40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#44: Lasker Pool

Lasker Pool by Janet

Thanks to Janet for this picture.

Location: Central Park, Harlem, New York

Configuration: Oval with lap crossing of up to about 60 meters. The max width and height are 190′ x 240 ‘.

Fee: Free

Fees to Date: $181.74

Lasker Pool has been torturing me all summer. I pass it on my way to work as I bike down the big hill in Central Park toward the park exit. There it is, all blue and sparkly, beckoning me to come swim. Fortunately, at the time I pass by the only activity allowed is children’s lessons, so the fantasy of stopping for a dip is not a possibility in reality. Other times of the day are fair grab, as it has a busy early bird and night owl lap scene, and there’s usually a lap lane open in the middle of the pool during daytime and weekend general swim sessions.

pool view from the Loop Road

Hannah, come swim here, the pool beckons as I pass by on my way to work.

Piez organized a Pool Tourism Club visit to the pool last Friday for early bird lap swim. Joining us were Janet, John, Kent, Joe, and birthday-boy Larry. We marked the occasion by seeing how far we could get in 58 strokes and estimated that the lap area we chose was 58 meters across–suitable for a 58th birthday.  Afterward, Kathleen met up with us at Piez’s for breakfast. It was a great combination of swimming and socializing.

In fact, Lasker seemed to serve a large social function, with much more talking than swimming among all users. We were lucky to get a spot in the pool with lane lines nearby and a black line on the bottom. On the way across, a perpendicular current in the middle of the pool provided an interesting challenge to navigation, likewise the curved metal walls, which test the mettle of even the most dedicated flip-turner.

phone, anyone?As I learned thanks to Van Cortlandt, this pool was the only oasis built by the city Parks department between the WPA era and the 1970s. It opened in 1966, and I’d like to think that the circular shape, which is mirrored in the bathhouse, is a nod to that time period’s grooviness. The bank of phones in the bathhouse also seemed very 1960s to me, though it’s quite possible they came later.

Kathleen, Janet, John, Piez, me, and birth-day boy Larry at brunch. Photo by Kent.

Kathleen, Janet, John, Piez, me, and birth-day boy Larry at brunch. Photo by Kent.

While the Flushing Meadows pool is housed in a complex with a skating rink, this is the only pool I’ve been to that actually turns into a skating rink in the winter, for a time period much longer than swim season, I might add. In other words, if I liked ice skating, I would be tempted to stop off here for a quick spin on my way to work in the chillier months. Instead, starting next week, I’ll just long for the pool to start torturing me again.


#43: Larchmont Yacht Club

Larchmont Yacht Club poolLocation: Larchmont, New York

Configuration: 8 lanes of 25 yards plus extensive beach and play areas

Fee: Don’t ask, don’t tell–but free to me

Fees to Date: $181.74

Founded in 1880, the Larchmont Yacht Club is one of the Long Island Sound’s most venerable sailing clubs, with a large membership going back generations, a famed race week, and a beautiful waterfront facility. None of this would matter to me at all were it not for the outdoor saltwater pool, which I got to visit last Monday.

I’d spent a lot of time watching swimming over the previous days, first serving double duty as a boat observer and crew member for the 17-mile Ederle Swim on August 18 and two days later kayaking for an unofficial 4-mile swim across the Sound that was organized by a small group to inspire a friend in his fight against brain cancer. I was proud to be part of both events, but all this time not swimming had me antsy. Fortunately, the cross-Sound swim ended right here at Larchmont Yacht Club soon after the outdoor pool opened for the day, and I already had my bathing suit on. John, one of the Sound swimmers, brought me in as his guest and made sure that I tried out the various features: waterslide, lap area, adult beach, and spacious locker rooms.

pool area from family beachThe setting is lovely, with just a seawall separating the pool from the large, protected mooring area in the Sound. Originally, John said, the pool opened into the Sound instead of just taking water from there. (I found some old photos of the pool but none that old.) A family beach flanks the pool on one side, and there’s an adult-only beach on the other. The shallow end of the lap area abuts a clubhouse that’s at an irregular angle to the lanes, reminding me of the competition pool in Iceland–a positive association strengthened by the short but sweet waterslide.

One of John’s habits is looking for money, and he promptly found about $.75 at the bottom of the pool. I pulled up $.26, prompting a quip that “It pays to swim here.” It was also very nice to swim here. The lap area was all but empty, and the chlorinated saltwater was a pleasant change from the pools I’m used to. I also liked the way the sand gave way to concrete on the sloping pool bottom.

