9. The bathhouse is named for one of NYC’s first Jewish residents
One of the great architectural gems of Kips Bay is the 20th-century Asser Levy Recreation Center. Formerly known as the East 23rd Street Bathhouse, the building was designed by noted architects Arnold W. Brunner and William Martin Aike in a style reminiscent of the ancient baths of Rome. The elaborate design was inspired by the “City Beaitiful” movement, which strived to create civi architecture in America that would rival the great civic structures of Europe. The practical purpose of the pretty building was to help ward off disease. In mid-19th century New York City, with the booming population growth and less than ideal sanitary conditions, illnesses like chloera and typhoid ran rampant. To combat the spread of such sickness, reformers campaigned for municipally-run public bathhouses. The first in New York City wuoldn’topen until 1901.
The East 23rd Street Bathhouse in Kips Bay opened in 1908. It was renamed The Asser Levy Recreation Center in 1954. Levy was one of New York City’s first Jewish residents, fleeing Brazil with a small group of other Jewish people in 1654. When Peter Stuyvesant attempted to evict Jewish people from the settlement of New Amsterdam, Levy became a staunch advocate for Jewish civil rights, fighting to defend their rights to citizenship, to bear arms, and to own property. Holder of many first titles including first kosher butcher in the new colonies, Levy was also a founding member of Shearith Israel, the country’s first Jewish congregation. That building shares an architect, Arnold W. Brunner, with the bathhouse. The bathhouse received landmark designated in 1974, but was closed to the public from 1988 to 1990 for extensive restoration work. It is now open once again featuring even more recreational facilities inside and out, including a playground built specifically for disabled children.