San Jose gay bathhouse Watergarden closes for good

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 15, 2020
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San Jose gay bathhouse Watergarden closes for good

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has led one of the two remaining gay bathhouses operating in the Bay Area to permanently close its doors.

The Watergarden in San Jose has shuttered for good after four decades in business. Its demise is a blow to South Bay health officials, who had partnered with it over the years to provide HIV testing and prevention services to men who have sex with men in the sprawling Santa Clara County and adjacent areas.

Located at 1010 The Alameda, the bathhouse had welcomed patrons for 43 years. It was known for its outdoor heated pool and outdoor hot tub that could fit 17 people. In a message posted to its website Wednesday and emailed to patrons, the business disclosed its "heartbreaking" announcement.

"It is with deepest regret that we must announce our permanent closure due to the COVID19 pandemic," stated the business. "Due to the ongoing closures of businesses, and unknown dates for a possible return to normal, we are not able to reopen. Already being closed for months on end has resulted in grave financial losses."

The note thanked customers for their "years of patronage, and being a part of the Watergarden family."

No one answered the bathhouse's main office line Wednesday evening. As the Bay Area Reporter reported in mid-March, the Watergarden closed at midnight March 13 to comply with a Santa Clara County health order issued that day banning non-essential gatherings of 35 or more people.

Steamworks Baths in Berkeley, which is in Alameda County, also closed down that month. A notice on its website states it remains closed due to COVID-19 and that it hopes "to have you back once the worst of this Outbreak is over."

With a recent spike in both coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across California, public health officials and state leaders recently rolled back allowing various businesses such as bars, hair salons, and gyms from opening. It had been uncertain when adult sex venues would be allowed to reopen, with their doing so looking extremely unlikely this year.

The news about the Watergarden's closure comes as San Francisco is poised to allow gay bathhouses to return after the businesses closed more than three decades ago during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

A proposal sponsored by gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman to remove restrictions that the city placed on the establishments in the mid-1980s, such as no locked doors and monitoring the sex of patrons, sailed through a Board of Supervisors hearing July 9. The full board is expected to approve the policy change when it meets next Tuesday, July 21.

The city's Department of Public Health will have until January 1, 2021 to adopt the changes called for in the ordinance. In light of such advancements in HIV prevention like PrEP, the once-a-day pill that prevents the transmission of HIV, and people living with HIV with undetectable HIV viral loads unlikely to transmit the virus to their sexual partners, city health officials this year for the first time had told the B.A.R. they would not object to seeing gay bathhouses reopen with private rooms patrons could lock.

Various adult sex venues have continued to operate in the city over the last 30 years, but they have done so without providing private spaces behind a locked door. Since the novel coronavirus outbreak in March, such businesses have been forced to close and are waiting to hear from health officials when they will be allowed to reopen.

The two gay sex clubs remaining in the city, Eros in the Castro district and Blow Buddies in the South of Market neighborhood, are currently closed because of the health crisis. On its website Eros notifies customers it is will be closed until mid-July "with the possibility of an extension," while Blow Buddies advises people to "Be calm and wash your hands! See you on the other side."

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