The KLYT Baths sits midway between the old historic district and skid row in downtown Los Angeles. First opened in 1927 as the Palace Turkish Baths, it is nearly 75 years old and the oldest operating bathhouse in the United States. Another bathhouse can claim to be the "oldest continuously operating bathhouse in LA" only because the KLYT closed for a few weeks once for earthquake reinforcing. The KLYT is the reigning grande dame of them all.
Never palatial, the KLYT -- on the south side of Fourth Street just west of Los Angeles Street -- has seen some real action over the years. Downtown used to be the center of LA gay life and KLYT was joined by a host of gay bars with names like the Belmont, Crown Jewel, Circle, Harold's and the Waldorf. Businessmen were a short, safe walk away and the KLYT faithfully accommodated the community through two world wars and a depression. When the gay center moved west -- first to MacArthur Park then to Hollywood and now to West Hollywood -- the place survived by catering to older gays at first and now to a mostly Hispanic population.
"An ancient sign 'Baths' is above a narrow 30-foot long open-doored hallway. At the end of the hallway is the check-in counter which is divided down the middle by heavy mesh steel wire."
The Palace was renamed KLYT around 15 years ago when it was purchased by Felix, a straight Korean-American businessman, who also manages the Coral Sands Motel (which is owned by a group of straight Korean-American investors). Felix purchased the property right before the 80's bathhouse closures and he somehow remained open by cutting holes and putting windows in the cubicle doors. Somehow he also miraculously avoids the Health Department as he runs the place on a shoestring budget, maintaining it just enough to keep it going. I occasionally go to the KLYT because I receive a lot of attention there and I have a lot of sex. This may not be true for everyone, but the patrons at this place are not used to steroid-injected gym-pumped white bodies. Although they are not always sure what to do with me, most of the men there seem eager to do something with me. By providing a little guidance I almost always get what I want and as much as I want of it.
Getting to KLYT is the first challenge. Located across the street from a homeless mission, it is clearly in a dangerous area and caution should be exercised at all times. Never park on the streets close by, day and night. There is a public open lot across the street with a day attendant but it is not totally secure and is unattended at night. The closest safe parking is at least three blocks away. Grand Central Market has safe parking above the Market and across the street from the Market on Broadway between 3rd and 4th Streets. The parking under Pershing Square is safe but expensive. I usually park in Little Tokyo at the indoor lot between Union Bank and a small mall on 2nd Street and San Pedro. One entrance is between 2nd and 1st Streets on San Pedro. That costs about $4. I then walk three blocks to the baths. When walking try to stay away from dark doorways and alley openings. Be prepared to actually walk on the street in places because of the congestion of cardboard boxes and homeless men on the sidewalks. Always be alert; many men have been mugged going to or leaving KLYT. Also, recently there have actually been a few muggings in the hallway in front of the check-in window. Take some street smarts with you to KLYT.
I last visited KLYT last weekend on a Saturday afternoon. As usual, I walked from Little Tokyo. The area was bustling with shoppers at the wholesale toy markets and with ragged-looking men and women. An ancient sign 'Baths' is above a narrow 30-foot long open-doored hallway. At the end of the hallway is the check-in counter which is divided down the middle by heavy mesh steel wire. My transaction was conducted through a small opening at the bottom of the barrier. I pushed the buzzer button once and waited. I knew from experience not to push it more than once. Eventually a heavy set slightly cholo-type attendant entered the tiny check-in room and asked, "Which side?" I told him, "This side," which was the small hallway above containing ten cubicles. I prefer this side because the back walls of rooms # 3-10 do not go all the way up to the ceiling. The back of the walls is about five feet away from the outside wall of the building, which contains several large, high windows. These windows provide the rooms with a flat, gray light during the day. Also, it is open behind the room walls all the way to the bottom of the ground floor utility section below. This makes the air quality slightly less murky than in the other larger room section.
