Flex Spa in Silver Lake apparently has closed.
A signed posted last night at the entrance to the parking lot of the gay bathhouse, which is at 4424 Melrose Ave. in Silver Lake, says simply “business closed.” As of this posting, the owner, Fleck & Associates of Cleveland, has not returned calls from WEHOville.com. No one is answering calls at the Flex Los Angeles location.
The closing of Flex comes on the heels of the closing of Hollywood Spa in Hollywood, announced in February. Peter Sykes, owner of Hollywood Spa, said traffic at his bathhouse had declined. He attributed that in part to a cultural change, which he said is having an impact on gay bathhouses across the country.
“You don’t have to be in the closet as a gay man,” he said. “You can go to the supermarket and play with the bananas and get a date.”
Others have noted the popularity of so-called “hookup” apps like Grindr and Scruff, which gay men use to meet other gay men on their mobile phones for casual sexual encounters.
Bathhouses or spas catering to gay men have existed in the United States since at least the 1920s. In a more homophobic culture, they were one of the few places where gay men could meet one another. A movement to close them began in the late 1980s during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Advocates for the closure said the bathhouses were places gay men met to have unprotected sex with strangers. Opponents said the bathhouses were the perfect venue for educating gay men about the consequences of unprotected sex and were an important gathering place in a city where many were hostile to gay people.
Flex is part of a chain established by Charles Fleck of Cleveland. Fleck, who died in 2012, created a chain of Flex spas in Cleveland, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Phoenix. He turned Flex Cleveland into the world’s largest bathhouse with hotel rooms, indoor and outdoor pools and a bar. Fleck argued that bathhouses were an important tool in fighting HIV and brought AIDS service organizations in to offer testing. He also insisted that his spas distribute free condoms.
“I’ll show you my condom bill sometime,” he told a reporter for the Cleveland Scene in 2006. “I buy more condoms than anyone.”
Flex Los Angeles, which offered a gym, a swimming pool, a jacuzzi, a steam room and sauna and numerous private rooms for short term rentals, also had an HIV testing counselor at its Los Angeles location on weekends. On Sunday afternoons it hosted a popular free barbeque.
Los Angeles has at least five other gay bathhouses. The oldest is Klyt Baths, with a primarily Latino clientele, at 132 E. 4th St. in Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood. Klyt was established before 1922. Others are Melrose Spa, 7269 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles just outside of West Hollywood, Midtowne Spa, 615 Kohler St. in Los Angeles, Roman Holiday at 12814 Venice Blvd. near Los Angeles International Airport, the 1350 Club at 510 W Anaheim St in Wilmington and Peter Sykes’ North Hollywood Spa at 5636 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood. The Melrose Spa, 1350 Club and Midtowne Spa are all owned by Midtowne Spas Inc.