges against those arrested were later dropped in court.
In June of 2016 speaking before Toronto Mayor John Tory and leaders within the gay community Toronto police chief Mark Saunders issued a long overdue apology for the bathhouse raids of 1981.
“The 35th anniversary of the 1981 raids is a time when the Toronto Police service expresses its regret for those very actions,” and called the raids “one of the largest mass arrests in Canadian history” and acknowledged the “destructiveness” of the police action.
“It is also an occasion to acknowledge the lessons learned about the risks of treating any part of Toronto’s many communities as not fully a part of society.”
The New St. Marks Baths was the premiere gay bathhouse in New York City and was located at 6 St. Marks Place in the East Village of Manhattan from 1979 to 1985. It claimed to be the worlds largest gay bathhouse with 230 lockers, 162 cubicles/rooms, a pool, several lounges, a roof deck, a steam room with portholes in the wall like the ones you would see on a cruise ship and a 24 hour cafe.
Opened in 1913 it operated as a Turkish bath catering to the immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side. In the 1950s it began to have a homosexual clientele at night and in the 1960’s it became exclusively gay.
The Saint Mark’s Baths was sexual playground and gay men would prowl its darkened hallways 24 a day, 7 days a week in search of the ultimate sex partner. On the main floor, money was paid and valuables safely stored in signed, sealed envelopes and put away for safekeeping. A key was handed out (to a locker if one had $10, to an actual private room if one had $20-50; depending upon the size of the bed). And off you went. On Friday and Saturday nights despite the huge size of the place it was not surprising to wind up on wait list waiting for a room or a locker for hours.
The late Vito Russo, film historian and author of “The Celluloid Closet,” was a regular at New York City’s St. Mark’s Baths and worked in its Cafe (pictured above) for minimum wage and tips, making sandwiches and serving coffee to the men draped in towels or those waiting. All enjoying some post-Stonewall sexual liberation
There was no “velvet rope” at the door. Well-sculpted body builders were in line to get in with guys who were 90 pounds soaking wet. The cream of the male-modeling crop mixed together with bi-curious construction workers from New Jersey. Artists and Art Dealers rubbed elbows (clad in nothing but a towel around the waist) with elementary school art teachers. The clothes came off and suddenly everyone was just himself with only one thing on his mind without status symbols or wealth to get in the way.
One’s ability to make out well (literally) was based not on one’s looks or charm, but also chance. The odds were based on three floors’ worth of “hunting” space and how many men happened to be there at the time. The bigger the crowd, the more chance that one would meet “Mr. Right.” (And for many that meant Mr. Right No. 1, Mr. Right No. 2, Mr. Right No. 3, and so on.)
The first floor contained locker rooms, showers and the cafe. The basement contained a swimming pool, more showers, an enormous Jacuzzi, and a large, darkened room with a vinyl-covered mattress that must’ve been 40′ x 40′ where all manner of groping was going on. The upstairs three floors contained seemingly miles of hallway and hundreds of rooms.. Doors ajar with men waiting within,
It was a hedonist wonderland. As someone once described it: “It was Gomorrah the way it should have been”.
A regular of the old St. Marks Baths remembered it this way: “The steamroom was an institution in itself. Guys would pack in so tightly that you could hardly raise your arms. And there was a pool in the basement where I saw quite a few guys getting blow jobs under the water. Never could figure out how they didn’t get a lung full of water.” (Robert, NYC)
Another regular of the old St. Marks Baths remembered this incident: “I’ll never forget this one…happened at the old St. Marks Baths one Saturday night in the late 1970’s. There was a line out the door (probably about 1 in the morning). I was waiting patiently when, all of a sudden, the music stops playing from inside, and an ambulance pulls up. About 15 minutes later two men come out with a stretcher. On it was a guy in a rubber body bag! The reaction of the line was just ‘business as usual.’ A queen in front of me said, ‘I hope I don’t get HER room.’ That was it for me—I was out of there!” (D.H., NYC) Although “D.H.” did not remember why the man on the stretcher had died, there was said to have been an incident in which a man suffered an epileptic attack and drowned in the hot tub about the same time of this incident.
A patron of the New St. Marks Baths remembered this about the place: “The New St. Marks had a great hot tub and olympic pool. Showers were way hot, too. The rooms were tiny, attendants were all nice & would give you sheets, pillows, and towels if you needed extras. I had some hot times as a teenager there. They never proofed!”(J.T., Long Island)
Another regular of the New St. Marks remembered this: “I always tried to get the “corner room.” There was a corner room which was oddly shaped because of the corner. It was right at the head of the stairs, so you could see everything and everybody as they passed by. It was great for cruising. It was also larger than the rest of the rooms because of the angles of the corner. So it was perfect for a small orgy. And I hosted many there!”(C.H., NYC)
But that began to change in 1981 when the AIDS epidemic began.
The Saint Marks and other bathhouses attempted to do what they could. They passed out condoms and placed posters and literature on safe sex throughout the establishments but some gay activists such as Larry Kramer(God bless him but he was wrong here) became so “sex panic” obsessed that they wanted ALL the bathrouses’ closed.. And seizing the opportunity (and in some cases the land) the city of New York was glad to oblige.
