Gary Sosnick Detroit 2010

5.  The Pool Area

Down these stairs we came daily in search of heat. White tile, marble slabs, and exposed plumbing abounded. The angled section visible in the upper left corner of the above photo is actually the underside of the stairway leading from the street door up to the locked bathhouse entrance. After 1976, a drop ceiling covered much of the exposed plumbing (see photo at bottom). Nevertheless, in the bathhouse today, the pool area is the one part of the club where you can return to the 1930s in all its glory, as the basement still looks much the same as in this photo from 1975.

This is the very middle edge of the pool, with the upper floor support (also shown in photo at bottom). Notice the inlaid white tile squares and the colorful brown patterned tile floor. We never saw anybody swimming laps in the pool as it was used for one purpose only--as an ice cold plunge. The pool was kept very cold, especially in the dead of Winter when the water temperature seemed to hover just above freezing. This was very useful as a means of cooling off one's body after a plaitza or even after spending a considerable amount of time in the steam room. We would often dive into the pool, come up for air, and then just stand very still in the water for several minutes. This technique proved to be very relaxing after taking intense heat. We would then pull ourselves out of the pool and sit on the pool's edge for several more minutes and watch the steam rise off our bodies. Many times this would be the first sight I would see when coming down the stairs and entering the pool area--a naked guy with steam rising off his body like a chimney!

The pool area was also the venue for the hose down, a most refreshing post-plaitza activity. A large diameter water hose with a special nozzle was used to direct a forceful blast of cold water at a naked bather, whose hands cupped over and protected the family jewels. The bather turned around and received the same treatment to his backside. I always enjoyed being on either end of the water jet.

The marble tables are all gone. No big deal really since we rarely saw anybody using them. Occasionally we would see someone getting an alcohol rub or a salt water rub atop the cold marble slab, but it never seemed like a comfortable way to spend your time. If these marble benches were indeed used for rubdowns during the early years of the bathhouse, by the 1960s, Doug Ryan, the masseur, was performing the same service upstairs on a padded massage table in a much warmer and more comfortable atmosphere.

When you look at the above photo, just keep thinking to yourself--ice cold plunge! And this is pretty much how the pool area looks today. The photo was lifted from a late 1970s promotional brochure created to advertise the extent of remodeling undertaken at the old bathhouse. The main floor stairway is just barely visible in the upper right corner of the photo and the photographer snapped this photo from the cove leading to the steam room. The showers, and the room that contained the mikvah, were along the wall (not visible) to the right of the photographer. The mikvah, however, was apparently sealed over years before we got there and in 1980 it was resurrected as a whirlpool bath!

Next Page: The Steam Room / The Plaitza

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