40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Some City Pools Open, Finally

south end of Astoria Park Pool

Lap swim area at Astoria Park Pool.

Within the past week, all of the city outdoor pools that are going to open have opened — a total of 15. All of the regular park rules and procedures are in place. This means that, unlike at the state pools, indoor lockers and showers are being used — so be sure to bring your lock. In addition, there are social distance procedures and mask requirements.

I’ve visited K-Poo[l] and Astoria and am pleased to report that a lap swim area is available at the latter. According to a lifeguard I asked, it will always be sectioned off. Enjoy!

I was at Astoria yesterday, opening day, and found the water visibility to be low, likely due to a chemical imbalance. Otherwise it was delightful, and there were even lounge chairs available in the filled-in diving pool. Astoria also has the benefit of extremely spacious locker rooms with very high ceilings and excellent ventilation. Pool capacity, even with COVID reductions in place, is over 1,500.

There’s more than a month of outdoor pool season left. Summer is as steamy as ever, and it’s great to finally have more places to cool off.

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#105: Roberto Clemente State Park

RCSP pool and deckLocation: Morris Heights, Bronx, New York

Configuration: 50 meters by 25 yards

Fee: $2

This state-run outdoor pool opened in early July. Unlike its Manhattan cousin, Riverbank, Roberto Clemente State Park pool does not have designated lap swim times. However, on a quiet day you can swim to your heart’s content. My summer pool buddy Alex was having good swims up there, so at his urging I ventured north on Saturday, July 11, arriving for the 9:30 opening and knocking out 5,000 short course yards. Even though the temperature was in the upper 80s, the pool was empty enough that I had barely any interference. Toward the end of my swim I moved to the far (south) end where there aren’t black lines to follow, but there was a seam that kept me straight as I crossed the long course markings. I was thrilled.

Post-swim selfie

How happy was I after 5,000?!

More recently, I’ve heard that the pool is not always staffed enough to open fully, and that the turnout has been higher, so be warned that you might not get your laps in.

Even so, it’s a nice place to hang out with spacious bleachers, a snack bar and picnic tables right off the pool deck, and entertainment in the form of fearless youngsters in the diving pool and spray park.

Hand and wirstband

The magic wristband. Pro tip: put it on tight so it doesn’t bug you when you swim.

There are many concessions to the pandemic. For one, make very sure that you arrive with your bathing suit on and that you’ll be able to show it easily more than once. (Actually, that might happen anyway.) The changing rooms are closed, and the showers are on the deck. Only if you have to use a toilet do you go inside. Your entry fee gets you a wristband that is snipped when you leave: only one entry per session. Hours are reduced from the normal summer schedule to 9:30-1:00 and 2:30-6:00. You’re not supposed to bring a bag, although I did and so did the people who entered in front of me. The wading pool is not opening.

Roberto Clemente statue

This statue by the entrance, whose sponsor I am not endorsing, gives a glimpse of the park’s scenic Harlem River-front location. Swindler cover in Manhattan is across the way.

This park, which abuts the Bronx’s tallest buildings — the nearly 1,700-unit River Park Towers housing complex — was the state’s first within New York City, opening in 1973. Soon named for the famed baseball player who died young in a plane crash during a humanitarian trip in 1972, it has been renovated and refreshed in intervening years. North of the pool complex is a lovely waterfront area that serves multiple purposes: greenway, passive and active recreation space, wildlife habitat, flood mitigation, and rainwater filtration. I also found it to be a fine changing area to get out of my wet suit before the ride home.

If you are coming here by bike from the south, note that online mapping directions have you use the Major Deegan service road. Do not get on the actual expressway. (Right, Brad?) A later stretch along the waterfront brings you to a parking garage that seems to have no way out, but miraculously a gate will open and deposit you by the pool. Enjoy.

Another view of the pool

The diving well is at upper right. I didn’t go up there — it opened late into my visit — but bet it has a great view.

Spray zone

Who doesn’t love a giant spray park?

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Not a Pool: Onteora Lake

Onteora Lake, looking north

If you find yourself in Ulster County looking for a lake to swim that’s not Minnewaska, here’s the spot: Onteora Lake, a few miles west of Kingston. I met three NYOW swimmers here one Saturday morning at the end of a short June vacation in the area, and another swimmer happened to be already in the water when we started. Other than us human vessels, human-powered fishing boats and slow-moving electric ones were the only other craft in the lake. The fishers mostly hugged the shore, leaving the middle clear for swimming. We stuck together and switched off between easy swimming and upping the effort for set numbers of strokes. Phew.

