40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#106: Lancaster DoubleTree

view down pool to stingray tilework on wallLocation: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Configuration: 2 lanes x 20 yards

Fee: Available at no additional charge to hotel guests only

My first indoor pool swim in six months happened here at the Lancaster DoubleTree in September, where I stayed in order to visit my mother — through two panes of glass, natch — in another first of the pandemic era. I’ve been back twice since, most recently with my tape measure to check the length because, yes, I am that much of a pool nerd. This is no time to be picky, given the paltry pool openings and hours these days, but this place is actually pretty good.

play pool with frog slide

The hotel — originally the independent Willow Valley Resort — bills itself as a golf resort with water park. Boosting its claim to the latter are the two lap lanes, rec area in the regular pool, hot tub, and spacious play pool that earned my young nephews’ stamp of approval. Also, check out the great murals all around the deck of the regular pool — sea turtle, whale, and stingray, oh my!

Lap swimming is a pleasure with the morning sun streaming through the eastern wall of windows. Although there are no Ts on the walls or backstroke flags, it’s easy to follow the line on the bottom and the ceiling ribs and pipes. The 20-yard distance was good for easing back to indoor swimming, even encouraging me to do some IMs. The water is a tad warm as you’d expect of a hotel pool. Depth ranges from 3 feet at the walls to 5 feet in the middle.

view from the other end of the pool

The CDC has indicated that chlorinated pool water deactivates the coronavirus, but nonetheless I’ve noticed a tendency of pools to be overchlorinated these days. The chemicals here are so strong that I end up with a dry, sore throat, which is a worrisome symptom in this COVID era. Today I drank diluted orange juice during my swim and had hot tea afterward, both of which helped.

During all three of my morning lap swims this fall, I had both lanes to myself and never shared the pool with more than two other people. Today it was just me the whole time.

During my most recent two days in Pennsylvania, the state implemented new restrictions for travelers. Whenever I’m able to return, I’ll be glad to do so for many different reasons, this pool being one of them.

hot tub with underwater mural

The wall art is especially nice in the hot tub alcove.

 

 

 

Leave a comment »

Some City Pools Open, Finally

south end of Astoria Park Pool

Lap swim area at Astoria Park Pool.

Within the past week, all of the city outdoor pools that are going to open have opened — a total of 15. All of the regular park rules and procedures are in place. This means that, unlike at the state pools, indoor lockers and showers are being used — so be sure to bring your lock. In addition, there are social distance procedures and mask requirements.

I’ve visited K-Poo[l] and Astoria and am pleased to report that a lap swim area is available at the latter. According to a lifeguard I asked, it will always be sectioned off. Enjoy!

I was at Astoria yesterday, opening day, and found the water visibility to be low, likely due to a chemical imbalance. Otherwise it was delightful, and there were even lounge chairs available in the filled-in diving pool. Astoria also has the benefit of extremely spacious locker rooms with very high ceilings and excellent ventilation. Pool capacity, even with COVID reductions in place, is over 1,500.

There’s more than a month of outdoor pool season left. Summer is as steamy as ever, and it’s great to finally have more places to cool off.

2 Comments »

#105: Roberto Clemente State Park

RCSP pool and deckLocation: Morris Heights, Bronx, New York

Configuration: 50 meters by 25 yards

Fee: $2

This state-run outdoor pool opened in early July. Unlike its Manhattan cousin, Riverbank, Roberto Clemente State Park pool does not have designated lap swim times. However, on a quiet day you can swim to your heart’s content. My summer pool buddy Alex was having good swims up there, so at his urging I ventured north on Saturday, July 11, arriving for the 9:30 opening and knocking out 5,000 short course yards. Even though the temperature was in the upper 80s, the pool was empty enough that I had barely any interference. Toward the end of my swim I moved to the far (south) end where there aren’t black lines to follow, but there was a seam that kept me straight as I crossed the long course markings. I was thrilled.

Post-swim selfie

How happy was I after 5,000?!

More recently, I’ve heard that the pool is not always staffed enough to open fully, and that the turnout has been higher, so be warned that you might not get your laps in.

