Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center
Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center
The Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center, formerly known as Recreation Center 59, has been a vital community resource since the early 20th century. First purchased by the City in 1906 for use as a playground, the park parcel spanned mid-block lots from West 59th to West 60th Streets. Soon thereafter, the 60th Street Bathhouse opened on site. By 1942, the park had expanded to its present size.
Under the auspices of Manhattan Borough President John F. Ahearn and the Department of Public Works, this bathhouse was constructed as part of a larger effort to situate public baths in overcrowded working-class tenement districts for the purpose of greater personal hygiene and public recreation. At that time, a majority of homes in the bordering Hell’s Kitchen community lacked indoor plumbing. Public showers and baths were a civic response to what Mayor William Strong called the needs of “the great unwashed.” In 1895, the New York State Legislature mandated the construction of free public baths in cities with populations of 50,000 or more. The West 60th Street building, designed by Theodore E. Videto, was one of the first to comply with this directive. By 1911, twelve public baths had been erected in Manhattan.
In 2009, the recreation center closed for reconstruction to provide state of the art building upgrades, a renovation of the existing swimming pool systems, the addition of a new first aid room and wet classroom, improvements to the gymnasium and a new cardio room. An addition to the east side of the 60th Street building designed by Belmont Freeman Architects allowed for the construction of three new levels to house new men’s and women’s locker rooms, lifeguard locker rooms, a teen room, a computer room, a multi-purpose room, bathroom facilities, an exterior comfort station, and aerobics and fitness rooms. All three levels are accessible via a new elevator and new staircases. The existing 60th Street building façade was reconstructed, and the new building addition includes brick detailing to complement the existing façade.
Upon reopening in 2013, the name of the center changed to celebrate Gertrude Ederle. Born to German immigrants in New York City on October 23, 1905, Ederle was raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 108 Amsterdam Avenue, above her father’s butcher shop. A Gold-Medal Olympian and World Record holder in swimming, Ederle is known to be the first woman to swim across the English Channel, departing from Cap Gris Nez in France on August 6, 1926, and landing on the shores of Kingsdown in Kent, England 14 hours and 39 minutes later.
When she returned to New York City after swimming the English Channel, it was reported in the New York Times that “Gertrude Ederle’s neighbors on Amsterdam Avenue and the side streets welcomed her back home last night in a delirious demonstration of affection.” The first female to have a ticker tape parade in her honor in New York City, the Daily News claimed that Ederle’s “welcome home eclipsed any other reception New York had accorded an individual.” Her achievement was applauded nationwide. President Calvin Coolidge (served 1923-1929) praised her as “America’s Best Girl.”
Ederle taught swimming at the Lexington School for the Deaf in New York City after losing a portion of her hearing several years after the Channel Swim. She performed in the 1939 World’s Fair, and resided in Flushing, Queens for over 50 years. Gertrude Ederle died in Wyckoff, New Jersey in 2003 at the age of 98.
In keeping with the mission of NYC Parks’ Recreation Division to further enable all New Yorkers to lead physically active lives through sports, fitness and outdoor adventure, the Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center provides New Yorkers with free and low-cost opportunities for people to exercise, and a wide variety of programs that promote healthy living. Amenities and programs include cardio and strength rooms, group fitness classes, sports leagues, arts and cultural programs, instructional computer courses and swimming classes.