Onteora Lake looking south, with fishing boats

This skinny, kilometer-long lake must have heated up due to recent warm temps; it’s less than 20 feet deep. We could see flowers along the edges and some interesting bird life. Part of Bluestone Wild Forest (in the Catskills), it felt quite remote except for the sounds of the the nearby highway at the south end. It was also quite silty both to taste and in my bathing suit, turning my post-swim shower briefly into a mudbath.

Should any nonswimming companions join you, they can hike or bike on trails around the lake and beyond. Parking is easy in a lot off the highway or farther in the same access road right by the lake. We left our things by a picnic table and no one paid them any mind. There’s no schedule or lifeguard, meaning you can come and go as you please — a particularly important feature during this darn pandemic.

 

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103 and 104: The Club at the Claremont

lounge area within poolLocation: Oakland, California

Configuration: One 25-meter pool, one 25-yard pool, plus hot tub and kiddie pool

Fee: Members and hotel guests only

Here’s a throwback Thursday look at an incredible facility in the Bay Area.

I was graciously permitted to join in a masters practice at the Claremont during a trip in February. While this hotel and club rightly boasts “rich history and elegance since 1915,” what now qualifies this post for throwback status is the facility’s temporary but lengthening closure, since late March, due to COVID-19.

north wing of the Claremont Hotel

Here’s the north wing of the hotel and, to its left, the club and spa areas I visited.

This castle-esque structure sits on a hill rising out of Oakland and Berkeley, and I’d long admired it from afar. A couple of years ago, an East Coast friend was going to be staying there right after I was in the area, so I dropped off something for her at the hotel desk and got a quick peak around the grounds. Pool coveting ensued.

For my February trip, I looked at splurging on a stay at the Claremont but dithered and the rates shot up — and I was happy to end up at the Berkeley City Club instead. The Claremont website clearly states that visitors aren’t allowed at the Club, which includes the pool, but just in case I reached out to the masters coach. After a while I received approval to join a practice on Valentine’s Day! What’s more, the workout would be coached by Suzie, a fellow open water lover I came to know years ago.

training pool

Training pool.

Thrilled that my name was on the manager’s list, I ascended Claremont Avenue and walked through the parking area to the spa. Check-in was an exercise in agreement: Would I be using the towels and locker room? Would I like a robe? Yes, yes, yes!

On Suzie’s advice, I’d arrived a bit early, so I stretched out a bit in the 25-meter pool in my own lane, of course. Over in the 25-yard pool for the masters practice, I enjoyed the company of jocular swimmers and Suzie’s technique-focused workout. Both pools were crystal clear saline, with a minor temperature variation between the two. They had digital pace clocks and plenty of gear, plus a hot tub for apres swim.

view from the pool deck

The view on the pool deck.

It’s hard to say what I liked best, but it just might be the view. From the training pool, you looked into a wooded residential area. From the deck, it was down into Berkeley and out toward San Francisco Bay. My photos don’t do any of it justice. Had I not been meeting my brother and family at a delicious bakery nearby soon after my swim, I could have easily enjoyed a long, comfy, umbrella-shaded lounge on the deck.

Months later, we have no idea when previously common activities like cross-country travel will resume, let alone indulgences like luxury resorts. Thanks for the memories.

 

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Excelsior: NYC’s State-Run Outdoor Pools Open

Roberto Clemente State Park pool

Roberto Clemente State Park pool, August 2008.

Hallelujah, the outdoor pools at Riverbank State Park in West Harlem (Manhattan) and Roberto Clemente State Park in Morris Heights (Bronx) opened with scant notice today! Both are offering two daily, ticketed rec swim sessions. Our beloved stalwart Riverbank will also have two one-hour lap swim sessions in the morning seven days a week starting Monday. Preregistration is required for those slots and is only available to current card-holders; I got the instructions this afternoon and hope I make the cut for two doses of chlorine next week.

