(Attempted) Adventures with Uncle Lou

Trenton Bath House EntranceToday, I convinced a friend who was driving down to Princeton to give me a ride to see the Trenton Bath House. She was a little skeptical, especially when I told her I wasn’t sure what the current condition of the building was, or even if it was still there, but we went anyway.

This week, to prepare for the trip, I tried to find some information on Kahn’s bath house (who owned it, if it was open to the public, what sort of restoration was going on, etc.). The most recent information I could find on the web stated that Mercer County bought the property in 2006, with plans to restore it. But when I called a few of their offices, and no one had any idea what I was talking about, I got a bit discouraged.

Epic WallsFrom what I can tell (we did find it; it is still there), they sold it to someone, who reopened it as a private pool club. It has been restored enough to function, but the structure has seen better days. I took a few shots of the outside, but as you can see, there is something VERY wrong with my camera (I swear I didn’t dunk it in Pepto-Bismol!). I told the woman at the desk the magic words (“Hi…I’m an architecture student…”) and she let me do a few sketches from the courtyard area (as it was being used, changing rooms and all, I didn’t feel comfortable going inside, but I stood in the center of the four roofed areas).

Again, sorry about the pictures.  I have twenty or so like this.  Photoshop attempts have failed me, too.

Front of Trenton Bath HouseFor others that want to visit, it’s located at 999 Lower Ferry Road in Ewing, NJ.  It’s about a fifteen minute drive from Princeton.  Behind a big parking lot and a big sign, and some bushes.

All in all, not exactly a religious experience, but an interesting one. I’m glad I went, even though its condition was sort of sad and I couldn’t go exploring. Seeing it in use again, though, makes me think they’ll keep it up a bit better in the future. Maybe powerwash the walls.

Looking back, this isn’t a very informative post.  But lesson learned: Always make sure you have a sketchbook on you – you can never rely on technology.


10 Responses to “(Attempted) Adventures with Uncle Lou”

  1. 1 Liza
    2009/06/27 at 10:21 pm


    We’re at 250 posts!

  2. 2 Liza
    2009/06/28 at 8:26 am

    GASP! Talia, I never thought I would see the day when you would dis technology.

    I kind of like the pictures in the way that a color just satisfies you.. Could you possibly draw over the photos to make them more understandable? Could you post your sketches so that we can get a better sense of the building?

    What material was used for the bath house? What more can you tell us about the building?

  3. 3 Kai Gutschow
    2009/06/28 at 11:44 am

    Talia, How wonderful to hear that you actually went to go see it. Good initiative. I have never been, but perhaps the sad state of the restoration would make the whole thing a let down. Contrary to your experience, I’ve met many who said it (once) WAS a religious experience. Kahn himself said about the Trenton project, one of the earliest in his career: “From this came a generative force which is recognizable in every building which I have done since.” Robert Venturi said of it: “I’ll never forget the excitement Louis Kahn’s Trenton Bath House design evoked in me when I first saw it and I continue to be aware of its significant effect on my work.”
    Coincidentally, on Friday I received through a Society of Architectural Historians listserv the link to this website: http://home.mindspring.com/~kahnpage/bathhouse/index.html, and saying restoration was underway. There is also: http://www.kahnbathhouse.org/ about visiting, restoration, etc. Both sites seem to have info on its significance, and the restoration (a few years old), though one is led to believe it would be fully restored, which Talia’s post clearly denies.
    There is also a whole book on the bathhouse: “Louis I. Kahn’s Trenton Jewish Community Center: Building Studies 6” by Susan Solomon (2000). It has much info on building process, design ideas, etc. There are several books on Kahns work in relation to structure: his architecture is all about structure and space!
    Good luck!

  4. 4 dj2d
    2009/06/28 at 5:20 pm

    I concur w/ Kai…it’s really great that you made the journey. The description of the Bath House’s current state brought to mind the scene in “My Architect” when Anne Tyng, Kahn’s collaborator on the project, visits the site for the first time in 40 years. For those of you that have Netflix, the film is available to watch instantly over the web. The Bath House is at 38:50. It’s worth a watch of the whole movie to catch some of the other buildings from your study. Though, the buildings are secondary to the compelling story of Kahn’s complicated life.