Even so, it’s a nice place to hang out with spacious bleachers, a snack bar and picnic tables right off the pool deck, and entertainment in the form of fearless youngsters in the diving pool and spray park.

Hand and wirstband

The magic wristband. Pro tip: put it on tight so it doesn’t bug you when you swim.

There are many concessions to the pandemic. For one, make very sure that you arrive with your bathing suit on and that you’ll be able to show it easily more than once. (Actually, that might happen anyway.) The changing rooms are closed, and the showers are on the deck. Only if you have to use a toilet do you go inside. Your entry fee gets you a wristband that is snipped when you leave: only one entry per session. Hours are reduced from the normal summer schedule to 9:30-1:00 and 2:30-6:00. You’re not supposed to bring a bag, although I did and so did the people who entered in front of me. The wading pool is not opening.

Roberto Clemente statue

This statue by the entrance, whose sponsor I am not endorsing, gives a glimpse of the park’s scenic Harlem River-front location. Swindler cover in Manhattan is across the way.

This park, which abuts the Bronx’s tallest buildings — the nearly 1,700-unit River Park Towers housing complex — was the state’s first within New York City, opening in 1973. Soon named for the famed baseball player who died young in a plane crash during a humanitarian trip in 1972, it has been renovated and refreshed in intervening years. North of the pool complex is a lovely waterfront area that serves multiple purposes: greenway, passive and active recreation space, wildlife habitat, flood mitigation, and rainwater filtration. I also found it to be a fine changing area to get out of my wet suit before the ride home.

If you are coming here by bike from the south, note that online mapping directions have you use the Major Deegan service road. Do not get on the actual expressway. (Right, Brad?) A later stretch along the waterfront brings you to a parking garage that seems to have no way out, but miraculously a gate will open and deposit you by the pool. Enjoy.

Another view of the pool

The diving well is at upper right. I didn’t go up there — it opened late into my visit — but bet it has a great view.

Spray zone

Who doesn’t love a giant spray park?

1 Comment »

103 and 104: The Club at the Claremont

lounge area within poolLocation: Oakland, California

Configuration: One 25-meter pool, one 25-yard pool, plus hot tub and kiddie pool

Fee: Members and hotel guests only

Here’s a throwback Thursday look at an incredible facility in the Bay Area.

I was graciously permitted to join in a masters practice at the Claremont during a trip in February. While this hotel and club rightly boasts “rich history and elegance since 1915,” what now qualifies this post for throwback status is the facility’s temporary but lengthening closure, since late March, due to COVID-19.

north wing of the Claremont Hotel

Here’s the north wing of the hotel and, to its left, the club and spa areas I visited.

This castle-esque structure sits on a hill rising out of Oakland and Berkeley, and I’d long admired it from afar. A couple of years ago, an East Coast friend was going to be staying there right after I was in the area, so I dropped off something for her at the hotel desk and got a quick peak around the grounds. Pool coveting ensued.

For my February trip, I looked at splurging on a stay at the Claremont but dithered and the rates shot up — and I was happy to end up at the Berkeley City Club instead. The Claremont website clearly states that visitors aren’t allowed at the Club, which includes the pool, but just in case I reached out to the masters coach. After a while I received approval to join a practice on Valentine’s Day! What’s more, the workout would be coached by Suzie, a fellow open water lover I came to know years ago.

training pool

Training pool.

Thrilled that my name was on the manager’s list, I ascended Claremont Avenue and walked through the parking area to the spa. Check-in was an exercise in agreement: Would I be using the towels and locker room? Would I like a robe? Yes, yes, yes!

On Suzie’s advice, I’d arrived a bit early, so I stretched out a bit in the 25-meter pool in my own lane, of course. Over in the 25-yard pool for the masters practice, I enjoyed the company of jocular swimmers and Suzie’s technique-focused workout. Both pools were crystal clear saline, with a minor temperature variation between the two. They had digital pace clocks and plenty of gear, plus a hot tub for apres swim.

view from the pool deck

The view on the pool deck.

It’s hard to say what I liked best, but it just might be the view. From the training pool, you looked into a wooded residential area. From the deck, it was down into Berkeley and out toward San Francisco Bay. My photos don’t do any of it justice. Had I not been meeting my brother and family at a delicious bakery nearby soon after my swim, I could have easily enjoyed a long, comfy, umbrella-shaded lounge on the deck.

