At the turn of the 20th century, there was minimal indoor plumbing in homes. Originally, the solution to the masses of unwashed were “floating baths” that consisted of wooden structures placed in the rivers for users to bathe. As these baths closed due to industrial pollution, public bathhouses began to open in the more densely populated areas of cities across America.
This bathhouse opened to the Kensington public in 1907, replacing three rowhomes. A unique feature of this bath was its recessed window canopy that let natural light into the completely indoor facility. By the mid-1910s, Philadelphia had twenty bathhouses and over six million visitors a year.
Soon however, laws were passed which required indoor plumbing for residential buildings and public baths fell out of favor. This facility closed around 1960, and although its interior was gutted, the building still stands today. The next time you walk down Front Street, look for the brick façade engraved with “Public Bath.”
Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org