After swim and beach time, we enjoyed a snackbar lunch with the unofficial mayor of LYC who had suggested it to me originally, Richard, and his daughter Devon–both fellow Ederle Swim volunteers plotting their next endeavors. We all have plenty of ideas about interesting places to swim in the future, many of them right here in our own backyards.

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#42: Asser Levy Outdoor Pool

Asser Levy looking west

Photo borrowed from the Parks department.

Location: Gramercy, Manhattan

Configuration: 3 lanes in trapezoidal pool maxing out at about 40 yards

Fee: Free

Fees to Date: $181.74

“This pool has issues,” the aquatics specialist told me part-way through my first-ever visit to Asser Levy outdoor pool last Friday evening. This was not exactly news. I’d already seen several verbal altercations and deliberate provocations as people got the tension from the week out of their systems. The issue I was unwittingly causing and being reprimanded for was breaking the unwritten rule of no kicking in the “fast” lane–despite my kick enabling me to pass most of the other swimmers. Speed was not the problem, but rather the example of allowing kicking, which could lead to a worse breakdown of the social systems. I was already lacking in motivation, so this was the sign I’d needed to declare my swimming done for the day.

Me, Lisa Lisa, and Stephanie captured from outside the pool fence. Ellen was too busy swimming for this photo op.

Lisa Lisa, who as you might recall lives quite nearby, had organized this get-together of stalwart pool tourists. The evening’s only newcomer to this blog was Ellen, who was diligently defending her crown as queen of the pool and polishing off her Ederle Swim training while the rest of us debated the merits of the various fights. The picture at left is courtesy of Lisa’s sister Kris, who stopped by a locked gate with her kids to wave hello. (Due to the pool’s issues, I was not allowed to take any pictures myself.)

Issues aside, what struck me the most here was the highly visible setting. The looming presence of some of Manhattan’s biggest apartment complexes (Waterside Plaza, Stuyvestant Town), hospitals (VA, Bellevue), streets, and highways mean that an incredibly large number of eyeballs could be gazing upon this pool at any time. Considering that proximity of populace, it was surprisingly uncrowded.

Another notable feature was the pool’s shape. Trapezoid, anyone? The “fast” lane was longer on its southern end than its northern end, and the other two lanes were even shorter depending on which direction you were swimming. Whatever prompted this odd shape did not sway the builders from adding lines on the bottom, however, and I was glad for that. Black lines are not common enough in Parks outdoor pools, an issue Lisa Lisa plans to address via a bequest if not sooner.

Side note: Andrew has developed an ingenious, portable replacement for the missing black line in the 100-meter Crotona Park pool. I benefited from it during a recent morning visit, and it works great! Many seeming issues are solvable with a little gumption.


#41: Van Cortlandt Park Pool

Me, Michael, Janet, and Tony (in front) resting from our hare-like efforts. Photo by John.

Location: Riverdale, Bronx

Configuration: 12 lanes of 50 meters

Fee: Free

Fees to Date: $181.74

The Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park is notable for many reasons. At 1,146 acres, it is the city’s fourth-largest park. It’s got the oldest house in the borough, the oldest public golf course in the country, and a world-famous cross country course (est. 1913) marked by a renowned statue, Tortoise and Hare. It’s also got the pool that ended a near-drought in NYC pool building in record time.

The Van Cortlandt Park pool opened in the early 1970s. My teammate Tony (above, at front) visited it that summer and then not again until last Thursday, when he joined me, Janet, Michael, and John in our own lane for early bird laps. Tony and Michael are not normally early birds, but we had such a lovely time that they said they’d be motivated to do more morning swims during the last weeks of outdoor-pool season.

We picked a great morning to go–the blue sky and puffy clouds looked especially nice together with the woods framing the pool. The complex feels to me like a country club, given the various pastel cabanas and out-buildings–fine concrete specimens, all. Swimming along, it’s easy to pretend you are far away from the busy Bronx streets and elevated subway line just outside the park.

Janet embraces tortoise and hare.

Janet dressed for the occasion, sporting a Tortoise and Hare T-shirt, and we chose this theme for our workout. Sets included a team pursuit-like drill where the last swimmer had to overtake the first and a race between tortoises doing 200s and hares doing 50 sprints with naps in between. I favor the tortoise approach but put some effort into the hare portions when appropriate.

