Irving Fine, the long-time operator of the Everard Baths at 28 West 28th Street in New York City until its April 1986 closure by health officials in response to the AIDS crisis, once had a business relationship in the garment industry with Genovese powerhouse Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno according to FBI files.
The Everard Baths was a hot spot for gay men celebrating their sexual liberation during the 1970s, and on May 25, 1977 was the site of tragedy when nine men were killed and ten others injured during a fire. The next day Carey Winfrey reported on the event for The New York Times as follows:
Scores of men, some clad only in towels or robes, fled their rented cubicles and the dormitory at the Everard Baths at 28 West 28th Street, in the wholesale flower district, as dense smoke poured out of the three-story building. * * * Six patrons jumped from a second-floor ledge to the pavement, and 20 were rescued with aerial ladders from the third-floor windows facing 28th Street. * * * Irving Fine, 62 years old, who said he was the owner, said a sprinkler system had been installed but was not yet working. * * * Built in 1890 by James Everard, an Irish brewer, the Romanesque structure enjoyed great success as a public bathhouse in the red-light and gambling district known at the turn of the century as the Tenderloin. It had catered mainly to a homosexual clientele since the 1950s.
Before Irving Fine was involved with providing a pleasure palace for gay men he was involved in the garment industry, and once was the president of Miss Kay Fashions with an office at 42 West 28th Street which briefly included Fat Tony as an investor according to a May 26, 1960 report by the FBI on the Genovese mobster. In the course of an investigation into Salerno the G-men interviewed Fine "at the Everard Baths, 28 West 28th Street, New York, New York," and "FINE readily admitted that the subject [Salerno] had also been a partner in the company [Miss Kay Fashions] and offered the following explanation":
He stated that he was born and raised in East Harlem in the vicinity of East 116th Street and Madison Avenue and came to know SALERNO years ago when SALERNO was a truck drivers helper. However, FINE denied that he ever ran with him or his associates. FINE stated that through the years he would see SALERNO occasionally in different bars but again would not associate with him other than to speak to him.
In the latter part of 1955, two close friends who were in the garment business [redacted] offered him a chance to go into the dress business. Each man was to put up $5,000. FINE stated that during the formation of the company he ran into SALERNO on a street corner and during the course of the conversation mentioned the new venture to him and casually asked him if he would like to invest. SALERNO agreed to put up $5,000. At this point FINE denied that he had any idea as to SALERNO's hoodlum activities. FINE stated that SALERNO never exercised any control or drew any money from the company and a few months after his investment, requested to dispose of his interest. FINE advised that SALERNO was paid approximately $6100 by company check for his 1/4 interest. He stated that this was in the early part of 1956 and he has not seen SALERNO since that time.
Fine further told the FBI that he disposed of his own interest in Miss Kay Fashions in 1959, and "that he devotes all of his time to running of the Everard Baths and other real estate owned by him."
Notwithstanding Fine's denial that he was aware of Salerno's "hoodlum activities," one informant alleged to the FBI in March 1953 that during the late 1940s an Irving Fine -- perhaps a different man with the same name -- with the alias Two Gun Izzy "collected money for 'Fat Tony' Salenero and the East Harlem Italian mob to insure there would be no labor trouble in the garment industry." Although the name of the informant in the FBI document is redacted, six years later in February 1959 Irving Mishel testified before a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor or Management that a mobster known as "Two Gun Izzy" had been involved in gangland finance operations as then reported by Delores Newcomb for The Billboard. According to Senator Robert F. Kennedy the "underworld bank grew out of beer-running activities in the prohibition era." Mishel again appeared before a June 1960 Senate inquiry into the role of the mob in boxing promotion during the late 1940s, and an Irving Fine "also known as Two-Gun Fine" was identified as once having served "as chauffeur for Anthony (Tony Fats) Salerno" as then reported by The Associated Press.
In his 2002 memoir Cures: A Gay Man's Odyssey Martin Duberman writes about his 1957 experience at the Everard Baths:
I had quickly developed a hate/love attitude toward it. I hated the squalor of its filthy corridors, the surliness of its attendants, feared its invitation to abandonment. I loved its animal anonymity, the absence of all pretense at verbal prelude or gradual seduction, the easy opportunities for voyeurism and exhibition (in which I rarely let myself indulge), the constant changeover in the players, the plethora of opportunities (knowing a hand pushed away here would be welcome there), disconnected bodies unapologetically pleasuring each other in alluring disregard for every staid convention.
In A Day and a Night at the Baths (Grey Fox Press: 1977), Michael Rumaker provides his account of twelve hours spent at the Everard Baths, and a brief G-rated excerpt provides:
Turning on the wall light, which turned out to be a 10-watt bulb inside a broken glass shade, I glanced around the room which was really a cubicle, with just enough space for a bed. The air had a sour musty smell, as did the whole second floor, mingled with pockets of other, more pungent odors that I was only able to identify later. Hard to tell about the condition of the one sheet and pillow case in the weak muddy light. There was a battered metal ashtray bolted to the wall at the head of the single-size mattress which, when I sat on it, turned out to be a thin pad of foam rubber atop a wooden platform joined to the wall. The cubicle was really just a partitioned enclosure of a dark brown plastic-coated paneling of wood, the walls of which, especially over the bed, were smeared with hair, oil and grease and what looked like lubricant stains.
* * *
I sat on the edge of the bed, beginning to feel really blue. Perhaps my instincts, although grounded in fear, had been right. Perhaps I had made a mistake in coming here. And adding to my down mood was the depressing pall of the odors of amyl and butyl nitrates, the capillary looseners and orgasm heighteners, like a combined smell of stale popcorn, rancid peaches and sneaker crud, that hung like a heavy reeking cloud in the air in all the endless corridors throughout the baths. Torn popper wrappers and broken ampoules were strewn outside my door on the hallway floor. The nicotine and marijuana darkened walls, which appeared not to have had a brush of fresh paint since the place was built, seemed permeated with that particularly inert, greasy odor of poppers. Wherever you went, the musky chemical smell of it was constantly in your nostrils. I sat on my bed breathing it in unwillingly, and longed for a breath of fresh air. Except for the shut window in the toilet, I hadn't seen any other windows here on the second floor. Later I would go up to see what the third floor was like. Perhaps there would be a window there, however small, where I could stick my nose out and breathe something other than the cold, kerosene smell of amyl.
No word on whether Fat Tony -- a notorious ladies' man -- ever took a steam at the Everard Baths.
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Further reading that may be of interest: