40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#26: NYU Jerome S. Coles Sports Center Natatorium

on May 19, 2012

Coles poolLocation: Greenwich Village, New York

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 meters (+ separate diving well)

Fee: Free as guest of member

Fees to Date: $151.41

Update: Coles was demolished in 2016. Look for a new pool in the same location by 2021.

On Monday, my pool tourism took me to an extremely ugly building. It was so ugly that I did not take a picture (but here’s one and another if you’re curious). So ugly that although I’d seen it before, I mistook it for a municipal service building and not an athletic facility. (Apologies to municipal service buildings everywhere.) So ugly that just this month, more than 30 years after it opened, a real estate publication I happened to be reading at work described the building as “vaguely flesh-toned” and one of “two of the ugliest one-story structures in the city” together with the grocery store next door. I have not surveyed all of the one-story structures in Gotham, but I am willing to believe this is the ugliest. Mr. Coles was still alive when his namesake Jerome S. Coles Sports Center opened in 1981, designed by an architectural firm called Wank (I kid you not), and I hope that he was deep enough to see past the external appearance and appreciate what’s on the inside.

Coles pool gutter

The first earthen gutters I’ve encountered.

Certainly, there is plenty to like on the inside. For me, the best part was Leigh, my host, but first let me talk about the facility. The lap section of the pool is shallow and 25 meters, a nice extra bit of distance compared to the usual 25 yards. I’d heard that the water is warm, but it felt like the right temperature. At opening time on Monday morning, I had a lane to myself most of the time, with Leigh by herself the next lane over. The pool gutters appear to be terra cotta, a touch that seems very 1981. Otherwise, there isn’t much of visual interest in the natatorium.

Coles does have some sort of provision for limited “community” use (unlike NYU’s newer pool, Palladium), however as an uptowner I am not eligible. Leigh can join thanks to her status as an alum, and following a recent rate hike she got a number of guest passes that she was glad to share.

bright yellow bathroom stallsThe locker rooms span two floors and have a lot of capacity, as you’d expect from a facility serving such a large school. I particular enjoyed the bright yellow bathroom stalls, another reminder of 1981. If you want to take the elevator to the pool–and the elevator serves a purpose since the facility extends underground for several levels–press “N” for natatorium. I like that it gets its own button.

Leigh and HannahLeigh and I met thanks to NYC Swim. She got involved through the NYU Tri Club, which practices at Coles. (The swim team uses Palladium.) The first time I participated in the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, as part of a relay in 2005, there were also two relays comprised of NYU Tri Club women: “Ladies of the Club” and “Mo’ Ladies of the Club.” They were a hoot, and I’ve admired their enthusiasm, volunteerism, and support of one another in and out of the water ever since. More recently, I learned that Leigh is also a talented painter. More about her work and the Ladies is in this nice profile published in the NYC Swim newsletter a year ago.

Leigh was an excellent guide at Coles, having me arrive just in time to be one of the first ones into the building, expertly navigating the locker room, and ensuring that we got the requisite picture. Alas, swimming here may not be an option for anyone much longer, as the building is slated for demolition along with the rest of the superblock, to be replaced by new NYU facilities as part of the NYU 2031 plan. Just as the previous round of NYU construction on this site was controversial, so are the plans for the future. I’ll refrain from editorializing except to say I hope there continues to be a pool here.

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