40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#60: Thomas Jefferson Park Pool

lap end of the poolLocation: East Harlem, New York

Configuration: 30 meters lap area with ample lane space. The pool is 97 feet (aka 30 meters) x 239 feet.

Fee: Free

1936 view

The pool’s thoughtful architectural details were more in evidence in 1936 than what’s left today.

Massive by most standards, the Thomas Jefferson Park Pool is smaller but no less transformative than many of its 1936 siblings. It’s also one of the least utilized pools in the city’s early bird lap program, making it a wonderful break from my always-crowded John Jay Park Pool that is even more packed due to Asphalt Green‘s annual two-week closure. (Why so many pools close in August remains a mystery.) I traveled up the avenue to swim here yesterday morning with Piez and Lisa Lisa and will likely return before the week ends and lap swimming disappears, Brigadoon-like, until next summer.

Lap swimmers commandeer the easternmost portion of the pool, all the better to watch the sky over the East River light up with the rising sun. Amenities here include a few black stripes on the bottom with matching Ts on the wall and lane ropes here and there. There were so few swimmers that “lane” sharing was completely voluntary. It would, of course, be nice to swim long ways, except during my butterfly laps, but 30 meters isn’t bad.

During the day, the pool can be a tough place, and at least last year it led the city pools in “episodes of disorderly conduct.” Situated at a crossroads of ethnic and racial boundaries, it historically excluded many locals in favor of white Italians. Fortunately, there seems to be absolutely no animosity among lap swimmers, who greet each other with familiarity and pause to chat between rounds.

rec center entrance with buzzer location circled

Ring the buzzer to the left of the door for early bird entry.

There is just one secret beyond the normal rules that you need to know to get in: Ring the buzzer. I circled it in red in the photo at right, lest you find yourself standing on First Avenue wondering how to access the swim paradise inside. Also keep in mind that there is no night owl lap swimming here; mornings are it.

Summer 2015 update: Buzzer no longer necessary. The front door is off limits. Instead, enter and exit through the locker rooms–women on the north side of the building, men on the south.It’s actually easier as long as the locker rooms are opened on time.


#59*: Sunset Park Pool

The lap swim end of the pool

Location: Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Configuration: 50 meters lap area with the lane count determined by the cooperation of fellow swimmers. The pool is 162 feet (aka 50 meters) x 259 feet.

Fee: Free

Followers of this blog may be forgiven for thinking I’ve fallen off my swim habit, but that is not the case. Rather, I’ve been returning to pools I covered last summer, namely, my local John Jay and the ginormous Crotona. With just a week and a half left of outdoor pool season, and Janet on a pool tourism tear, I motivated to get in on some “new” pool action. Where better than another 1936 masterpiece on a hot August hooky day?

Sunset Park Rec CenterThere’s no denying Sunset Park Pool’s WPA provenance: beautiful brickwork inside and out, uplifting murals, emergent pyramids, and a thriving pool community being some of the hallmarks. Word is that, like at Red Hook, you can swim laps here whenever the pool is open. However, Janet and I went at the officially designated early bird session, scoring cards #430 and #431 of the season, surprisingly low numbers at this late date.

lobby mural(Speaking of early bird swimming, kudos to the Parks Department for implementing online-only registration this season and for sending out invitations to the awards dinner electronically! Perhaps in the not-too-distant future we won’t need to bring hard-copy printouts of our registrations and RSVP by phone.)

We stayed the full session in the far side by the rope sectioning off the rest of the pool. Because the rope was right over the lane marking, we swam between lane markings rather than around one. We had just a couple other people in our “lane,” and no one minded that we chatted plenty in between laps of corkscrew butterfly and twirly breaststroke.

Lower Manhattan skylineAfter the whistle sent us on our way, we enjoyed another highlight of this park: the view. The hilltop behind the pool sees it all–the Statue of Liberty, the Staten Island Ferry, Lower Manhattan, and a disturbing amount of smog this morning. I know from other visits that the view at sunset is even better, true to the park’s name.

*There is a #58 from the spring. Stay tuned.