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L.A. Scene / The City Then and Now

March 09, 1992|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

At the turn of the century, a 45-acre marsh cut a wide swath west of downtown. Long before Palm Springs boasted of spas, Los Angeles residents flocked to Bimini Place near Vermont Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard for the "Bimini Baths."

The baths were part of the Bimini Slough, an ugly swamp that stretched across Vermont between 1st Street and Wilshire.

The baths were created by chance when drillers looking for oil instead struck 104-degree, sodium-rich water at 1,700 feet. The result was the Bimini Water Co., named after the islands in the Bahamas where legend says the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth.

In 1903, the Bimini Baths opened. The popular tourist attraction was destroyed by a fire on Dec. 4, 1905, but was rebuilt the next year by Dr. David W. Edwards and his partners.

The rebuilt Bimini was designed by architect Thornton Fitzhugh. According to a story in The Times on Jan. 7, 1906, it had 500 dressing rooms, a water stage, three swimming pools, two 40-by-40-foot tanks for "private parties" and "spacious parlors and balconies affording luxurious interior quarters for those watching water games." All of this was surrounded by hollow, terra-cotta block walls.

Across the street from Bimini Baths was the Bimini Hotel. This two-story brick building, which still stands, was built in 1903 to house out-of-town guests. What once was its ballroom is now used as a dining room for recovering alcoholics at the Mary Lind Foundation.

By the late 1920s, the area around the baths had become a nucleus for health-seekers. Some visitors, to whom the waters seemed magical, traveled thousands of miles seeking cures for everything from arthritis to backaches. Others merely used them for recreation.

Nearby, the Big Band strains of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey could be heard emanating from the flashy new Palomar Ballroom at 3rd Street and Vermont. The site is now occupied by a Ralphs supermarket.

Bimini Slough was filled with dirt in 1931 to make room for a $15-million housing development designed to serve 10,000 residents.

"Completion of the fill will bring into use what is claimed to be the largest acreage of vacant land in any densely populated section of the city," The Times reported in 1930. "The acreage is but a short distance from Wilshire Boulevard and the increased population resulting from the development of the fill is expected to augment greatly the buying power tributary to this boulevard and to the Vermont Avenue business section."

Bimini Baths went bankrupt and closed its doors on Feb. 23, 1951. Several months later it was auctioned for $125,000. There were hopes that it would reopen. It sat for several years and was torn down in 1956. Today, the building that houses the Daily Racing Form sits atop an unused and very hot spring.

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