40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#60: Thomas Jefferson Park Pool

on August 27, 2013

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.

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3 responses to “#60: Thomas Jefferson Park Pool

  1. […] “New” pools I hope to hit this season include WPA gems Astoria Park Pool in Queens and Lyons Pool in Staten Island. My usual summer routine of mornings at John Jay Park has to change due to a new job location and schedule, so I may become more of a regular in Central Park’s Lasker Pool or East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park Pool. […]

  2. […] to swim at Red Hook on the Fourth, some good workouts at my newly adopted home pool of Thomas Jefferson Park, a social swim with the hordes at Lasker, and a Friday pool tourism outing across the river to […]

  3. […] open on Saturday. I’m looking forward to many of the same treats as last summer: home base at Thomas Jefferson Park Pool, omnipresent lap lanes and weekend food trucks in Red Hook, occasional social swims at Lasker Pool […]

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