Deward Hastings, a 78-year-old man known in San Francisco Bayarea circles as “The Hot Tub Guy,” was found dead in his Berkeley, California, hot tub this September.
Hastings got his nickname because he offered free soaks in his Essex Street backyard handcrafted redwood hot tub for nearly 50 years.
Hastings built the four-foot-deep wooden hot tub in his tree-covered backyard with the help of friends and a how-to book from the library.
It is believed that he opened the hot tub to the public in 1975, where, in a 2000 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he estimated that he had hosted more than 30,000 guests free-of-charge from all around the world. He did not make his address public or advertise the hot tub, so its popularity spread through word-of-mouth, with passcodes based on phone numbers. Patrons would use their own phone numbers to gain entry. Hastings said there were around 870 working phone codes in circulation, and if one became to widely shared, he would shut it down. He kept a single camera on the premises aimed at the key code pad for weeding out unsavory guests.
According to Mark Lemaire, a friend of 18 years, “Deward was very concerned that the space not become sexualized or a party spot.
Deward Hastings ‘The Hot Tub Guy’, pictured above. His hot tub is in the middle. Photo credit: Greg Callahan One thing he always told me was that he wanted his space to be safe for a single woman going there at 3 a.m.”
So, to control crowds and maintain a safe space for female guests in the totally nude space, access was limited to only women and the men they brought with them. Men could get their own codes if they were sponsored by a woman and submitted a written request.
And the female-friendly policy was restricted to the biologically female. At one point, he put up a flier that read in part, “The Essex offering is/ was to/for women (per Webster’s… woman: an adult female person). People not comfortable with that intention are entirely welcome to go somewhere else. Female: of, relating to, or being the sex that typically had the capacity to bear young or produce eggs; female: a person bearing two XX chromosomes in the cell nuclei and normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries.”
He kept the water exceptionally hot: 113 ½ °F exactly. Some said the heat was unbearable, but Hastings liked the extreme heat because it kept people from lingering, and he felt it was more sanitary. To cool off, there was a nearby hammock and a couple of wooden platforms where people could do naked yoga.
He also maintained a strict, notalking rule. Rona Marech wrote about the no-talking rule in 2000, saying it “adds a hushed, dreamy quality to the experience. Naked strangers move in and out of the water and lie out on wooden platforms, all without a word. Especially at night, when the naked bodies flit by like wood nymphs in the moonlight, the woozy scene seems like something straight out of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’” Berkeley Police Officer Byron White said Hasting’s death does not appear suspicious. Hastings himself was a regular fixture in the hot tub, where he generally soaked in the afternoons. He was found in the hot tub by another guest, who was soaking there that day.
“It was one of the most impressive acts of generosity I’d ever seen on private property,” said his neighbor, Greg Callahan. “I knew whoever was doing this is very special.”