A project underway on inner Washington Avenue will bring a Scandinavian-inspired public sauna and bathhouse to Portland.

Artist’s rendering shows the facade of Washington Baths. a public bathhouse and sauna under construction on Washington Avenue. Courtesy of Washington Baths

Washington Baths is under construction at 145 Washington Ave., a small parcel of land between the Portland Gear Hub and an existing residence.

Owner Asher Woodworth said when Washington Baths opens next fall it will be the city’s only sauna with a fixed location that’s open to the public on a drop-in basis. Most other local saunas are in hotels or fitness clubs.

“This is going to be a pretty different offering for Portland,” Woodworth said. “It’s not intended to be a luxury retreat. It’s intended to be more like a yoga class that you stop by and then get on with the rest of the day or evening.”

He added, “It’s all about thermal delight.”

One other public sauna appears to be operating in Portland, but it has no fixed location. That’s because the Little Red Sauna is a horse trailer that’s been converted into a mobile wood-fired sauna that can be rented and brought onsite throughout the state, including to cabins and waterfront locations.

Owner Hannah Hamalainen, a 2019 graduate of the Top Gun entrepreneurship program, said she’s done a variety of weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and corporate events mostly in Portland and as far away as Monson and Camden, which have established Finnish communities. She also does a monthly pop-up event so people can stop by and give it a try.

“We launched in September and business is doing well,” Hamalainen said. “Sauna culture is huge in Maine.”

Washington Baths would have two wood-fired and gas-fired saunas that can be scheduled for gender-specific or co-ed use. The facility will have a private, open-air courtyard with a hot-soaking pool and a cold-plunge pool.

Massages will be offered upstairs, and the lower level will feature a lounge and cafe, where snacks and beer can be purchased.

Plans also show a 500-square-foot exercise room and two locker rooms. Each sauna appears to be about 156 square feet. And two residential units will be included in the development.

A construction site on Washington Avenue in Portland that will be home to a Scandinavian-inspired bathhouse. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Woodworth said the facility will not be membership-based. Instead, people would pay for the time and services they use. He said a common sauna session would last about two hours.

He said the designs from architect Kiel Moe and the Decentralized Design Lab were influenced by the Finnish urban saunas in Helsinki and the Russian bathhouses of New York City.

Woodworth said he’s been working on the $1.5 million project for the last five years. He believes Portland is ripe for such a bathhouse, which he believes will be used by people of all age groups who are interested in health, wellness and outdoor recreation.

His application to the city states that “there is no true option for a communal bathing experience in Portland.”

“It seems to be something that a lot of people are excited about,” he said.


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