By SHARON SNYDER
Los Alamos Historical Society
The road that is Bathtub Row today passed by masters’ quarters and classrooms during the Los Alamos Ranch School years. During the Manhattan Project, it was the road to the houses assigned to key staff members at Project Y, and now it leads to lovely homes, the History Museum, the offices of the Los Alamos Historical Society, and Fuller Lodge. The lane that became Bathtub Row has been significant in three eras of our history.
In the beginning the road was dirt and not much wider than a path. It wound its way through the Los Alamos Ranch School (LARS) property, and gradually a few rustic buildings appeared along the way. Those structures, built of logs and stone in the 1920s and 30s, are historic today.
The sign that made Bathtub Row an official street name. Photo by Sharon Snyder
The row of log and stone buildings wasn’t planned from the beginning or constructed all at once. In its first months, LARS housed students and held classes in wooden buildings left from the homestead era. In 1917, the building known as the Big House was constructed and gave staff and students a better place to live and attend classes. As the school grew and more masters were hired to teach, better and larger quarters were needed, as some of the men were married and had families.
The buildings that remained from the LARS years played a prominent role during the Manhattan Project, and it was within those years that the road and its rustic houses became known as Bathtub Row. Because those existing houses were built before World War II, they had bathtubs. The dormitories and homes built in Los Alamos during the war were equipped with showers rather than bathtubs because the iron used for the lining in tubs was needed for the war effort. The people living in other forms of housing were envious, and one night at a party, Alice Kimball Smith, wife of scientist Cyril Smith, referred to the lucky occupants as living on “Bathtub Row” and the name stuck!
What had been a dirt road was eventually paved and became 20th Street. During the Manhattan Project and in the early months after the war, houses on Bathtub Row were occupied by three Nobel Laureates—James Chadwick (1935), Ed McMillan (1951), and Hans Bethe (1967)—and four Fermi Award winners—Hans Bethe (1961), Robert Oppenheimer (1963), Norris Bradbury (1970) and Harold Agnew (1978).
After World War II, the town of Los Alamos developed around the original structures that had composed the campus of the Los Alamos Ranch School. Though the houses of Bathtub Row were sold to private citizens in the late 1960s, they are still part of the Los Alamos National Historical Landmark District, along with Fuller Lodge, the Guest Cottage (now the History Museum), and the LARS Power House. The district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and in 1984 the County Council designated the area as the Fuller Lodge Historic District.
In 2000, the Los Alamos Historical Society created a proposal for preserving and using Bathtub Row and the Fuller Lodge Historic District. The long-term goals included the acquisition of the houses on Bathtub Row as they became available, continued maintenance of the properties, and eventually providing public access to these historic structures. Now, two decades later, the society owns two of the homes that have come to be known as the Oppenheimer House and the Hans Bethe House.
In 2007, with the agreement of the residents of 20th Street and Juniper, the Los Alamos Historical Society petitioned the County Council to make Bathtub Row the official name of the street that had been called by that name for more than five decades.
Though it isn’t widely known outside of Los Alamos, Bathtub Row is one of the most prestigious streets in America, and it gives us our sense of place. In the coming weeks, I plan to introduce my readers to the history of each of Bathtub Row building.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the
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