The Associated Press reports that the nation’s dwindling number of bathhouses are facing tough financial times.
In the heyday of bathhouses in the late 1970s, there were nearly 200 gay bathhouses in cities across the U.S., but by 1990, the total had dropped to approximately 90, according to Damron, the publisher of an annual gay travel guide. In the last decade, bathhouses, including ones in San Diego, Syracuse, Seattle and San Antonio, have shut down and the total nationwide is less than 70. Most patrons are older.
Hollywood Spa — one of the largest bathhouses in Los Angeles, a city regarded as the country’s bathhouse capital — closed in April. Owner Peter D. Sykes said fewer customers and rising rent put an end to four decades in business. “Bathhouses were like dirty bookstores and parks: a venue to meet people,” said Sykes, who still owns the smaller North Hollywood Spa. “Today, you can go to the supermarket.”
Bathhouses date to the Roman Empire. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, American bathhouses were built in many cities to maintain public hygiene among poor and immigrant communities. Chicago and Manhattan each had about 20 public bathhouses. But the need for public places to wash up declined and by the 1950s and ’60s, bathhouses largely had become rendezvous spots for gays, prompting occasional raids because sodomy was still criminalized.
RELATED: While bathhouses may be a doomed industry (at least in the United States), the number of titty bars, many of which discreetly (and not so discreetly) allow on-site sex, has zoomed to more than 4000. According to one estimate, heterosexual sex clubs (AKA strip clubs/titty bars) gross more than $3B annually.