Legacy of the week | Amsterdam bathhouses, a leap of faith!

On 28 August 2022, the Amsterdam City Swim will be organized for the tenth time, where you swim through the Amsterdam canals to raise money for research into the muscle disease ALS. But it has not always been a matter of course that it is possible to swim in the Amsterdam canals. This week we delve into the history of clean water, bathhouses and Councilor Monne de Miranda.

Swimming in open water has not always been a given in Amsterdam. | Photo: Vereenigde Fotobureaux NV (24 July 1926), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (OSIM00007001095).

Clean city?

The theme of Open Monument Day Amsterdam this year is ‘Amsterdam, the clean city’. However, the city has not always had a spotless reputation. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the water in the canals was extremely dirty. Faeces, garbage and rotting fish floated in the water, spreading disease. During the nineteenth century, more and more attention was paid to hygiene and bathhouses were introduced. In the beginning, the baths were mainly available to the elite, but at the end of this century, the public baths opened and bathing became available to the general public.

Dirty canal on Oudezijd's Achterburgwal.  |  Photo: Archives of the Spatial Planning Department: photos section A, Amsterdam City Archives image bank (10009A001934).Dirty canal on Oudezijd’s Achterburgwal. | Photo: Archives of the Spatial Planning Department: photos section A, Amsterdam City Archives image bank (10009A001934).

Bath house plan

In 1911, the first public bathhouse in Amsterdam was opened to the public. The municipality encouraged to use it to promote hygiene and public health. Councilor De Miranda became responsible for the ‘washing, bathing and swimming sector’ in 1919. In 1920 his Badhuizenplan was adopted: more bathhouses would be built to meet the now significantly increased demand. Although not everyone saw the importance of this, the liberal foreman Walrave Boissevain scoffed that workers could wash at the tap in the kitchen…

Councilor Salomon Rodrigues de Miranda (1875-1942) in his office.  |  Photo: Amsterdam City Archives Collection: photos (1938), via Amsterdam City Archives image bank (OSIM00006002616).Councilor Salomon Rodrigues de Miranda (1875-1942) in his office. | Photo: Amsterdam City Archives Collection: photos (1938), via Amsterdam City Archives image bank (OSIM00006002616).

In addition to the bathhouses, De Miranda has been involved in other significant projects in Amsterdam. For example, the central market halls were created under his aldermanship for food, he provided new public housing and took care of large employment projects such as Amstel, Muiderpoort station and Bosplan, which is now Amsterdamse Bos.

Election poster for SDAP, De Miranda's party.  |  Photo: Nico Swaager (12 June 1931), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (5293FO001682).Election poster for SDAP, De Miranda’s party. | Photo: Nico Swaager (12 June 1931), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (5293FO001682).

But back to De Miranda’s bathhouse plan. In 1931 this plan was implemented. At that time, there were 14 municipal baths and 11 children’s baths: at least 1 bathhouse in each district.

The bath house on Boerhaaveplein.  Graffiti can be seen: 'van thijn swine'.  Ed van Thijn was mayor in the 1980s, a turbulent period when the clearcut and housing problem was severe.  This slogan was often left after squatter Hans Kok died in his cell after being arrested.  |  Photo: Martin Alberts (12 August 1982), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122035660).The bath house on Boerhaaveplein. Graffiti can be seen: ‘van thijn swine’. Ed van Thijn was mayor in the 1980s, a turbulent period when the clearcut and housing problem was severe. This slogan was often left after squatter Hans Kok died in his cell after being arrested. | Photo: Martin Alberts (12 August 1982), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122035660).

Badhuis Boerhaaveplein

Time to take a closer look at one specific bathhouse, namely the Bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein – a national monument since 2003. This bathhouse was seen in the 1920s as the ideal bathhouse design. The building was designed by Arend Jan Westerman, who at the time worked in the Cooperation Department. His designs were related to the Amsterdam School. For example, you can clearly recognize decorative ironwork at the entrance to the building. In addition to the bathhouses, Westerman mainly designed residential complexes.

Because the bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein was completely free, it could be designed around it.  |  Photo: Ino Roël (October 1983), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122035658).Because the bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein was completely free, it could be designed around it. | Photo: Ino Roël (October 1983), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122035658).

The bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein was the first bathhouse specially designed for the function, which was completely free. This made it possible to design the building around it. Westerman made the chimney the central axis of the building, around it he placed semicircular waiting rooms. A corridor separated the waiting rooms from the outer ring with bathtubs and shower cubicles. Men and women were kept strictly separate, hence 2 separate entrances.

Construction drawing of the bath house (click to enlarge!).  |  Source: Building and Housing Inspection Archive in Eastern District (1919).Construction drawing of the bathhouse (click to enlarge!). | Source: Building and Housing Inspection Archive in Eastern District (1919).

Badhuis Boerhaaveplein.  Photo on the left: waiting area for bathers.  Photo on the right: lifeguard mr.  Shafts.  |  Photos: Doriann Kransberg (May 1984), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122035728 and 010122035731).Badhuis Boerhaaveplein. Photo on the left: waiting area for bathers. Photo on the right: lifeguard mr. Shafts. | Photos: Doriann Kransberg (May 1984), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122035728 and 010122035731).

Another example of a bathhouse that has this round shape is the bathhouse in Diamantbuurt. The Department of Public Works liked the design of the bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein so much that it even sent a photo of the bathhouse to the 1925 World Exhibition in Paris!

Municipal bathhouse on Diamantstraat, with the same round shape as the bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein.  |  Photo: JM Arsath Ro'is (January 1973), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122031778).Municipal bathhouse on Diamantstraat, with the same round shape as the bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein. | Photo: JM Arsath Ro’is (January 1973), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122031778).

The rise of the bathroom

In 1933, a municipal building law stipulated that every new home should have its own shower. As a result, visits to the baths stagnated. At its peak in 1956, 1.9 million visits were made to the bathhouses; in 1986 there were only 80,000. Today there is only one functioning bathhouse in Amsterdam, and in the Netherlands: on Da Costakade, bathhouse Da Costa.

Interior of the Da Costa bathhouse, effort to preserve the bathhouse.  |  Photo: Frans Busselman (18 June 1986), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (B00000003871).Interior of the Da Costa bathhouse, effort to preserve the bathhouse. | Photo: Frans Busselman (18 June 1986), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (B00000003871).

Around 1986, when more and more houses in Amsterdam had bathrooms, the bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein was closed and it took on a new function as a theatre. And it still is. Now Mike’s Badhuisheater is housed in the bath house. Here the focus is on community art and international productions. In addition, the bathhouse also functions as a cultural meeting place, a good place to immerse yourself in the culture. Come and take a look at this former bathhouse during Open Monument Day Amsterdam on September 10 and 11!

Heritage of the week

Each week, the Heritage of the Week section focuses on a special archaeological find, site, object, monumental building or historical site in the city. Via the website amsterdam.nl/erfgoed, Twitter @arv020 and Facebook Monuments and Archeology the cultural heritage experts in Monuments and Archeology share the city’s heritage with Amsterdammers and other interested parties.

Banner photo: bathhouse on Boerhaaveplein. | Photo: Ino Roël (February 1985), Amsterdam City Archives image bank (010122035724).

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