  5. 2009/06/28 at 5:49 pm

    Let me just say, Liza, that color did NOT satisfy me when I saw it on my computer screen and had no way to retrieve the actual images. Ugh. But, as per request, a few of the images that were somewhat identifiable (not an entire screen of solid pink) have been traced over to give you an idea of what you’re looking at, and should be online LATER this week (have to scan them) here.

    In response to what Kai wrote, I am sort of glad my physical memories of the place are now visibly tainted in a way; the pink protects it from its “sad state of restoration.” As I mentioned before, though, my expectations were not particularly high, although I had seen a few amazing photographs and skimmed through Solomon’s book (there are a lot of earlier plans/drawings here, and its helpful in understanding why Kahn designed it the way he did, but it also discusses at length the influence that this seemingly unimportant little building has had on so many architects), partially because I watched My Architect, and the bathhouse was far from it’s prime condition in the film, too. Regarding the multiple sources saying restoration was occurring, I think part of the reason it seems unfinished is that it has changed hands a few times in the past decade or so, and the jobs may have been of the start/stop kind.

    The experience wasn’t a total loss, though. And a lot of it can’t be captured by photos (even with a properly-functioning camera…) or words. The sunlight’s relationship to the building, for instance, is something you just sort of have to walk through the whole thing to grasp, something that changes and disappears when clouds come and go and time passes. Also, I found it interesting that the inside courtyard, on an 80-something degree day, stays remarkably cool (great for hot summer days). And the people who actually use it seemed to think it was (or still is) something special, too, even if they couldn’t explain it. It oddly seems to contradict itself, roofs hovering above a structure permanently fixed to its location, refreshingly cool and calm among the bustle of activity swarming within it. Despite the somewhat imposing quality of the materials used, it’s a…happy (?) place.

    Again, I wouldn’t call it religious, but I definitely don’t regret going. The Trenton Bath House has seen better days, but it’s been through a lot, and if a building can be content, forgiving and still gracious, I think this one is.

  6. 2009/06/30 at 7:24 pm

    Four photos (the only ones I could sort of identify) have been uploaded: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37988396@N02/sets/72157620686970604/

    I traced over them with a permanent marker (probably not the best tool for the job) and rescanned the sketches. You can get an idea what you’re looking at now, but there was a lot of guessing involved. The scratchy-looking things on the sides of the building are bushes.

  7. 2009/07/06 at 3:19 pm

    The friend who drove with me to see Kahn’s building sent me the two photos she took from the parking lot. They are now also online with the previously-uploaded “pink set”.

  8. 2009/09/09 at 4:00 pm

    . The site was purchased from the Jewish Community Center by Mercer County in 2007. The County gave the property ot the Township, who operates the pool and day camp much the same way they JCC had operated it. The pool memberships are significantly cheaper though. We are launching a Website dedicated to the bath house next week. There will be a free public event on September 14 from 3-7 at the Bath House and the pool will be open.
    The County has been working with Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects to prepare plans for the rehabilitation of the site. The County also secured a $750,000 NJ Historic Trust Grant to help finance the work. THe total project is expected to cost $2,500,000. Construction is scheduled to begin in December 2009.
    Unfortuantely Tappery must have called every offic in Mewrcer COunty but the right one. The Planning Division is managing the project.

  9. 9 Tricia Fagan
    2009/10/14 at 4:05 pm


    The website address that Donna Lewis refers to is http://www.kahntrentonbathhouse.org . In addition to background on Louis I. Kahn and his Trenton Bath House, the site includes preservation materials including HABS and landscape assessment, images of original drawings and paintings done by Kahn (generously loaned by his daughter, Sue Ann Kahn), and a pod cast tour narrated by architect Michael Mills. There is also a history about the context and use of the site. In reality, the Bath House has – for 50 years – continued to be used as the gateway and changing areas for a community swimming pool. This is the use for which Kahn designed it. The only shift is that the building was originally commissioned (as a “Bath House”) for the Trenton Jewish Community Center’s ‘new’ campus in the late 1950s, and it is now operated as the Ewing Township center. There’s a lot of interesting paraphernalia and photos from that earlier period on the website, as well. Good luck with everything. Great blog!

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