To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems. The city's Public Health Director today ordered 14 bathhouses and sex clubs catering to homosexuals to close immediately, saying they were ''fostering disease and death'' by allowing indiscriminate sexual contacts that could spread AIDS. Scientists say AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is spread through sexual contact; most of its victims are homosexual men. AIDS destroys the body's ability to fight disease, Dr. Mervyn Silverman, San Francisco's Public Health Director, said at a news conference that the 14 establishments ''have been inspected on a number of occasions and demonstrate a blatant disregard for the health of their patrons and of the community.
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Burk Delventhal. We have benefited the community for over 25 years and feel now the time has come to close. Thank you for calling. The bathhouses were places to socialize, to exercise--and to engage in anonymous sex. That sparked angry opposition from some gay activists who charged that without the clubs, people seeking anonymous sex would look to public places like parks. Advertisement Ultimately a local judge blocked the shutdown, instead allowing the clubs and bathhouses to stay open if they monitored their patrons and ejected anyone engaging in activities that could spread the AIDS virus.
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It still is, but in a somewhat more tame way than in the s heyday of leather bars, hanky codes , glory holes, and bathhouses. SoMa was home to some of the nation's biggest and baddest bathhouses up until , all of them places where men could find casual, anonymous sex, either in public or private rooms for a small rental fee , and typically with disco playing over the sound system. Then what became known as The Bathhouse Crisis began, during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and all of them were forcibly shut down by the health department within a few years. The city and various Bay Area doctors began parsing what they knew about the patients they talked to with HIV, and time and again the men mentioned frequenting bath houses. One doctor, in an oral history about the time, said he mostly heard his patients mention "8th and Howard," which was the nickname for the Club Baths.
In the s exclusively gay bathhouses began to open in the United States. Though subject to vice raids , these bathhouses were "oases of homosexual camaraderie"  and were, as they remain today, "places where it was safe to be gay",  whether or not patrons themselves identified as homosexual. The gay baths offered a much safer alternative to sex in other public places.