Decorah Municipal Bathhouse

Decorah, Iowa | C.1937

Photo Credit: Erica Riha

The Decorah Municipal Bathhouse and Swimming Pool is a building born out of a partnership between the Iowa government and the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). Since its completion in 1937, it has been in continual use, and is the only remaining WPA building of its style in the state.

Designed by architect Edward Novak, the building embraces Art Moderne and International styles. Situated on a property donated by Luther College and local citizens, the Bathhouse was built by unemployed men who were hired as laborers through the WPA program during the height of the Great Depression.

In 1983, the Bathhouse and Pool underwent a major renovation and during the improvement process, locals considered demolishing it. The Bathhouse would face demolition again nearly three decades later when the community considered replacing the open pool area with a more modern structure, thus spurring local Kyrl Henderson to launch a conservation effort.

Henderson partnered up with a Luther College history professor who published a piece on the history and significance of the building, and convinced the community to support its preservation. After Henderson secured a preservation grant, the Bathhouse was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Today, the Bathhouse maintains its original design and is an actively used pool facility. The historic structure is not only an emblem of early 20th century architecture, but a reflection of the impact the WPA had on Iowa during one of America’s most difficult eras.

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