Pool addicts have a commuting challenge in store: Both facilities are operating without locker rooms; as I suggested early on in this darn pandemic, so swimmers have to arrive dressed to swim with little else. Riverbank has limited outdoor showers and restrooms, and one hopes Roberto Clemente does too. Masks are required for everyone out of the water, and no bags can be left on deck. I look forward to the fashion creativity that emerges from these constraints.

Riverbank’s outdoor pool is a standard 6 lanes x 25 yards. Roberto Clemente’s is much bigger — probably 25 meters x 50 meters. My notes from my only visit there, in 2008, comment on its beautiful location on the east shore of the Harlem River and its red lines on the bottom. (It’s been renovated since, so perhaps the color of the lane markings has changed.) My party of four had the entire place to ourselves, and I bet that will be possible in the morning hours later in the summer. Judging from the park website, it now has a fantastic-looking splash zone too.

Capacity will be reduced from pre-COVID limits to facilitate social distancing. I’m sure the pools will be very popular and appreciated this hot holiday weekend. As summer stretches on, my prediction is that attendance will taper off, making a trip to the pool more of a sure thing.

The more scientists and medical experts figure out about COVID, the greater the evidence that outdoor swimming is safe and physical fitness is beneficial. Let’s all do our part to keep our time at the pool out of the water safe as well, and please be sure to thank the lifeguards, attendants, managers, and other people who are staffing and sanitizing the facilities.

Finally, a word of thanks to the Empire State for providing this vital cooling and social infrastructure! The full list of newly open state outdoor pools is here. Ever upward.

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Summer Is Saved? One Month Until Pools

Welcome to K-PoolSummer has heated up, and there’s finally some relief in sight. The city’s beaches all gain lifeguards tomorrow, and in another month we’ll have some pools! The announcement promises 15 by August 1, but wouldn’t it be nice if those were lowball figures? And maybe since we’re getting a late start, the pools can stay open into the fall?

The promised watering holes span a diverse collection of neighborhoods in the five boroughs and include some 40 Pool favorites:

However, it’s also missing some other favorites including many of the city’s biggest pools that would best accommodate social distancing. Thomas Jefferson, Lasker, and Red Hook, I’m thinking of you.

If the full complement of pools serves almost 2 million New Yorkers, we can expect that having fewer than a third of the total available for about half the season will only cool off a few hundred thousand of us — and cost around $2 million or .2 percent of the NYPD budget reduction. I hope we can do better than that.

Look for more details from the city tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

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NYC Pools: No News Is Bad News

photo: empty pool

John Jay Park Pool, June 11, 2020

New York City is now in phase 2 of reopening from the coronavirus shutdown, and Governor Cuomo has said it’s OK for pools to open, but there are no signs that our pools will serve us this summer. It’s awfully hot these days, and in any other year this would be the magical time that we first dip into shockingly cool city pools — just when we can’t wait any longer.

Many experts have written and spoken about the importance of this vital cooling infrastructure, however, Mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t budged.

Under normal times, our beaches would have already been open for a month. Instead, swimmers are rising extra early to have their swims done by 9 a.m., which is when ticketing starts. We know that lifeguards have been training, and there is snow fencing up on the Coney Island boardwalk possibly to be used to limit access in the service of social distancing, but there is no official word about beaches opening either.

Meanwhile, count me one among nearly 2 million extremely frustrated and hot New Yorkers.

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Experts Urge Opening the Pools

Let New Yorkers Swim

K Pool photo by Amanda.

Earlier this month I posted 40 Pools’ first-ever editorial on the importance of opening the city’s outdoor pools this summer. Needless to say, I am also strongly in favor of opening the beaches for many similar reasons. Here are some allied views from respected authorities on this urgent subject.

 

“If you close those pools, you’re putting 50,000 kids where? On the streets? They’re going to go swimming wherever they can, and they’re going to go into the river and they’re going to go into the lakes and ponds in the parks, and they’re going to open up fire hydrants. When 50,000 kids open up a few thousand fire hydrants, your water pressure suddenly drops and you can’t fight fires. And the kids are playing in the streets and they’re getting hit by cars. So basically what you’re saying by closing pools is it’s OK if a lot of kids die.”

– Former New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, interview with the New York Post, published April 17

 

“You can’t tell people in a dense urban environment, all through the summer months, we don’t have anything for you to do, stay in your apartment with the three kids, you know? That doesn’t work. There’s a sanity equation here also that we have to take into consideration.”