In October 1985 New York State Sanitary Code (10 NYCRR) § 24.2, authorized the New York City Department of Health to close any facilities “in which high risk sexual activity takes place. This code would eventually lead to the clean-up of 42nd street and 8th Avenue. And so on December 9, 1985 the City began the process of targeting and closing and and all gay bathhouses and backrooms and the St. Marks Baths was the first one on it’s list.
As the story goes when health officials came to close the place down the staff could not find the front door key. The New York City Department of Health had to purchase and install a lock on the building, because in its 72 years that the St. Marks had been in existence it had never closed.
Shortly after its closure graffiti covered the outside walls of the building saying, “Finally!” and “Fuck Fags!”
Bruce Mailman the owner of the Saint Marks attempted to fight in court to reopen his bathhouse, but failed. With no chance to reopen it the baths the building that was once one of the busiest gay establishments in New York City stood silent and abandoned for 9 years until he passed away in 1994 from complications due to AIDS.
The property was sold to a video chain and the upstairs was converted to a low rent hotel. It has now been converted into East Village condominiums.
The Crew Club Washington D.C.’s last remaining gay bathhouse in Logan Circle will host a closing down party this Saturday night (February 29, 2020), before shutting its doors forever.
In a message posted to Facebook, Owners DC Allen and Ken Flick said: “Thank you for 25 years of love, support, patronage and community. On February 29, 2020, The Crew Club will close its doors. This was a heart-wrenching decision for us.
“It’s been an honor serving the DC community. Our true measure of success and joy was not from any financial reward, but came from a love for this community, the opportunity to offer a safe and liberating space to our membership, and the ability to provide employment to our loyal and hardworking staff.”
The owners had sold the property to a real estate development firm. Although the sale was arranged back in 2016, the sale was due to complete only this year.
According to Allen ” We sold the building four years ago at the height of the market and we were trying to work out a lease-back program but it just didn’t seem to be working the way I thought would be a profitable thing to do,” Allen said.
Last May, the Glorious Health (and Amusement) Club was closed by the The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Glorious Health was originally opened in 1979 on O Street, S.E., home to many of the gay sex clubs including a Club Baths and a porn theatre all of which displaced by eminent domain in 2006 for the Washington Nationals baseball stadium. It later reopened on West Virginia Avenue, N.E. bills itself as a spa, art gallery and community center catering to gay men. It plans to reopen after it fixes what the city agency said were multiple violations of the city’s building code.
A man claims he was sexually harassed at the Equinox gym in New York City when three men in a steam room with him dropped their towels and started pleasuring themselves.
“I’m relaxing, I’m sitting in the corner, it’s very meditative,” the alleged victim said of lunchtime steam at the Equinox gym on Broadway in Gramercy Park.
“This gentleman, sitting pretty close, his towel is open, his legs are spread and he’s looking right at me, and the guy next to him was rubbing [the man’s] inner thigh,” the victim told The Post.
“He’s looking right at me, his towel’s off and he’s masturbating,” the victim said.
He then said he panicked and thought he wouldn’t be able to escape – worried the three men might overpower him and sexually assault him.
The alleged victim then quickly left the steam room, dressed and went to the front desk to report the incident, but said staff members didn’t take any action.
He said the incident left him ‘shaken up.’
The man, identified in the court documents only by the initials GB, said he reported the incident to the gym’s front desk, but that no action was taken.
The gym, where memberships cost upwards of $200 a month. A spokeswoman for the location said staff ‘did exactly what in this case,’ adding ‘we maintain a zero-tolerance policy for any inappropriate behavior in our clubs.’
But GB claims the gym refused to revoke the masturbators’ memberships.
Out thoughts and prayers are with GB and lets hope that doesn’t have PTSD issues to deal with for years to cum
This has to be cloak-and-dagger for the time being, because though we’ve not been sworn to secrecy on the project, we’re not at liberty to talk in depth about what we did yesterday, which was in response to one of the occasional requests we get from members of the media for background info on stories they’re doing. Normally, it’s foreign journalists who get in touch with us when they’re in Chicago and want to go to the Southside to see how terrible it is, and talk about how Obama did absolutely jack squat for it as either a state senator or US Senator, and hasn’t used any of his particular brand of unicorn horn magic to improve it (or the black community residing there) since the illustrious Golden Age of Hope and Change began on January 20th, 2009. But, this time it was a US reporter who wanted information on Man’s Country in Andersonville, which is a place both Obama and Rahm Emanuel frequented in the past. Obama until 2002 or so, and Emanuel through 2008, according to what we’ve been told. We spent a good amount of time on the ground in Uptown, Boystown, Andersonville, and Hyde Park yesterday with this reporter, also telling him everything we knew about Trinity United Church of Christ and the Down-Low Club it operated under Jeremiah Wright’s supervision/matchmaking.
Now see I could see Rahm doing that. It would go a long way to explain his homophobia and he is arrogant enough to go to a bathhouse without worrying about getting caught. I see Obama more at the world famous Bijou Cinema and I think Rahm would be more of a North Avenue baths kind of guy, with those hairy, old eastern european guys – and some politicos, like the Jacksons thrown in to boot. LOL
Ah PUMA, they make the birthers seem almost legitimate