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Restoration of the city’s last bath house will start this spring

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
When the then-South Side Bath House opened in 1915, it offered workers in heavy industry a chance to clean up and enjoy a dip in the pool.

After years of fundraising, City of Pittsburgh officials say work to stabilize and restore the South Side’s Oliver Bath House will begin this year.

The bath house “is an integral component of our history and those who have gone before us,” said Councilor Bruce Kraus, who represents the area.

But the bath house, opened in 1915, almost didn’t make it to this point.

Under former Mayor Bill Peduto, the city commissioned a review of its facilities and assets. The 2017 report from Massaro Construction Services Management found that the bath house was in critical condition: Most of the windows couldn’t open and poor ventilation led to mold, while concrete beams and structural steel beams were significantly deteriorated. Massaro recommended the city make safety repairs and then put the building up for sale, estimating it would fetch some $350,000.

Kraus said that didn’t sit well with the public or with council, “and we began this journey of securing funding” for the roughly $13 million repair project. In December, council voted to direct an additional $3 million to the restoration.

The city’s web page for the project states that the overhaul will preserve the building’s “historic integrity” as well as upgrade the bath house to make it more environmentally sustainable.

With those investments, the site says, “We are confident that the Oliver Bath House will continue to serve city residents long into the future.”

Industrialist Henry W. Oliver provided the land and money for the building, and gave it to the city, with the stipulation that the building remain free to the public in perpetuity.

Unlike many other bath houses at the time — which really were just spots to take a bath or shower — the Oliver Bath House was intended to be a social space, too, according to the nonprofit group Preservation Pittsburgh. And once indoor plumbing became common in regular homes, the bath house began its life as a public pool.

The pool will remain closed until restoration work is completed.