40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

Author, Author!

40 pools book coverI got the most amazing present courtesy of this blog’s number-one fan*: a book of the first 40 pools! The layout and cover were designed by a talented graphic designer who skillfully incorporated the blog’s visual theme, and it’s so shimmery that it looks like you could dive in. Instead, you can page through electronically or get your very own copy at blurb.com.

Perusing the book brings back memories of wonderful pools and wonderful friends, old and new. It’s fun to see how the project took shape throughout the year, bringing me to pools far and near, more exciting and diverse than I would have thought possible.

It’s really neat to have a tangible souvenir from the project, too. I used to work on books and always felt such pride when they came out, whether my name was buried in the acknowledgments or not listed at all. That feeling is multitudes greater with my name on the cover, never mind that there are only two copies in existence.

I couldn’t bring myself to stop at just 40 pools and don’t plan to stop at 54. Here’s to more pools and friends, old and new, and unexpected pleasures in 2013!

*Number-one status earned by being the blog’s first subscriber and maintained on many a swim. Thanks, Hug!

40 Pools displayed on a coffee table

40 Pools, the book: suitable for a coffee table near you.


#54: London Terrace Pool

London Terrace Pool as seen from balconyLocation: Chelsea, Manhattan

Configuration: 5 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: $13 with guest of resident, payable by check only

Fees to Date: $221.87

If ever there were a pool worth parading around 23rd Street in your Speedo in order to gain access, this is the one. Before I get to the true story of just such an incident, it’ll help to understand the pool’s history and the attributes that make it such a nice place to swim.

Old photo showing the high dive and other boards in useLondon Terrace, a mammoth apartment complex filling a city block in Chelsea, came into existence at the onset of the Great Depression and soon found itself in default, despite the nearly 1,700 units filling up quickly. A little foreclosure problem got resolved by separating the ownership and finances of the four corner buildings from the 10 interior ones. The latter now comprise London Terrace Gardens, a rental complex, whereas the London Terrace Towers eventually turned co-op. The pool, which can be found at the southwestern corner of West 23rd Street and 10th Avenue, resides in the Towers and is run by the co-op.

Originally configured for six lanes and with three diving boards as seen in the vintage photo at left, the pool quickly became a beloved amenity for residents and also frequently hosted high-profile competitions such as the 1939 World’s Fair tryouts. Gertrude Ederle and Johnny Weismuller are said to have worked out here.

Starting in the 1939 and continuing at least through the 1960s, the influential Women’s Swimming Association made the pool its home base. This organization, which provided encouragement and support to Ederle and scores of other ground-breaking female athletes, used the pool for training and teaching.

locker room lounge chairs"To the pool" signIt’s easy to imagine these pioneering swimmers finding inspiration here–the gently arched ceiling, cathedral windows, exquisite tiling, and classy locker rooms–just as today’s visitors do at this well-kept facility. The locker rooms alone are a treat, with old-school lighting, signage, and lounge chairs. It’s enough to make me want to don a fitted dress and hat and kick back, 1930s style.

The pool is every bit as lovely as you’d expect in such a grand setting. My host was an old friend and Towers resident, Gary, an excellent tour guide with the Wikipedia entry about the place to his credit. Among other tidbits: the pool generally goes unused on Wednesdays, and despite being underutilized it cannot be open to the public because it is only accessible by stairs and thus does not meet ADA requirements. The last usage agreement between Towers and Gardens is going to expire soon, so Gary anticipates tense negotiations over the pool in the new year.

This brings us to the Speedo-clad protesters in 1992. Threatened with loss of pool access or a stiff hike in fees, Gardens residents filed a lawsuit and mobilized in a quintessentially New York protest. “Swim free or die,” they chanted in their flip-flops, snorkels, and swim suits as they swarmed the Towers lobby and invaded the pool. A rent strike followed. In what could be claimed as a victory for both sides, Gardens residents retained their pool access with a steep hike in the service fee paid to the Towers.

