Back in the day, the Schvitz wasn’t the only game in town for autoworkers in need of a good soak after long days on the assembly line.
This building was originally built for the Wolverine Investment Co. and opened at 1377 W. Vernor Hwy., near Trumbull, in 1928. It was designed by architect John Kasurin. The upper floors were home to 20 furnished apartments called the Elkhart Apartments. On April 3, 1928, the Detroit Steam Baths opened in the lower two floors, operating as a Finnish and Turkish bathhouse for the next 11 years. Given that it was half a block from Navin Field (later known as Briggs and Tiger stadium), it’s possible some of the Local Nine even frequented its rejuvenating powers. The building also was home to a beauty parlor and barbershop.
In June 1939, the New Detroit Baths took over the bathhouse, serving men and women alike. The business was open 24 hours a day every day except Sundays, when it closed at noon. An ad in 1944 offered "cool refreshing showers, towel, soap and an hour or two of rest in a private room" for 60 cents.
Though not the longest-operating bathhouse to operate out of the building, the New Detroit Baths was certainly the most prolific in terms of boisterous and prevalent advertising.
In an ad in the June 26, 1939, Detroit Free Press announcing its opening, the bathhouse proclaimed that it was “bringing to Detroiters one of America’s finest and most complete bath, massage and reducing establishments. The New Detroit Baths is not just another bath establishment. It is an institution where the bath and massage is given correctly … where reducing may be accomplished safely, sanely and easily.”
What is “reducing,” and why did Detroiters 80 years ago need to worry about it being done unsafely, insanely and without ease? In the era before Nordictracks, Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons workout tapes, Powerhouse Gyms in every town and better science, some sought to “reduce,” or “lose,” weight through sweating off pounds by shedding water through perspiration. That could lead to dehydration.
Not feeling up for hitting the baths or risking your life in the name of shrinking your waistline? The New Detroit Baths offered Swedish massage, “just the thing to help relieve taut, tired, aching muscles and give them new zest for their work,” an advertising postcard from the early 1940s suggested. An ad from the time suggested you "bring back that pep! Swedish massages will help."
"Just pay one visit to the New Detroit Baths, and we will have the pleasure of serving you from then on," an ad in January 1940 in the Detroit Jewish Chronicle promised. "One of America's largest, finest and most complete bath and massage establishments."
Perhaps because the New Detroit Baths blew its profits on advertising, or perhaThe business was listed for sale in the summer of 1945, and ads and mentions of the bathhouse stopped later that year, but the apartments continued housing Detroiters.
One of the more interesting residents at the building was Tiger Stadium vendor George B. Fischer, who, in August 1966, was charged with polygamy after being accused of having four wives. The warrant was issued after Josephine Milton Fischer, 21, complained that she had married George in June 1965 in Chicago, unaware that he had failed to divorce three other women first.
It was demolished in the summer of 1967 for the Fisher Service Drive, which saw the first sections of the freeway open that winter.