David Harris, founder and owner of one of Washington’s early gay bathhouses in the late 1960s and longtime administrative assistant to a local court reporting company, died Nov. 24, 2009, of natural causes at the Community Hospice of Washington. He was 69.
Harris, a native of West Virginia, moved to D.C. in 1956. In a 2002 oral history interview with D.C.’s Rainbow History Project, Harris told of how he founded the Regency Health Club in 1968 in a warehouse building at 413 L Street, N.W.
He noted that the club quickly became known as the Regency Baths and the only known gay bathhouse in the city at that time. He stated the Regency was raided several times by D.C. police and often faced police harassment.
Harris said he took the city to court to challenge the police crackdown, arguing that he operated a private membership club and its clients should have the right to engage in private, consensual sex. Local activists have credited Harris with clearing the way for other gay bathhouses in D.C. in the 1970s and 1980s before downtown redevelopment resulted in their closing.
A spokesperson for the Community Hospice of Washington said privacy restrictions prevented the hospice from disclosing any information about Harris other than the date of his death. Information about funeral arrangements and survivors could not be obtained.