Part Two: South End Steam Baths
Part Two: South End Steam Baths
by Don Paulson - SGN Contributing Writer

The first owners were Heady and Carney who sold it to a Greek man who didn't advise his customers of the Gay activity; so a number of fights broke out. In 1950, a customer was so advised. He said, "Thank you. If someone puts the make on me I'll punch him through the wall!" He was not admitted. Teddy who worked there for years said, "I've had knives pulled on me and even death threats." Since the Baths paid off the police, they had a good measure of protection and -- when they did come around -- they went no further than the office.

What you got at the Baths was a room for $15.00, steam room, wading pool, porno site, television room, food and beverage machines and whatever sexual morsel one could snag before someone else gets him. The Baths were a money maker -- $15.00 for 80 years, you do the math. One checked their valuables at the office and was given a key on an elastic band for your wrist or ankle. A surveillance camera focused on the customer when they checked in.

Teddy remembers: "Sometimes people would come down and if I felt they didn't belong -- too drunk, too young or straight -- I would say, 'I'm sorry but this is a senior center.' They would say, 'But the sign says Steam Baths.' 'Oh, we get a tax reduction from the Pioneer Historical Board for keeping the old sign there. As an example, you'll see a sign across the street that says 'Rooms for 75 cents.' By the way, would you like to make a cash contribution to the senior center?

"One night a customer said to me, 'There's an old Lady in back taking off makeup.' I replied, 'That's no woman, that's Skippy LaRue!"

Skippy LaRue, Seattle`s oldest female impersonator who also worked at the baths, remembered: "Most of our customers were respectable and together, but we really had some sad looking people. One guy walked the halls with these huge, bulging eyes and was shaking badly. I don't know what kind of condition he had. Another guy had been there for two days and hardly came out of his room. He was incredibly thin and could hardly speak. I think he came down there to die. Finally, I told him to leave but I didn't think he could make it up the stairs, so, I called 911 and they came and took him away. People have died here over the years -- two in one month (from dope). They were overtime, so, I went into their rooms and when they didn't respond to my shaking them I realized they were dead. The Police, firemen and the coroner showed up and wheeled them out. One guy almost fell off the stretcher. I said, 'Tie him down for god's sake!'

"Ted Bundy stayed here for two weeks, although no one knew it then. He never tricked that anyone saw, so, we figured he was laying low. Who would suspect him in a Gay Steam Bath."

Issac Monroe recalls: "I never spent a full night there, only to buy Amyl poppers. I sat in the TV room and was hit on right away. The Baths were a pretty hot place. The other Gay bathhouse`s in Seattle were snooty but -- at the South End -- it was an open door for anyone; get it, got it, good! I should have dived right in but I was too busy being a social pathetic; be good looking and choosey and get nothings. If you see someone you like, stick your nose in the air and leave the room and feel good about the power of refusing somebody. Oh my, how foolish I was. Mommy dearest never loved me so I wasn't going to give my attentions to anyone else, let them suffer, but I was the one who suffered."

Don Gillis remembers: "One night I met this guy who I thought just wanted to talk, at least that's what I thought. When I refused his advances, he said if he caught me with another guy he'd knife me. I was very upset and mentioned it to a guy I knew who said; 'Don't worry about him, if he tries anything I'll cut his ass off'."

Skippy LaRue: "Once five sailors came down and were told it was a Gay place so they left. Later, one by one they came back and checked in. A civilian customer -- who liked to get screwed -- would lay on the bed with the door open and put a sailor hat on the bed so guys would think he was a sailor. One night he bragged that he got screwed twenty-five times.

"Nothing got a Gay man's hormones going in the 50s and 60s than having sex with a sailor."

The Baths were a money maker, often more than $1000 a night. David remembers: "It seemed every time I went there the owner was talking to his stock broker. The straight owner, Ed McCleary, was a generous man. He paid good wages and everyone was on a health plan, got holiday bonuses and a paid vacation. Once a week he would collect all the used towels and take them to a Laundromat where the owner gave them a key to do the laundry at night, as not to disturb the day customers.

In spite of the never ending battle to keep the place clean and deal with all the dynamics of operating a shabby sex palace, it was well run. Bar Owner Bill Parkin who schmoozed with everyone on the planet said: "You'd see people at the Baths that you would never see at the bars, like married men and closeted Gays."

Skippy LaRue: "We had some customers who came in daily and weekly. Some guys would come in on Mondays after a full weekend with the wife and kids. Some came in on their lunch hour; well known businessmen, lawyers, a judge and you'd be surprised. It was truly a little bit of everybody, even a few hustlers but they had to be cool about it. For some it was a home away from home and they were quite affectionate about it. I guess because its atmosphere was not judgmental for guys who felt criticism from the other bath houses."

There was one thing universal at the Baths; it was classless. Naked, we are the same, different shapes but from the same mold. It had a reputation of older men but it had a surprising number of young kinky hotties. For those who put the Baths down, you should have been there. Its backroom sexual and social comedy/drama was an experience of a lifetime and will never happen in the same way again. What does?