He gave me a choice: rooms #1, 5 or 10. I thought fast. Room 10 is next to the music speaker so that was no good. Room 1 is next to the semi-open- door toilet, although it has a unique unfinished roughhewn redwood door. That would have given me the chance to announce "I am in the redwood room" to interested suitors. However, I went for the light and room #5.The room cost $9. I gave him a ten and pushed back the single for him. He produced a small clipboard with some paper on it. I signed the paper and pushed the clipboard back. He then pulled out a long, flat valuables lock. I put my wallet and keys in it and pushed it back. The groove in the counter testified to the years and years of pushing back and forth in that same spot. He pushed out my keys and a towel. Then he pushed a buzzer and I pulled the mesh door and stepped in.
The usual room cost is $9 although Tuesdays and Thursdays are 'customer appreciation days'. The price then is $6. Tuesdays are slightly busier than Thursdays but both days are almost as busy as a 32-room place can be. I've found that the lower price days are more apt to draw in some straight homeless guys than the other days. I have also found that Saturday afternoons, Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons are usually nearly full houses without the lines to get in that the $6 days have. KLYT has no lockers.
Don't forget to take condoms with you to KLYT. None are available on the premises. Also, I spotted no AIDS information materials. A lot of these boys play with no protection and this population needs special education. An organization such as Bienestar Latino AIDS Project or Minority AIDS Project should target KLYT for a special education/outreach campaign.
Right in front of the entry is a quirky little staircase with a curved railing. There are seven steps straight up and then -- at a left hand turn -- seven more to reach the top floor. A toilet in a 3x4 foot bathroom is just to the left at the top. In front is the hallway with rooms #1-10. The doorway to the other corridor is half way down on the right-hand side. I walked down to my room #5. It was secured with a tiny padlock, the sort one might use to secure luggage. I opened it with a minuscule key and then I entered my room. It was about 7 feet long and 4 1/2 feet wide. Most of the space was occupied by the bed platform. It was about three feet wide. On it was a three inch thick yellow foam pad loosely draped with two stained but washed sheets. The pad was not as wide as the platform. The pillow was lumpy but it was in a large pillowcase. There were a few items of small debris on the floor. There was no lighting except what came from the dim hallway and the windows I mentioned before.
While I undressed and unpacked my things I listened to the music. It was K-Big or K-Lite or some other bland, soft rock crap. That may work for a suburban shopping mall but it is totally incongruous for the KLYT. Felix needs to find someone who can give him some tapes of nortenos, rancheros, and cumbias. That would really liven the place up and give it the festive air of a good Mexican bathhouse. I politely asked the attendant if he could change the music but he claimed it was forbidden. Goodbye, yellow brick road.
I left for my initial inspection tour. Alas, the padlock was not on the ring. I checked around on the hallway floor and looked through my room. My neighbor from #7 came over and looked too. Finally I gave up and went down to the attendant. "You must be #5," he said. Someone saw the lock on the floor and turned it in to him. It had slipped off the chain holding it to the wall. The TV-watching attendant had not brought it up to my room.
"So much for my big entrance," I told my neighbor who had been keeping an eye on my room. He snickered. I then started my tour.
I first urinated in the toilet by the redwood room. The ceiling just cleared my head. I noticed a length of toilet tissue stuck to the heel of my foot as I walked out through the swinging door. I walked into the main room and was faced with rooms #11-32. About one third of the doors were open but my eyes hadn't adjusted enough to the dim light to make out anyone's features yet. The only lighting was a few bare 15-watt light bulbs on the 7-feet high ceiling. I could detect no ventilation system and the air was thick and heavy with smoke. I walked to the end of the corridor and found another tiny toilet (but with a full-sized door) and a sink with masking taped stretched over its top. It was out of commission and it was the only sink in the place.