Gary and I visited at night two Thursdays ago and had the pool nearly to ourselves. Swimming takes a little getting used to due to the lack of backstroke flags and the misalignment of lane lines and markings on the bottom, which are configured for five and six lanes, respectively. I’d visited during the day a couple times previously and had enjoyed the courtyard views from the large windows by the deep end. The nighttime turned out to be equally pleasant, thanks in no small part to the bright interior lighting. With a lane to myself and refreshingly cool water, I could have swum a long time were it not for holiday obligations.

Gary hadn’t swum recently due to an injury but is now recovered. He said he’d be happy to have company and motivation on future swims, so I’ll keep my checkbook handy when I visit Chelsea and look forward to future brushes with the ghosts of swimming luminaries in this historic pool.


Post-Sandy State of the Pools

Asser Levy outdoor pool almost full

Asser Levy outdoor pool in late October. Photo by Lisa Lisa.

Hurricane Sandy surged into town more than a month ago, upending life throughout the region in countless ways. New reports about its effects continue to pour forth, even as business is back to normal in some parts of the city. In the suburbs and parks, the high winds toppled trees willy-nilly, crushing whatever was in their path. In much of New York City, though, seawater reaching heights nearly 15 feet above normal was the biggest problem–the same seawater that is usually such a comfort and pleasant escape.

For those of us lucky enough to escape the most direct wrath of the storm, everyday concerns like where to swim became complicated despite feeling trivial compared to the many more serious problems. With the reopening of Chelsea Piers today and the Polar Bears starting their season tomorrow, here’s a report on what the storm meant for some local pools and beaches.

Mass transit was one of the first casualties, closing on Sunday evening and thus forcing the closure of gyms whose staff rely on transit to get to and from their jobs. Even if they weren’t damaged by the storm, most facilities did not reopen until at least Thursday, when some trains were running again. Riverbank State Park’s indoor pool was in this category, although its outdoor track remains closed ostensibly due to wind damage to one of the light towers.

Most CUNY campuses stayed closed through Thursday, with those that hadn’t lost power reopening at the end of the week, including John Jay and City College pools. Baruch was without power all week, and even when it returned the pool’s heater didn’t work, so the pool was out of commission another two weeks. It was chilly when it reopened but is now back to normal. NYU and its pools were also closed and without power for a week, and I don’t know if they experienced other complications.

Asphalt Green‘s member locker became temporarily one with the East River, and as usual the Battery Park City outpost’s completion is delayed. Roosevelt Island’s pool took a beating with the rest of the island and finally reopened on November 26. Chelsea Piers was also hit very hard and just came back online today. In the intervening month, the McBurney Y and my team welcomed their swimmers.

City rec centers also suffered. That’s Asser Levy’s outdoor pool in the photo at the top of this post, nearly filled with water again–saltwater–long after it was drained for the season. It remains to be revealed whether this caused problems here or at other low-lying outdoor pools such as Ham Fish and Red Hook. Asser Levy’s indoor pool is still closed due to damage to the rec center, likewise the Tony Dapolito pool and rec center and a number of others throughout the five boroughs.

Brighton Beach cleanup

Photo by Hsi-Ling. [More pictures by Capri]

Meanwhile, the receding floodwater left Brighton Beach covered in debris of all shapes and sizes, including boardwalk planks, decks ripped from homes, refrigerators, and telephone poles–much of it with nails poking out. CIBBOWS and Polar Bears helped consolidate the debris into piles for easier pick-up by the Parks Department. The Polar Bears canceled their entire November schedule due to damage at their home base–the Aquarium–and worries about what’s in the water, so they will be doing their first dip of the fall tomorrow. (One of the few other times they canceled a swim in recent memory was their prescient protest against climate change in 2007.) The Shorefront Y became and remains a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, meaning it is up and running and welcoming community members who need assistance.

In short, the pools all suffered, but the extent of damage was widely uneven. Those that reopened within a few days saw new customers: pool refugees. Those that took harder hits are now facing difficult questions relating to their formerly prized or at least benign waterfront locations. The story will continue to play out in the coming months and years.