The story of New York City’s swimming pools through photographs, 1930-1960

New Yorkers have been taking the plunge in the Big Apple since the late 1800s, when the state legislature passed a law mandating free bathrooms in cities with populations of more than 50,000.

The state believed that it was necessary to provide bathing facilities for families in overcrowded homes, where hygiene issues were a major concern. Swimming pools' predecessors, bathhouses, were initially used for cleaning and therapeutic purposes, but over the years became more geared towards entertainment.

As well as the bathhouses, New York City also claimed "floating baths" along both the East and Hudson Rivers. These wooden baths were filled with river water and protected by pontoons boasting dressing rooms for men and women. However, these beautiful watering holes were short-lived due to the growing concern of river pollution and the limited number of seasons in use.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Parks Department became the authority on bathhouses and began a large-scale project with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to build several grand bathhouse and outdoor pool complexes.

NYC's swimming pools were one of the most notable public recreation facilities in the country, at the forefront of design and technology in advanced filtration and chlorination systems. The pool's influence spread across communities, attracting aspiring athletes and neighborhood kids, and changing the way millions of New Yorkers spend their free time.

The first eleven pools opened within weeks of each other in the sweltering heat of 1936, bringing relief to thousands of New Yorkers. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses attended packed dedication ceremonies over the summer.

At Thomas Jefferson Pool, more than 10,000 celebrated the opening, to which Meyer said, "Here's something you can be proud of. It's the last word in engineering, sanitation, and construction that can be poured into a pool." Is.

The pools were not only spacious but also examples of state-of-the-art engineering and fine design. The planning team, led by architect Aymar Embry II and landscape architect Gilmore de Klerk, designed a series of separate complexes, each sensitive to its site and topography.

Massive filtration systems, heating units, and even underwater lighting provided a more controlled bathing experience than the often treacherous and polluted waterfront currents in which city dwellers traditionally swam. The palette of building materials was mainly inexpensive brick, concrete, and cast stone, but styles ranged from Romanesque Revival to Art Deco.

These WPA pools were designed to be suited to off-season uses such as paddle tennis, shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball, and handball. The wading pool was used as a roller skating rink, and indoor locker rooms and changing areas were adapted for boxing instruction and an evening dance hall for teenagers.

In 1966, a pilot program created a "portable pool" with two pre-engineered, prefabricated 20′ x 40′ aluminum or steel above-ground pools with 6′ wide enclosed wooden decks. The average depth of these pools was between 3 and 3.5 feet, and the cost of the structures was approximately $25,000.

The portable pool program was intended to provide pool facilities in underserved neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, much the way a portable classroom provides provisional classroom space. These pools were designed to be easily moved as the needs of the neighborhood shifted.

The portable pools were designed for youths under 14 and over four feet tall and were open from early July to mid-August. Although each mini-pool was located next to a shower and rest station, there were no changing areas, and children had to arrive on site in their swimsuits.

Today many of New York City's original pools are still in operation and most have received a substantial redesign to accommodate the citizens' needs for summer activities.

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