“People need to know that there’s an opening, there’s a future, there’s hope, that somebody’s doing something. And then you need a relief valve just on a day-to-day basis so people have some relief in their lives, some vent.”

– Governor Andrew Cuomo, April 26 (quoted in the Hill and the New York Times)

 

“With the fate of summer camp still up in the air, it’s all the more crucial to ensure people have opportunities for recreation.”

“Epidemiologists said that local officials can explore ways of safely opening beaches and pools by controlling density and enforcing social distancing.”

– New York Times, “How to Save Summer 2020” (Sunday editorial), April 26

 

And then there’s this fictional moment featuring the doctor from The Plague by Albert Camus (1947):

“Do you know,” he said, “what we now should do for friendship’s sake?”

“Anything you like, Tarrou.”

“Go for a swim. It’s one of these harmless pleasures that even a saint-to-be can indulge in, don’t you agree?” Rieux smiled again, and Tarrou continued: “With our passes, we can get out on the pier. Really, it’s too damn silly living only in and for the plague. Of course, a man should fight for the victims, but if he ceases caring for anything outside that, what’s the use of his fighting?”

<snip>

Once they were on the pier they saw the sea spread out before them, a gently heaving expanse of deep-piled velvet, supple and sleek as a creature of the wild. They sat down on a boulder facing the open. Slowly the waters rose and sank, and with their tranquil breathing sudden oily glints formed and flickered over the surface in a haze of broken lights. Before them the darkness stretched out into infinity. Rieux could feel under his hand the gnarled, weather-worn visage of the rocks, and a strange happiness possessed him. Turning to Tarrou, he caught a glimpse on his friend’s face of the same happiness, a happiness that forgot nothing, not even murder.

They undressed, and Rieux dived in first. After the first shock of cold had passed and he came back to the surface the water seemed tepid. When he had taken a few strokes he found that the sea was warm that night with the warmth of autumn seas that borrow from the shore the accumulated heat of the long days of summer. The movement of his feet left a foaming wake as he swam steadily ahead, and the water slipped along his arms to close in tightly on his legs. A loud splash told him that Tarrou had dived. Rieux lay on his back and stayed motionless, gazing up at the dome of sky lit by the stars and moon. He drew a deep breath. Then he heard a sound of beaten water, louder and louder, amazingly clear in the hollow silence of the night. Tarrou was coming up with him, he now could hear his breathing.

Rieux turned and swam level with his friend, timing his stroke to Tarrou’s. But Tarrou was the stronger swimmer and Rieux had to put on speed to keep up with him. For some minutes they swam side by side, with the same zest, in the same rhythm, isolated from the world, at last free of the town and of the plague.

Rieux was the first to stop and they swam back slowly, except at one point, where unexpectedly they found themselves caught in an ice-cold current. Their energy whipped up by this trap the sea had sprung on them, both struck out more vigorously.

They dressed and started back. Neither had said a word, but they were conscious of being perfectly at one, and the memory of this night would be cherished by them both.

 

Yes, it’s a metaphor, and, no, I haven’t read the whole book, but it works literally as well. It’s not just the kids who need the pools and beaches. Doctors need them too.

Please share other supportive voices on this subject. Listen up, Mayor Bill!

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Open the Outdoor Pools This Summer

Marcus Garvey Pool

The mayor’s coronavirus-inflicted “wartime” budget proposes to save money and limit disease transmission by, among other measures, not opening the New York City’s outdoor pools and beaches this summer. I’ve thought long and hard about this dreadful possibility and hereby submit my plea for opening the pools. You may suspect that this is a knee-jerk reaction, so please allow me to convince you of why pools are so important:

  1. New York gets really, really, hot in the summer — and it’s been getting even hotter. July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on our planet. New Yorkers who don’t have second homes in which to wait out the virus will need places to cool off.
  2. Unlike the beaches, which require significant travel for many people to get to them, outdoor pools are spread throughout the city’s neighborhoods. There are 53 in total, and they can serve nearly 2 million New Yorkers in a typical summer. If we are still limited in our travels, pools will be more easily reachable by many people than the beaches.
  3. Chlorinated pools prevent transmission of the virus, and believe you me the city pools are chlorinated.
  4. Operations could be adjusted based on public health guidelines. For example, we could skip using the often-crowded locker rooms (except for bathroom access) and enter directly onto the pool deck in order to stay more spread out. It works in Philadelphia, so why not here? This could save money and allow New Yorkers to exercise their creativity in fashioning cover-ups for walks to and from the pool. To further limit crowding, we could restrict usage at certain times such as by gender or age so people can plan accordingly.
  5. Operating the pools costs only $12 million out of a $90 billion budget.
  6. The outdoor pools are free for all comers, which is especially important given the massive unemployment and other economic hardships wrought by the pandemic here in its current epicenter.
  7. As key pieces of communities’ social infrastructure, pools will help New Yorkers repair the wounds of isolation and loss and ease into new ways of safely sharing public space.

There are many other benefits to pools in normal times as well. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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#102: Berkeley City Club

pool view from the shallow endLocation: Berkeley, California

Configuration: 25 yards with space for about 5 swimmers to each have their own trajectory (without lane lines)

Fee: Members and hotel guests only

It felt like a different time even then, and more so in retrospect now that we are in week four of the worldwide coronavirus lockdown. Five wonderful early spring days visiting friends and family while staying at the medieval-style Berkeley City Club. Wake up before dawn, venture downstairs for a swim in the stunning pool, replenish in the dining room over breakfast and the New York Times (in print, thank you very much), and then set out for a day’s adventure. Life at this 90-year-old “Little Castle” was wonderfully civilized but not stuffy, active but relaxing. 

Like a precious few other pools I’ve experienced, this one was designed by and for women. Architect Julia Morgan — who broke gender barriers in her studies at Cal and the École des Beaux Arts and in 1904 became California’s first licensed woman architect — “had a special knack for swimming pools, using color, light, and shape to create sumptuous designs that flaunted a hedonism startling for so modest an architect,” according to biographer Sara Holmes Boutelle (Julia Morgan, Architect, 1988). Cal’s classically inspired Hearst Pool (my #53) whetted my appetite for her work, and I dream of someday swimming in her most famous aquatic creations at Hearst Castle. Most of her other pools, whether for private homes, YWCAs, or municipalities, are no longer intact.

Julia Morgan's first floor plan PLUNGE

The “Plunge Room” at right is the club’s largest interior space. Click for the full first-floor plan. Image courtesy Berkeley City Club.

For what was originally the Berkeley Women’s City Club (single-sex from opening in 1930 until 1962), Morgan made the pool the largest space in the entire building. According to Boutelle, it was put to good use from the beginning: “The Women’s City Club took special pride in ‘waterproofing’ its members, and indeed it pioneered in having a special swimming membership at a time when no other facility in Berkeley was open year-round to women for lessons or for recreational swimming. It is clear from the plan that the 25-by-75-foot pool (labeled ‘plunge’ by the architect) was to play a major role in club activities, since it was given the entire stretch of the building’s east wing.” 

pool view from the deep endAlthough built of concrete and steel, the pool has an Old World feel thanks to leaded-glass windows, magnificent tile work, decorative arches and beams disguised to look like wood, and abundant ornamentation. Swimming here also felt a bit Old World: no lane lines or pace clock, a co-ed locker room with private changing stalls, and a clientele that skewed senior. The water circulated at a healthy rate, and it got choppy with just one swimmer churning away. The very-shallow shallow end turned out to be good prep for the Trinity School Pool. The deep end no longer meets regulations for diving, so the board was removed.

pool view from the loggia

Pool view from the loggia. This is where I would hang out and work if I were a member.

It’s worth mentioning that in addition to the hotel, there are some permanent residents here and also a club membership option that I tried talking my brother into. What a nice place this would be to have always at your disposal.

The major drawback of swimming here is that it’s indoors in a city with abundant year-round outdoor options including Cal’s Spieker Pool just a block away. I always prefer swimming en plein air, and even the garden windows (open!) and portholes here didn’t do the trick, so stay tuned my report from a different option nearby. But first, a few more images from this treasure.

whale on the bottom

Whales swim through the chop at the bottom of the pool.

seahorses as if carved into a column

Naturalistic decor predominates, including these seahorses and shells in the poolside column’s capital.

central hallway

This way from the front desk to the pool.

arches and stairway

View from the main lobby.

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