I turned to my right and walked down another set of stairs. That took me to the TV room, a cave-like space with a few chairs in front of a rabbit-eared TV. A few creaky vending machines wheezed off to the side. I walked through this room, skirted by the showers and enter the sauna. The sauna is an interesting room. The walls are tiled and the room is fairly large. It is heated by a series of 20-foot long coiled steam pipes covered with wire mesh. These pipes carry steam to the steam room and the hotel rooms upstairs from the bathhouse. They make a unique sound recognized by anyone who has been around steam pipes. The floor is mostly bare concrete. There are only two shaky benches in the room. Only six people can sit comfortably at one time. KLYT could have a great sauna if the seating was increased and improved. The room temperature was fine.
There were about eight men in the sauna, half of them standing. They pretty much represented the general population of the KLYT: working class Latin men. They range in age from early 20's to late 60's. Many of them speak little or no English so you might have to try this: Estoy en el cuatro de madera roja. The KLYT is the only gay outlet for a lot of them, although some of them can be spotted at area bars like Jalisco Bar on Main Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets.
There are all body types and during the day I spotted everything from a couple of skinny guys with red spots on their legs and arms to some labor-toned types to a few obese men. During my four-hour visit I spotted one other Caucasian and one black guy, a tall and thin ultra-queen.
I went back to my room and was immediately approached by one of the thin guys. He had nice dark skin, a pretty smile and a hairy stomach. I returned his smile, waved him into my room, and the fun was on. I spread out on the pad and he immediately headed to my pumped-up chest and biceps. He licked on my nipples the way a cat laps up milk. He chewed on my neck (leaving a bruise, I discovered later) and chewed on my biceps, leaving bruises there too, especially on the left one. Then he sucked my thumb and I was amazed how erotic that was. I was so happy that he was so much more than just a dick diver, although he was a great cocksucker too.
His amazing energy and enthusiasm left me dazed and helpless until he started lowering himself down on my cock. I stopped him so I could pull a condom on. He took advantage of the lull to throw himself down on the mat, face up. He grabbed the pillow, wadded it up and placed it under his ass. Hot dog! He was ready to get fucked. I knew I didn't need lubricant for this one so I just rammed it in. He wasn't the type to make me start out slow, no, not that type at all. His hole was tight and warm and I plowed into him pretty hard. I had to stop once because the back of his head was banging into the wall; I shoved my towel behind his head and continued pounding. He started coming first and then I came too. His cum was in white globs on top of his brown, hairy stomach. My cum was in the condom which I pulled out, knotted at the end and saved as a souvenir. I still have it and it hasn't dried out yet.
We both stretched out together on the tiny bed. He was in no hurry to leave and he had me figured out: I'm part cat and as long as I'm being stroked I'm helpless. We stayed like that for over an hour. During that time we communicated fairly well, considering that he spoke little English and I speak little Spanish. He told me he is undocumented and has been in the US for four years. He currently lives in a section 8 transition house on Crocker Street on Skid Row. I didn't need to ask him why he qualified for Section 8 since I recognized the marks on his legs as Kaposi spots. He left around 5 only because his time was up. I would have let him rub me forever. Before he left we exchanged numbers and made a date to meet again at my place. I'll pick him up on the corner of Alameda and Seventh Streets.
After he left I tidied up and then put on my towel to head for the shower. Alas, I could not find my key! I searched all over and I even (ugh!) felt around on the floor. Around this time my friend headed by on his way out. He came in my room, flicked on his butane lighter and started searching around. Another guy also entered, pulled out his lighter and searched too. I was pushed off towards the door as they took the sheets off my bed, shook them, picked up and shook the foam pad and dug through all of my things. I noticed three guys peering in from the hallway to see what the commotion was all about. Suddenly I remember that I had taken some chapstick out of the pocket of my rolled up jeans. I unrolled them, reached in and found my key. I sheepishly pulled it out and everyone let out a cheer. Everyone then left except my friend. He gave me a hug and asked me not to have sex with anyone else there after he left. I told him that he was all I needed that day and he happily left. Sure, I lied, but it was a white lie, a sweet one that didn't hurt anybody.
