40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#80: Lyons Pool

Parks Dept. photo of Lyons

Photo by NYC Parks & Recreation

Location: Tompkinsville, Staten Island

Configuration: 3 x 33 1/3-yard courtesy lanes during my visit; 12 x 50-meter lanes during lap swim

Cost: Free

Situated alongside Hannah Street (!) a short walk from the St. George Ferry Terminal, and in eyeshot of New York Harbor, Joseph H. Lyons Pool has been a favorite since I visited for a night owl swim a while back. Years later, I finally returned on my last “summer Friday” off from work. Not only was this my 80th “new” pool since 2012–doubling my original goal–but it was the first blog-worthy dip with my longtime swim buddy Jen.

women's locker room entry with photo of pool under constructionLyons, designated a landmark in 2008, is Staten Island’s WPA gem. Like so many other favorites from Robert Moses’s building rampage that left no borough un-pooled, it opened in 1936. In addition to the main pool, it’s got a diving pool (closed) as well as a spray pool, all amid the signature brickwork and ornamental details that it shares with its WPA siblings. A tall brick smokestack emblazoned with the Parks logo makes the complex visible from a far. A historic photo posted in the grand entryway (at left) depicts the pool as it was nearing completion, giving a sense of the scope of the project.

Jen had the smart idea of visiting during regular hours (obligatory locks at the ready), where we each got a courtesy lane to ourselves. There were a good number of other patrons enjoying the water–which seemed exceptionally clear–but it was by no means crowded. Despite this, we were rushed through the locker rooms just before 7:00, because of an inexplicable prohibition against mixing open swim patrons with night owl lap swimmers.

grand entrance

Signature brickwork I’ve come to know and love.

swim lessons

A stylish swim class from yesteryear seen in the entry lobby.

The locker rooms, while spacious and colorful, were stocked with the cubby-sized micro-lockers used at so many Parks outdoor pools. If you had spent the day, say, out on your bike with a friend discovering a flock of goats and exploring your ideal beach as selected by a Parks quiz, the laws of physics would prevent you from being able to fit all your stuff into a single locker. Fortunately, the you-must-have-a-lock rule does not specify that all of your belongings be locked up together.

lyons_DSCN1389_cropBefore a beautiful return to Manhattan across the harbor at sunset, we stopped to celebrate Jen’s upcoming birthday at New York City’s first Dairy Queen, in the ferry terminal. (Yes, yes, I know that Manhattan now has its own DQ.) Beach, pool, friends, and ice cream–a perfect summer day. As Robert Moses himself put it in 1934, “It is no exaggeration to say that the health, happiness, efficiency and orderliness of a large number of the city’s residents, especially in the summer months, are tremendously affected by the presence or absence of adequate swimming and bathing facilities.”

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There Goes the Neighborhood: Reebok Club Bought Out

When my comp membership at the Reebok Club expired this past spring, I promised myself that if I really, really missed it, I would splurge for a full-priced renewal. Sure, the cost might take a year or two off my retirement, but then again the repeated hot-tub soaks could add a year or two to my life.

Truth be told, I haven’t had much time to miss it. A job transition followed by outdoor pool season have preoccupied me. Still, the splurge option was nice to have in the back of my mind. Come September, when the outdoor pools go into hibernation and Riverbank shuts down for its annual, month-long cleanse, I know I’ll be wistful for a regular pool membership.

Alas, my remembrances of things past will have to suffice. I am no longer interested in rejoining thanks to last month’s announcement that Equinox Fitness is acquiring the club and its handful of siblings from Millennium Partners. Having not yet been to any Equinox facilities, I may be hasty in passing judgment, but I can’t imagine a large chain upholding the same standard of service that I found so exceptional at Reebok.

I recently learned more about what made the Reebok Club so special from my Thursday morning TNYA coach Brad, whom Reebok hired in the spring as a substitute water aerobics instructor. Even as a substitute teacher, he went through Reebok’s extensive orientation program, learning the corporate culture as well as how things work. Cleverly, this was accomplished by giving him a list of questions on topics such as how many towels get washed each day. He would speak with the chief towel washer to get the answer, and then that person would steer him to whomever could help with the next question. Each staffer he spoke with genuinely loved his or her job and was eager to share the ins and outs.

I really appreciated that, too. People working there always greeted me with enthusiasm, took the time to learn a bit about me, and took ownership of helping me and answering questions, regardless of whether the question pertained to their specific function. “Let me show you,” is something I heard a lot. The happiness rubbed off on the members, who rarely tussled over pool etiquette or let complaints dominate the locker room chit-chat as at so many other gyms. (Asphalt Green, I’m looking at you.)

So why haven’t I given Equinox the time of day when they have three 25-yard pools in Manhattan? I don’t think they want me there. Most of my impression of Equinox comes from its ads, which reflect a snobby, image-obsessed sensibility that is not what I’m after. Unfortunately, it is fairly widespread in New York–and now it is spreading even wider.

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