Janet had helped me plan my swim at the West Side Y so that I’d finish up when the so-called small pool was available. Previously unaware that this pool existed, I was excited to see it–and it did not disappoint. Entering from the showers at the upper left corner above is quite simply breathtaking. Look at the beautiful Spanish tiles, painted arches, colorful windows, and dramatic Neptune mosaic (bonus points if you figure out why it’s rated PG-13). If the skill and love that went into this pool were more common, the world would be a much happier and prettier place.
At 20 yards, this pool might be used for laps at a lesser facility, but here it is the teaching pool, and the water is kept at a warm, learning-friendly temperature. We had to leave when a gaggle of extremely cute young children paraded in for their swim time.
Piecing together information from various sources, I believe that both pools were built at the same time as part of the 1930 building that the Y moved to from its 1896 home on West 57th Street. The new facility was the largest-ever Y up until that time. The architect, Dwight James Baum, had a thing for Romanesque and Moorish styles, and he was not shy about expressing himself in this commission. His flair and attention to detail are evident throughout, including the marble columns and arched doorways on West 63rd Street, ornate chandeliers in common spaces, and that medieval-style door we saw in the larger pool. Alas, his masterpiece was being built as the U.S. economy slid into the Great Depression, and the small pool’s ornamentation was in question. None other than King Alfonso XIII of Spain came to the rescue, donating the tilework to ensure that the small pool was outfitted according to Baum’s splendid vision.
Some 75 years later, the tiles were showing their age, and again Spain stepped in, this time at the behest of a Y member originally from Spain. A 2006 restoration was completed with more than 600 hand-painted tile pieces created by a Spanish company called Adex. It’s an interesting story that I couldn’t do justice to without lifting it entirely, so I recommend you check it out: Tile Restoration of the Spectacular Spanish Pool of the West Side YMCA.
I’m counting this as not-a-pool because it is not set up for laps. I should point out, however, that the pesky rope separating deep end from shallow end did not deter one lap swimmer while Janet and I lazed around on floaty noodles. I should also point out that, pools aside, this entire Y has a truly wondrous array of offerings. The international organizations Achilles Track Club and Elderhostel both started here, the Writers Voice has its home here, there are overnight accommodations, a pre-school, and all the other fitness and community services one expects from a YMCA. I highly recommend a visit.