40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#53: UC Berkeley Hearst Memorial Gymnasium North Pool

on November 26, 2012

Hearst Pool deep endLocation: Berkeley, California

Configuration: 33 1/3 yards x 4 double-wide lanes

Fee: Included with RSF day pass purchased for Spieker Pool

Fees to Date: $208.87

I wish I had an underwater video camera in order to share with you the experience of swimming in the Hearst Gym North Pool. Envision a Roman bath to get in the spirit. Imagine following an inlaid-marble black like along the bottom and coming up to an all-black marble wall in the deep end. As you breathe from this elevated vantage point, admire the classical statuary to one side and to the other the campus Campanile, which chimes every hour and is the closest thing to a pace clock at this beauty. My pictures don’t do it justice, so take a look at the photos here and here for more views.

Campanile from HearstThe North Pool is the largest of three pools at this gym, which was built in the 1920s for Cal’s women and now plays host to most PE classes. Like Spieker, this pool had no backstroke flags and warmish water, but here the grand setting distracted me from these quibbles.

Knowing the pool’s history makes it even more interesting. For example: Until this pool turned co-ed in the late 1970s, the school issued “one-piece flapper-style swimsuits” to all bathers and kept the pool clean by having the suits boiled between uses! (Two photos of the swimsuits in action appear in this document.) Subsequent to my visit, I learned that the building has a women-only clothing-optional sundeck adjoining yet another pool–something to look forward to during a future visit.

Hearst shallow endBernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan share credit for the design of this building, which was intended to adjoin an arts complex for which the pool decks would doubles as terraces and outdoor promenades. Morgan is of particular interest to pool tourists, having also created pools at the Berkeley City Club and Hearst Castle.

The Bay Area has a number of other pools that are 100 feet, aka 33 1/3 yards. I haven’t yet figured out why this is the case and welcome theories or explanations.

In addition to Spieker and Hearst, Cal has two other pools on campus, but one is closed for the winter and I didn’t have time for the other. There are plenty of reasons that I’m looking forward to returning to this part of California.

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4 responses to “#53: UC Berkeley Hearst Memorial Gymnasium North Pool

  1. Ray says:

    Hi,
    great description of a historic location at berkeley (grad 91′). Thanks for pics. There’s a couple pics of women swimmers from the late 1930’s at the pool on the internet. might want to copy those for your article. William Randolph Hearst mother was very active in promoting women’s physical activity at the school and initially had a women’s social gym and social club built which unfortunately burnt down in 1922. William Randolph Hearst built this second one in her honor.
    Ray

  2. Hannah, I was fortunate to “bag” this pool today and I have to agree with you on its beauty, the setting … and my utter inability to capture a photo that communicates all of that to the viewer.

  3. […] Towels provided, but BYO lock. See these great historic photos of the Hearst North pool. Read what Hannah at 40 Pools thought about […]

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