Months later, we have no idea when previously common activities like cross-country travel will resume, let alone indulgences like luxury resorts. Thanks for the memories.

 

2 Comments »

Excelsior: NYC’s State-Run Outdoor Pools Open

Roberto Clemente State Park pool

Roberto Clemente State Park pool, August 2008.

Hallelujah, the outdoor pools at Riverbank State Park in West Harlem (Manhattan) and Roberto Clemente State Park in Morris Heights (Bronx) opened with scant notice today! Both are offering two daily, ticketed rec swim sessions. Our beloved stalwart Riverbank will also have two one-hour lap swim sessions in the morning seven days a week starting Monday. Preregistration is required for those slots and is only available to current card-holders; I got the instructions this afternoon and hope I make the cut for two doses of chlorine next week.

Pool addicts have a commuting challenge in store: Both facilities are operating without locker rooms; as I suggested early on in this darn pandemic, so swimmers have to arrive dressed to swim with little else. Riverbank has limited outdoor showers and restrooms, and one hopes Roberto Clemente does too. Masks are required for everyone out of the water, and no bags can be left on deck. I look forward to the fashion creativity that emerges from these constraints.

Riverbank’s outdoor pool is a standard 6 lanes x 25 yards. Roberto Clemente’s is much bigger — probably 25 meters x 50 meters. My notes from my only visit there, in 2008, comment on its beautiful location on the east shore of the Harlem River and its red lines on the bottom. (It’s been renovated since, so perhaps the color of the lane markings has changed.) My party of four had the entire place to ourselves, and I bet that will be possible in the morning hours later in the summer. Judging from the park website, it now has a fantastic-looking splash zone too.

Capacity will be reduced from pre-COVID limits to facilitate social distancing. I’m sure the pools will be very popular and appreciated this hot holiday weekend. As summer stretches on, my prediction is that attendance will taper off, making a trip to the pool more of a sure thing.

The more scientists and medical experts figure out about COVID, the greater the evidence that outdoor swimming is safe and physical fitness is beneficial. Let’s all do our part to keep our time at the pool out of the water safe as well, and please be sure to thank the lifeguards, attendants, managers, and other people who are staffing and sanitizing the facilities.

Finally, a word of thanks to the Empire State for providing this vital cooling and social infrastructure! The full list of newly open state outdoor pools is here. Ever upward.

Leave a comment »

Summer Is Saved? One Month Until Pools

Welcome to K-PoolSummer has heated up, and there’s finally some relief in sight. The city’s beaches all gain lifeguards tomorrow, and in another month we’ll have some pools! The announcement promises 15 by August 1, but wouldn’t it be nice if those were lowball figures? And maybe since we’re getting a late start, the pools can stay open into the fall?

The promised watering holes span a diverse collection of neighborhoods in the five boroughs and include some 40 Pool favorites:

However, it’s also missing some other favorites including many of the city’s biggest pools that would best accommodate social distancing. Thomas Jefferson, Lasker, and Red Hook, I’m thinking of you.

If the full complement of pools serves almost 2 million New Yorkers, we can expect that having fewer than a third of the total available for about half the season will only cool off a few hundred thousand of us — and cost around $2 million or .2 percent of the NYPD budget reduction. I hope we can do better than that.

Look for more details from the city tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

1 Comment »

NYC Pools: No News Is Bad News

photo: empty pool

John Jay Park Pool, June 11, 2020

New York City is now in phase 2 of reopening from the coronavirus shutdown, and Governor Cuomo has said it’s OK for pools to open, but there are no signs that our pools will serve us this summer. It’s awfully hot these days, and in any other year this would be the magical time that we first dip into shockingly cool city pools — just when we can’t wait any longer.

Many experts have written and spoken about the importance of this vital cooling infrastructure, however, Mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t budged.

Under normal times, our beaches would have already been open for a month. Instead, swimmers are rising extra early to have their swims done by 9 a.m., which is when ticketing starts. We know that lifeguards have been training, and there is snow fencing up on the Coney Island boardwalk possibly to be used to limit access in the service of social distancing, but there is no official word about beaches opening either.

