40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#13: Asser Levy Recreation Center Indoor Pool

on March 6, 2012
Location: New York, New York

Fee: Free (first Mondays only)

Configuration: 3 lanes of 22 yards

Total to Date: $128.91

For more than 100 years, the pool at East 23rd Street has been providing soothing waters and helping to build friendships. My first-ever visit was yesterday night with two pool buddies who met here in the late 1990s and are still good friends, Lisa Lisa and Stephanie, smiling by the spouting lion in the image at right. It was easy to imagine the many good times had here by swimmers though the ages, such as the group of women depicted at top right, whose poster-sized photo is also on the wall between the locker rooms and the pool.

Serving as an example of the pools-for-public-health movement we read about in Contested Waters, this Roman Revival bathhouse was built in 1906 and the pool opened in 1908. It gained an outdoor pool in 1936 and was later named the Asser Levy Recreation Center after the first Jewish citizen of New Amsterdam (now New York). I am not aware of any currently operating Manhattan pools that are older; please advise if you know otherwise.

precursor to the Sandpiper teamLisa Lisa and Stephanie by the Lion
Lisa Lisa, proud Sandpiper
Lisa Lisa and Asser Levy go back to the 1970s, when she and her four siblings participated in the Sandpiper Swim Team–from which she proudly displays memorabilia. Then as now, she appreciates the quirky 22-yard length, which makes hypoxic sets that much easier than in pools 3 yards longer, and the sculpted lion fountain in the middle lane. (Apologies for not taking better pictures; I was lucky to sneak the ones I got.) She returned to Asser Levy for an adult swim program, and that’s where she and Stephanie met.The pool reminded me of Met Pool, the younger bathhouse in Brooklyn, with its arched window looking in from the entryway, balconies, white-brick walls, and large skylight. Asser Levy’s skylight is now covered in something that blocks the view, but we caught sight of the moon from the windows in the wall far above the deep end. Also like Met Pool, which went from six lanes to three in the interest of having some wiggle room, this one has striping just for two lanes but instead was set up for three. One notable difference is that Asser Levy’s shape is actually octagonal, as each corner has a permanently attached ladder in a diagonal cutout.Perhaps due to my own increasing age, I appreciate these peculiarities, quirks, and vestiges of the past. Here’s to the good bones that allowed this pool to survive for 104 years, and here’s hoping it fosters many new friendships and new swimmers in the century ahead.
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One response to “#13: Asser Levy Recreation Center Indoor Pool

  1. […] a gymnast, swimmer (see pool #13), and Fräulein, I was obsessed by these Olympic Games, and the competition at Munich was […]

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