40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Not a Pool: West Side Y Small Pool

on May 25, 2012

West Side Y small pool
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.

Neptune mural

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.

Hannah,Janet, and stained-glass windows

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.

7 responses to “Not a Pool: West Side Y Small Pool

  1. Debbie says:

    “dramatic Neptune mosaic (bonus points if you figure out why it’s rated PG-13” — Could it be related to the interesting drapery descending across Neptune’s crotch? 🙂

  2. Regina Chiu says:

    Just stumbled across yor blog; love it! I’m 45 and fairly new to swimming as a sport. I began at age 41, but have come to love it! I’ve done some of the NYC Swim events, which are fantastic, but always wondered where all the pools are hidden away. You’re journey is so fun to follow along and find out. I used to swim here and my son took lessons in the smaller pool, but the lap pool was always so crowded. A new job and more money allowed my to move to the JCC which is closer to my home anyway. Fortunately, I work from home so can go during less crowded times. I enjoy the swimming there more because of its “roof” location; it feels so open. I also love Riverbank, as you describe, in the early morning hours. It’s an awesome facility for a state park. Can’t wait to see where you go next!

    • Hannah says:

      Thanks for following along! Good luck with your swimming.

      • liz g. says:

        Regina and Hannah – you should know each other from NYCC! Regina did the A19 SIG with me in 2011; Hannah was my B17 SIG leader in 2008.

        Two Degrees of Liz Greenstein 🙂

  3. Regina says:

    Ha! Hey Liz! I also did my B18 with John Humenick as my leader. I’m going to guess Hannah knows him! I’m willing to bet we met and didn’t even know it. The world keeps getting smaller.

    • Hannah says:

      John is a good pool buddy of mine! He appeared on my blog in January as the counter for my One Hour Swim at Columbia. (I mentioned him by name but didn’t get a photo.) I swim with him pretty often and was his SIG leader back in the day!

      • Regina says:

        It really is a small world. He is really nice. I used to see him all the time at Riverbank. He is super fast in the water. So jealous 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: