Earlier this year, in partnership with the building's owner (Chip Desmone of Desmone Architects), Preservation Pittsburgh nominated the former Pittsburgh Wash House & Public Baths building to become a City Historic Landmark. Located at Butler & 35th in Lawrenceville the building, designed by Rutan & Russell, was constructed in 1903 and paid for by the Clothing & House Furnishing Bureau, an organization comprised of parishioners of several different churches throughout Pittsburgh, to serve the hygenic needs of the neighborhood's working men and women.
At the time it opened, it was the third such public bathing facility in Pittsburgh but was unique compared to other bath houses in the city and the nation. Like others, it provided bathing facilities for men and women who likely would not have had access to such facilities in their own homes. But It also provided facilities to wash laundry, exchange clothing, and a sewing room for the creation and repair of clothing. The building also had club rooms for men and women, an assembly room, a kindergarden classroom, and a clinic. The Wash House is also a significant piece of Pittsburgh's past because of some of the more prominent figures associated with its creation.
While the Clothing & House Furnishing Bureau was responsible for the building's creation, its construction is predominantly thanks to the support of Henry J. Phipps, Jr. who paid for half of the construction costs and the first year of its operating costs. Interestingly, George W. Westinghouse would also make significant contributions to the Wash House, gifting the dynamo (electric motor) and other related equipment to turn steam into electricity. This gift was exceptional in and of itself as Westinghouse's philosophy to philanthropy was that it was a detriment to the giver and the receiver and should be avoided.
As plumbing became more ubiquitous in homes throughout the early 20th century, the need for public baths diminished. In 1928, the facility had provided nearly 1.5 million baths and was in need of repair. That same year renovations began and the facility was renamed 'the Lawrenceville Neighborhood House' to reflect the growing number of social services it offered to the community.
It continued to serve the community until it was closed in 1961, when it closed its doors. The building had a number of different lives over the next several decades until it was extensively renovated in 2001 and converted into office space. It's our hope City Council will move to landmark the building so that Pittsburgh's rich history of philanthropy and public bathing can be further recognized and preserved. Should the designate the building, it will be in good company, joining the Oliver Bath House on the City Register of Historic Places.
To learn more about the former Pittsburgh Wash House & Public Baths, you can access our nomination here.
If you would like to lend your support for the designation, please email the City's Historic Preservation Planner, Sarah Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org or come to the Historic Review Commission's public hearing on Wednesday, March 7th at 1pm, 200 Ross Street.
This nomination was made possible by through a partnership with Desmone Architects and we would like to thank Chip Desmone for the collaboration and in preservation this exceptional piece of Pittsburgh. If you'd like to help our landmarking efforts, please consider donating to our Landmarking Fund.