Meanwhile, count me one among nearly 2 million extremely frustrated and hot New Yorkers.

Leave a comment »

#102: Berkeley City Club

pool view from the shallow endLocation: Berkeley, California

Configuration: 25 yards with space for about 5 swimmers to each have their own trajectory (without lane lines)

Fee: Members and hotel guests only

It felt like a different time even then, and more so in retrospect now that we are in week four of the worldwide coronavirus lockdown. Five wonderful early spring days visiting friends and family while staying at the medieval-style Berkeley City Club. Wake up before dawn, venture downstairs for a swim in the stunning pool, replenish in the dining room over breakfast and the New York Times (in print, thank you very much), and then set out for a day’s adventure. Life at this 90-year-old “Little Castle” was wonderfully civilized but not stuffy, active but relaxing. 

Like a precious few other pools I’ve experienced, this one was designed by and for women. Architect Julia Morgan — who broke gender barriers in her studies at Cal and the École des Beaux Arts and in 1904 became California’s first licensed woman architect — “had a special knack for swimming pools, using color, light, and shape to create sumptuous designs that flaunted a hedonism startling for so modest an architect,” according to biographer Sara Holmes Boutelle (Julia Morgan, Architect, 1988). Cal’s classically inspired Hearst Pool (my #53) whetted my appetite for her work, and I dream of someday swimming in her most famous aquatic creations at Hearst Castle. Most of her other pools, whether for private homes, YWCAs, or municipalities, are no longer intact.

Julia Morgan's first floor plan PLUNGE

The “Plunge Room” at right is the club’s largest interior space. Click for the full first-floor plan. Image courtesy Berkeley City Club.

For what was originally the Berkeley Women’s City Club (single-sex from opening in 1930 until 1962), Morgan made the pool the largest space in the entire building. According to Boutelle, it was put to good use from the beginning: “The Women’s City Club took special pride in ‘waterproofing’ its members, and indeed it pioneered in having a special swimming membership at a time when no other facility in Berkeley was open year-round to women for lessons or for recreational swimming. It is clear from the plan that the 25-by-75-foot pool (labeled ‘plunge’ by the architect) was to play a major role in club activities, since it was given the entire stretch of the building’s east wing.” 

pool view from the deep endAlthough built of concrete and steel, the pool has an Old World feel thanks to leaded-glass windows, magnificent tile work, decorative arches and beams disguised to look like wood, and abundant ornamentation. Swimming here also felt a bit Old World: no lane lines or pace clock, a co-ed locker room with private changing stalls, and a clientele that skewed senior. The water circulated at a healthy rate, and it got choppy with just one swimmer churning away. The very-shallow shallow end turned out to be good prep for the Trinity School Pool. The deep end no longer meets regulations for diving, so the board was removed.

pool view from the loggia

Pool view from the loggia. This is where I would hang out and work if I were a member.

It’s worth mentioning that in addition to the hotel, there are some permanent residents here and also a club membership option that I tried talking my brother into. What a nice place this would be to have always at your disposal.

The major drawback of swimming here is that it’s indoors in a city with abundant year-round outdoor options including Cal’s Spieker Pool just a block away. I always prefer swimming en plein air, and even the garden windows (open!) and portholes here didn’t do the trick, so stay tuned my report from a different option nearby. But first, a few more images from this treasure.

whale on the bottom

Whales swim through the chop at the bottom of the pool.

seahorses as if carved into a column

Naturalistic decor predominates, including these seahorses and shells in the poolside column’s capital.

central hallway

This way from the front desk to the pool.

arches and stairway

View from the main lobby.

1 Comment »

#105*: Trinity School Pool

Lane 2 at the pool

Photos by Piezy.

Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 lanes x 25 yards

Fee: No drop-ins; membership or special event access only

Still unable to use the John Jay College pool, my team scrambled to find a place for the annual One Hour Swim competition and charity fundraiser. Lucky for me, it was a pool right across town that I’d never been to. The Trinity School pool, home of the Tunas, brought me good luck as I exceeded goals in both swimming and fundraising! With one week left in the fundraiser, my team is close to its overall event goal as well. (See below for info on the beneficiaries.)

