Theses (Historic Preservation)

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:

Pierce, Grey (2015). Throwing Open the Door: Preserving Philadelphia's Gay Bathhouses. (Masters Thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.


In 2014 the National Park Service called for increased preservation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender places in the United States, thereby legitimizing LGBT history on a national level. This thesis is an extension of that appeal and undertakes a study of the preservation of gay bathhouses in an urban landscape. More specifically, it investigates the geographic and architectural significance of gay bathhouses between the early twentieth century and present day. Using the City of Philadelphia as a case study, the thesis explains the cultural and political trends that created the geography and history of the Philadelphia bathhouses. Utilizing quantitative and qualitative data, archival research, and an original survey, the thesis concludes that bathhouses are important to the landscape of gay neighborhoods and that their architecture highlights invaluable narratives of gay life in American history. Commodification, urban development, suburbanization, and politics contributed to the systematic marginalization and exclusion of homosexuals from various urban localities. This thesis argues that applying preservation tools to gay bathhouses can be used to create greater visibility for LGBT people and redefine the meaning of the public sphere.


LGBT, commodificaiton, public sphere, democracy, marginilization



Date Posted: 15 June 2015