My room was in shambles. I fixed it up again and left for a visit to the shower. The shower area is the nicest, brightest and cleanest part of KLYT. The ceiling goes all the way up to the second floor ceiling and there is a bank of large windows high up on the wall. There was hot water and liquid soap in wall dispensers. The floor had recently been retiled. I like the KLYT showers.
After cleaning up I entered the steamroom. This may possibly be the worse steamroom anywhere. First of all, the floor is rolling and uneven. Tepid water collects in puddles in several places. The room smells bad. It is nowhere near hot enough and there was even a cold draft around the edges and corners. The overhead utility lighting was harshly bright. The benches were made of soaked, untreated wood and they were uncomfortable. I sat nearest the steam pipe to try to get some heat. While I visited with the guy next to me I noticed one cockroach run across the bench between us and another skitter across the floor. I left after about five minutes.
I showered again and then entered the sauna. I asked the three guys in there if they minded if I dropped eucalyptus oil on the hot pipes. They didn't care and soon the room smelled great. I leaned against the wall and the compliments started. One guy asked if I work at a gym. I told him he could feel my biceps if he wanted. He gingerly touched them until I grabbed his hand and showed him how to really grab a big bicep. He asked me if I wanted a massage and I said, "Does a bear shit in the woods?" He didn't understand that so I changed my answer to yes. I took still another shower and headed back to my room. On the steps up another guy grabbed me but I told him I had a date waiting for me. I didn't see my masseur on the journey back to the room and I had just entered the door when a guy with a really warm smile stepped in. I was in a quandary. I did have a date, but he wasn't in sight and here I was with a bird in the hand. Yes, I went with the bird. It turned out to be a mistake. Compared to my other partner he was pushy and rough. Before I knew it he was on top of me sucking my dick while he pumped his cock down my throat. Around that time there was a persistent knock on the door and someone said "Massage? Massage?" Then someone kicked the door and left. I gently pushed my partner off of me and told him I had to rest a bit. He then left, flashing that great smile one more time before he stepped out into the hallway.
I headed back to the shower. On my way down I passed the massage guy. I gave him a sheepish smile but he ignored me. I deserved it because I was plain-out greedy. I was getting close to the steps when another guy reached out and grabbed me. That's the good thing about the KLYT: men there do not play a lot of games. They don't circle around a lot because the place is really too small for much of that. The low ceilings, narrow hallways and dim lighting make sex readily accessible and easy. This guy was handsome and a tad heavy. He wanted me to fuck him but I hadn't been screwed yet and I needed to be. I was on my back with my ass at the edge of the middle of the bed. He stood on the floor, held up my legs and gave me a confident, assured fucking. He made a lot of noise when he came. After he came I had him suck on my nipples while I jacked off. When I came he caught it in his hand and then he ate it. I saved his condom too, although it is pretty much dried out now.
I had finally had enough. I showered yet again and then got dressed. I went to the front counter, signed the paper again, reclaimed my items and walked down the hallway into nighttime downtown LA. It was only about 7:30 so I headed up Fourth Street a block and a half to Score Bar for a couple of beers. That capped off my evening.
It would be easy for someone used to the other clubs to sneer at the KLYT. The faults -- the foul air, the poor upkeep, the steamroom, the dim lighting and more -- could easily turn an outsider off. Still, with the right attitude and a positive frame of mind this place can be an adventure, an exciting experience in diversity. This bathhouse is part of our history and the people who go there are part of our culture. Also, sometimes when you're in the right mood and everything falls together you can be together not only with the other customers but with the spirits of thousands of other gay men who have found comfort and solace in this humble palace. In spite of all of its faults, I feel everyone into bathhouse sex should at least once pay homage to this faded, historied dowager. You just may end up, as I did, having a really great time.
Note from the author: This article is dedicated to former KLYT employees Michael and Manuel, both victims of HIV. Thanks for buzzing me in all those times, guys, and thanks for understanding why I needed to be there.