Saturday, June 30, 2012

A tepid day at the baths

In the course of a few weeks' time the new tepid salt water swimming baths which are being built at Freeman's Bay by the Auckland City Council will be ready for use by the public. The work was started some months ago, but owing to various reasons work was not able to be proceeded with as readily as had been expected. The contract is in the hands of Messrs J. T. Julian, and is well in hand. The brickwork of the building has now been almost completed, but the detail work of finishing off the walls and adjusting the various fittings will occupy some weeks.

Water is to be supplied to the baths from the exhaust of the electric power station in Hobson Street. The temperature may be regulated according to the requirements of the swimmers. Ample accommodation in the way of dressing-rooms has been made around three sides of the baths. A separate bath for ladies, measuring 60 feet by 30 feet, and with a depth of 3 feet at one end and 7 feet at the other, is already being tested before the work of finishing off is commenced. Both baths are to be tiled all round, and this should greatly facilitate the work of keeping the baths clean. The larger bath, that set apart for the use of gentlemen, measures 100 feet by 50 feet, and a gallery is being built above the dressing boxes for the use of spectators. This is being fitted up comfortably with seats and an open balustrade around the side. The promenade around the baths will measure some seven feet in width, so that there should be plenty of space to accommodate a large number of bathers.

The entrance to the building is to be from the Customs Street frontage, and behind this there will be eight private baths and several showers. The site has a frontage of 150 feet to the new road, and 127 feet to Customs Street West, and has been leased by the Harbour Board to the City Council for 75 years at a nominal rental of £75 per annum.
Auckland Star 9 October 1914

Last Saturday, June 23, I took the opportunity of the open day at the Tepid Baths, at the border between Downtown Auckland and Freemans Bay, to take a look around the place.

David Pointon's book A Dip in the Clear Blue Water (1984) describes both the municipal facilities for public bathing in the city, and the private enterprise antecedants. In the 1860s, one such pool was suituated off Smale's Point, just west of Queen Street. "A simple wooden fence enclosed some muddy shoreline below the high water mark. When the incoming tide filled the enclosure the businessman was in business. No records exist as to charges, nor whether soap was used ..."

Another similar but more substantial sea-bathing enclosure was beside Wynyard Pier at Official Bay in the 1860s, the Britomart Baths, operated by the Salt-Water Bathing Company. This one had dressing rooms, refreshment rooms, springboards and a false bottom. Those baths closed in May 1876.

The Harbour Board offered the City Council a site on reclaimed land at the intersection of Hardinge and Custom Street West (not all that far from the present-day baths), and the Salt-Water Baths were eventually built and opened in 1881. "The Custom Street West frontage consisted of a building containing offices, lavatories and refreshment rooms. Other refinements included fresh-water showers, springboards, lifebuoys and swimming belts."

This was followed in late 1885 by the Albert Street (Britannia) Baths with a tile-lined pool, hot slipper baths, 52 dressingrooms, lavatories, showers and a caretaker's residence. There was also provision for four shops along the Albert Street frontage: a fruiterer, general reshment store, tobacconist and a barber. (Which sounds similar to the common practice from the early 20th century when building cinemas in Auckland, to allow frontage for hairdresser/tobacconists and confectioners).

By the early 20th century, the City Council had fully adopted the idea of providing and maintaining public baths. The one at Shelly Beach was opened in late 1912. The following year, work began on the construction of the Hobson Street Tepid Baths. They opened 7 March 1914.

The years, and the tepid salt water (pre-1974, when chlorine was substituted), was not kind to the structure. Today, only the outer walls and facade of the Tepid Baths remains, facing Customs Street West. Everything else was gutted, replaced, and renewed over the course of the last two or three years.

There are these wonderful interpretive panels fastened to pillars in the main swimming area, detailing some of the facility's history. Worth a read, if you get a chance to pop in with your togs.

Upstairs (and having an "upstairs" here is an innovation) there is a gymnasium, with views down to the pools (and of course, views upward.)

On display in the foyer, some of the baths' history. Part of the corroded metalwork, in front of a 1920s view od the baths.

One of two swim costumes worn by Tessa Duder at the 1958 Empire Games in Cardiff, at which she won a silver medal for the 110 yards butterfly. Her pre-Games training had been at the Tepid Baths, 1956-1958.

 The tiles are from the original 1914 Ladies' pool.

A mysterious plaster head found beneath the 1914 concrete pool tank.

One of the corroded 1914 trusses.

A piece of architectural novelty on the side of the new part of the building, called "Memories of the Trusses", is supposed to hark back to the old corroded roof trusses which had to be removed.

Hard to get views these days with all the urban clutter around. More about the baths at these links:

NZ Herald, with a behind-the-scenes video.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like they've really gone all out to improve the old Tepid Baths. Great photos too Lisa and a really interesting history there