The Mt. Morris Baths, once the only gay bathhouse in New York to admit African American men, has been closed since 2003.
But the basement of 1944 Madison Avenue, today the martial arts studio Sword Class NYC, still holds a few of its secrets.
A recent visit to this former gay gathering space right off 125th Street–find the full history on the terrific NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project–revealed some fascinating details.
Although the baths' colorful signs are long gone, the main entrance can still be found down a set of metal stairs facing Madison Avenue.
Sword Class NYC owner Raab Rashi, who took over the space a few years ago, explained that the actual baths were filled in with concrete–it's now where the studio members do their sword training–and the collapsing ceiling was completely replaced.
The renovations didn't erase quite everything, however. Rashi pulled back a rubber mat near the front desk to unveil a patch of original bath tiles bursting with color.
And in the back of the gym, he opened what looked like a closet door leading to a long, dark corridor. It served as part of the after-hours entrance, explained Rashi. He pointed to a laminated green sign on the wall that read, "If you need condoms just ask the front desk."
According to Rashi, after closing time bathhouse visitors came down this corridor via a second, less obvious street entrance. Indeed, a walk up to the street level and down to the end of the building revealed a gate leading to a back entryway.
It's a slice of Harlem's gay history that's thankfully in plain sight.
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