Bath house brawl! Critics say public building shouldn’t become cultural center

Bath house blues: Steve Cymbrowitz’s proposal to transform the under-utilized Manhattan Beach Bath House into a Russian Immigrant center received mixed reviews from area civic leaders.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Manhattan Beach residents are slamming Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz’s plan to transform the park’s long-shuttered bath house into a Russian immigrant cultural center — a move many are calling a political ploy to gain Russian votes as his race against Belarus-born challenger Ben Akselrod heats up.

Cymbrowitz announced last Thursday that the bath house will become a hub of Russian culture, but community leaders say they were never told that the bath house, which hasn’t been used since the 1970s, would be used in such a way — and were outraged by what they see as a politically-motivated announcement.

“It’s politics at its worst,” said Ira Zalcman, the president of the Manhattan Beach Community Group. “Cymbrowitz is running against a Russian candidate so he announces this immigrant center two weeks before an election and it’s the last thing we wanted. I thought we were going to have an educational center on alternative renewable energy.”

For the first time in years, members of the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association — longtime rivals of the Manhattan Beach Community Group — agreed with Zalcman’s assessment.

“It’s nice the city is rehabilitating the building but I would have been happier if they’d taken our suggestions and that of the community,” said Alan Ditcheck, president of the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association.

Others said they were hoping that the bath house would have a restaurant or a food court for hungry beach-goers.

“When the architects met with us, we said we wanted some kind of cafe and a community meeting room,” Community Board 15 District Manager Theresa Scavo said.

But the legislator shrugged off the criticisms, claiming that the Parks Department and the architectural firm conducting the $125,000 feasibility study came up with the idea.

“It was their concept to make it Russian immigrant cultural center,” Cymbrowitz said.

Yet, aside from its name, it’s unclear just how the building will be honoring Russian immigrants: facilities being considered for the bath house include a fitness center, a multi-purpose room, as well as bathrooms, changing, and shower rooms, according to city officials. The multi-purpose room could hold educational materials and classes about Russian culture, but nothing has been finalized, city officials say.

Architects at Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners LLP said that the plumbing and wiring within the bath house would have to replaced, but that the building itself was structurally sound and could be retrofitted to hold whatever the city wants to put there.

Voters will choose between the six-term legislator and Akselrod, a former CB15 district manager who emigrated to the U.S. when he was 18.

Reach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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