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Gus’ Baths and the Pier

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Gus Jordahn often swam with sea

turtles.

Peter G. “Gus” Jordahn (1881-1938) was born in Denmark, where he was a seaman and an army officer; he immigrated to New York in 1904. Jordahn and his bride, Johanna Rasmussen, honeymooned in Palm Beach in 1911 and soon made it their home.

Gus Jordahn ran The Breakers Casino, a bathhouse for swimming, until 1914, when he built a wooden bathing pavilion at the end of Sunset Avenue in Floral Park. In 1923 he replaced his bathhouse with a Spanish style building, with a special pool for the Palm Beach Swimming Club. Later it became the Sun and Surf Club and was used by guests of the Biltmore and Whitehall Hotels, when Abraham M. “Sonny” Sonnabend and partners owned all three businesses.

Jordahn opened Gus’ Baths at the east end of Worth Avenue, which he expanded to two floors, withshops downstairs and 16 apartments on the second floor. He added a boardwalk with three gazebos, three heated saltwater pools, and a tunnel to the beach. Gus’ Baths was the only bathing beach open year-round in Palm Beach and was popular with West Palm Beach residents.

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Gus' Bath became Lido Pools in the 1930s.

Across from Gus’ Baths, Jordahn built the 1,000-foot Rainbo Pier in 1924, a favorite fishing spot. According to his niece Kathryn J. Rybovich, Jordahn entertained visitors by jumping off the pier to swim with sea turtles, “even going so far as to take them over to his pools.” Here he founded Cowboys-of-the-Sea, in which all members had helped save someone from drowning; membership was for life. Jordahn developed and patented the Sug-Ooter Roll, a life preserver nicknamed the Palm Beach Roll.

Claude Dimick Reese Jr. grew up in Palm Beach and recalled Gus’ Baths:

They had some diving towers that you’ll never see again. They had one there that was a three-decker. … I don’t recall if there were even any lifeguards—there must’ve been a lifeguard somewhere. But we kids would go in there and pay our dime or whatever it was. … [W]e’d keep daring one another over a period of time to go higher and higher till we all pretty much got to the point where we’d dive off of that top one. I don’t remember any of us getting anything more than bruises.

Damage from the 1928 hurricane severely hurt Gus’ Baths and the Rainbo Pier, and Jordahn never recovered financially; he died of pneumonia in 1938.

In 1931 William D. Gray and Hedley Gillings, as Bath & Pools Operating Corporation, bought Gus’ Baths for $50,000 and renamed it Lido Pools. The two large pools were drained every 48 hours, using 78,000 gallons of water. The new owners added a coffee shop, cocktail lounge, and a restaurant with a patio for dancing. After more changes in ownership (once for $910,000 in 1963) and repeated storm damage, in 1969 the Town ordered the pier to be demolished; its pilings remained for another two decades. The site is marked with an etching of the pier on a brass plaque, on a concrete pedestal at its former site across from Worth Avenue.
 

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