As attempts are made to preserve parts of the West Colfax district that so many Jews once called home, other parts come tumbling down, strengthening the argument for preservation. The West Colfax neighborhood has radically transformed over the past decade. Its gentrification is near complete, and while bringing more housing and amenities to the area, it has also driven out ethnic communities and removed affordable single-family housing stock. Very few relics remained from the heady days of West Colfax Jewry, but one was standing valiant: Lake Steam Baths.
Founded in 1927, the baths brought the traditions of Mother Russia to Denver’s West Side Jews, many of whom were Russian Jews. The “shvitz” was a legendary local hangout, where men would gather to unwind and shmoos. Even as West Side Jews began migrating east, many continued to return West to Lake Steam, even as a “shvitz” was put in at the new East Side JCC.
We took a gander through our archives and found out that there were other bath houses catering to Jewish customers, including Battle Creek in downtown and Silhouette on East Colfax. The “shvitz” also comes up time and again in the Shmoos column, cementing our impression that this was a place of gab more than wellness. Here’s one item from Sept. 11, 1952 that perfectly captures what must have been the “shvitz” antics of the day:
“Morris Handler, grand pogo of the Knights of the Barebacks, announced that the Morris Tepper faction will seek to expel the Phil Francis cabal at the Bathhouse Sunday at the special meeting . . . There’s to be a hot time at the shvitz Sunday!”
Was the “hot time” at Lake Steam? We’ll probably never know, unless family of Morris Handler, Morris Tepper or Phil Francis can clue us in. If the grand pogo calls to confirm (or deny!) the shenanigans, we’ll be happy to take the call.
This online feature explores the IJN’s new digital archive, discovering the news of the week, years ago.