The pool itself is something of a hare, having raced from conception to completion in just 11 months, a feat Mayor Lindsay claimed as a record. More impressive in my book is that this pool was the first of 19 to open in the early 1970s, ending a dry spell in new pools since the WPA Era (the only exception being the 1966 Lasker Pool in Central Park). Designed by Heery & Heery architects, the complex originally included a diving pool, wading pool, and Olympic-sized pool. The diving pool is no longer there; I’m wondering if beach volleyball marks the spot.

As explained on the Parks website, the pools built at this time “were handled in an accelerated manner, owing to the acute need for more recreational facilities. The ‘systematized’ design process explains the standard look of each site, which included cabana-like modules, 24 feet square, made of precast concrete and prefabricated aluminum pool tanks and filter systems.” It all looks good to me, and if this pool weren’t so far away I’d try to make it more than once a year.

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#40: Hamilton Fish Park Pool

lap pool Location: Lower East Side, Manhattan

Configuration: 10 lanes of 50 meters

Fee: Free

Fees to Date: $181.74

Pool number 40 happened to be the one I consider the Cadillac of Parks pools. Hamilton Fish Park Pool is a regulation length and has markings on the bottom and even two lane lines–luxe treatment for a city pool. That all pales in comparison to my favorite thing there, though: the outdoor shower.

wading pool and bathhouse

Carrère & Hastings’s Beaux Arts gymnasium, designed in 1898, is all that remains of the park that was here before the pool.

The pool is yet another miraculous construction from 1936, part of an older park complex of which remains only a lovely Beaux Arts building on the eastern edge (at right). This is where the bathroom is, and unfortunately it is nowhere near the pool, showers, or locker room, at least not the way you have to navigate the fences and stairs to travel among these key areas. Swimming here requires a strong bladder (unless you want to be like the Olympic swimmers).

“Ham Fish,” as everyone calls it, is the subject of a feature-length documentary, The Pool, about a busy day in its life and some of the characters who make everything work. It’s worth checking out with fellow pool fans if you have the chance.

I find the swimming here to be quite enjoyable, both for the pool and the people–enthusiastic staff and a high population of creative types from the East Village and Brooklyn. The depth of just 3 feet, 5 inches at first seems too shallow for flip turns, but it is manageable. If I were to be really picky, I would rotate the orientation by 90 degrees so that the morning sun was off to the side rather than straight ahead in one direction.

Two friends who were maybes for a swim here when I came last Friday morning ended up not being able to join me, and a group of familiar faces who sometimes come over from Williamsburg to swim weren’t there either, so I celebrated the 40 milestone on my own, or rather, in the company of many happily swimming strangers.

As I said, the biggest treat of all is the array of outdoor showers awaiting after the swim. Not many things are more blissful than an outdoor swim followed by a cool outdoor shower on a steamy August morning in Manhattan. If I lived closer to this pool, I would probably stop by multiple times a day just for that shower. Just one tip: Remember to keep your suit on until you are in the locker room.


Approaching 40

40th birthday cakeAlthough there are still several months to go in the year of the 40 Pools Project, I find myself one pool away from the original goal–and having way too much fun to stop. With so many pools left to check out, I am looking forward to those far past number 40 and plan to continue posting “new” pools as I visit them.

It has been far more meaningful than I expected to intentionally seek out new swim experiences and friends to share them with. I’ve really enjoyed the stories of other people’s swim memories, and I’m grateful for the way friends and strangers have stepped up to literally open pool doors for me. I’m also glad to count some non-swimming, or rather not-yet-swimming, friends and family members among the readers, and I hope this project has given them some insight into what I love about swimming. Finally, I’ve appreciated the input from strangers just looking for a pool. Even in this Internet age, it is not always easy to find good info about pools, and I’m glad to help fill the void.

Much as I am enjoying this project, I am actually enjoying being 40. I get so much respect when I state my age! I really do feel wiser, more self-aware, and less worried about other people’s judgments. (Youngsters, you have a lot to look forward to!)

One thing that has become increasing apparent is my true need for the pool. Swimming is not optional, to use a phrase from a swim parent who described her daughter’s parallel condition to me recently. Swimming is a very important part of what makes me happy, worth making sacrifices for in other areas–even sleep. Having a goal or two in mind makes the swimming, and the life, that much better.

Thank you for being part of this project so far. If it does not inspire you to stop by your local pool, I hope it motivates you to increase the presence of whatever you are passionate about in your own life. Here’s to lots more!