The bathhouse battle

The bathhouse battle
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

A dilapidated Manhattan Beach bathhouse has become the latest flashpoint for two warring civic groups — with one hoping it can be remade as a usable bathroom and shower and the other wanting it turned into a solar energy power plant.

In one corner is the Manhattan Beach Community Group, which thinks the bathhouse, which has been deteriorating since the 1970s, can be converted into a solar-panel topped children’s center that could provide enough juice to light up a few blocks in the neighborhood. In the other corner is the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association, which wants the bathhouse converted into, well, a bathhouse.

“We felt that it wasn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel,” said the Neighborhood Association’s Alan Ditchek. “When families come off the beach they have nowhere to wash their feet or change into dry clothes before they come home and this would provide them with those amenities.”

But for two years, members of the Community Group have been lobbying the city to convert the structure into a children’s education center with 900 solar panels on its roof.

“The future of New York City is sustainable, renewable energy, and we have to think about it one way or another,” said Manhattan Beach Community Council President Ira Zalcman. “We’re coming up with ideas that can be replicated on empty buildings and rooftops in the city of New York.”

But the rival group says that’s impractical and a restored bathhouse is a better use of the city’s funds.

“I can only imagine it would be noisy or emit something in the air — I think that’s ridiculous,” said the Neighborhood Association’s Edmund Dweck. “This is a public park and it’s a public facility — it should be treated as such.”

But a Parks Department spokeswoman would not rule out any ideas for future uses of the site. The agency is expected to announce the results of a bathhouse assessment later this fall.

The nearly block-long, one-story structure off Oriental Boulevard and Falmouth Street has declined considerably since it partially closed during the “Me Decade.”

The rest rooms and a lifeguard station are open during beach season, but tiles are missing, some walls have rotted away, and large sections of its roof have caved in. The open-air changing rooms, which families once used to change in and out of their bathing suits, have declined so severely they are used as a storage area.

The Parks Department has installed outdoor shower stalls and water fountains nearby, but residents have clamored for the agency to redo the facility completely, and community leaders are eagerly waiting to fix up what has become Manhattan Beach’s biggest eyesore.

“It has a long history of providing showers and changing areas for beachgoers … but over the years, the bathhouse has fallen into serious disrepair,” said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay), who allocated money to study what can be done with the old bathhouse. “Now, with its interior walls crumbling and the roof rotted in many places, something must be done.”