10 feet deep diving wellAccording to Conrad, who was helping with the swim, this pool was built in the 1970s. It seems to have been well taken care of and also benefits from good lighting. The diving board was removed long ago due to stricter regulations on ceiling clearance, but the diving well remains, providing space for deep-water activities — which could be handy given that the lap pool is just 3 feet deep in the middle and 4 feet deep at the edges.

This shallow depth fed into a mindset of excuses at the start of my swim: choppy water, high walls (rather than turbulence-reducing infinity gutters) at the ends of the pool, and warm air and water temperatures were all potentially slowing us down. I also had a tickle in my throat, a bum elbow, and difficulty seeing the pace clocks. Whine, whine, whine.

On the up side, I had my own lane with Piezy as my trusty counter, I’d trained purposefully, a friendly lifeguard from Riverbank was on deck, and the above-mentioned conditions made me a dial back the pressure on myself. When Piezy stuck in a kickboard to signal that I’d completed my first 1000 yards, I craned to see the clock and realized my time was within range of my perennial pace goal. At the 2,000 mark I was on pace though slowing and not hitting the walls quite right. I decided to breathe a bit more often and found that I sped up every so slightly, much to my surprise. At the 3,000 and 4,000 marks I was still in range of my goal, and sure enough I hit it with more than 25 yards to spare by the time the hour ended! My total was five laps more than last year and my best hour swim since 2013, all thanks to staying relaxed and breathing often. (Is there a life lesson in here?)

After my swim I counted for Warren in the last heat of the day, admiring his perfect form, watching with awe as Shaina folded synchro moves into her laps one lane over, and seeing the other lanes hum with impressive swims. Afterward there was plenty of room for all the women in the spacious, if small-scaled, locker room. The rain shower head, at about a centimeter higher than my scalp, was a special treat that Jess directed me to.

Trinity School, I learned, was founded more than 300 years ago as a free school for poor students who would not be educated at home, as was the custom then. It is now the opposite. A member of the Ivy Prep league, its swim team has done very well the past five years judging from the poolside banners. Community members can join the Trinity Swim Club for regular lap swim access.

This year’s One Hour Swim benefits two charities; donations are being accepted until March 15. Each $50 donation also receives a raffle entry for round-trip JetBlue tickets. Thanks to the generosity of my team and its many supporters for assisting this year’s beneficiaries:

  • The Alliance for Positive Change, formerly the AIDS Service Center NYC, helps New Yorkers living with HIV and other chronic health conditions get the medical care, peer support, and housing assistance they need to achieve health, happiness, and stability.
  • The New York LGBT Bar Association provides free legal services to more than 1,000 low-income and vulnerable LGBTQ+ New Yorkers annually, with clients ranging from homeless youth to senior citizens on issues including housing, employment, discrimination, family law, and more.

*If you’ve been paying close attention, you may wonder about pools 102-104. I visited them prior to this in February — it was a good month! — and haven’t had a chance to post about them yet. I wanted to get this post up ASAP since the fundraiser ends soon.

1 Comment »

#101: Kelly Pool

lawn + pool

Location: Fairmount Park, Philadelphia

Configuration: 50 meters with 3 lap lanes during my visit; 8 lanes total

Fee: Free

I’d long been wanting to visit a public pool in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia has the country’s highest outdoor pool-to-resident ratio (1:21,600 versus 1:150,000 in New York, according to the New York Times), and a higher total count of pools than New York despite having just a fraction the population. Their season starts earlier in June than ours (though it also ends earlier), and as is the case in New York, Philly’s outdoor public pools are free for all comers.

My anticipated end-of-summer weekend getaway to Philly turned out to coincide with a family emergency that would reshape my fall, yet somehow I still did most of the trip and got in some precious moments of outdoor lap swimming on a Sunday afternoon. Kelly Pool had the honors for this important mental-health duty, chosen based on a recommendation from Philadelphia’s pool blogger, who cited it both for its lap lane availability and its expansive lawn.

pool deck, museum in background

More remarkable to me was that we could just walk onto said lawn without showing our bathing suit liners and locks or submitting to a search for contraband items such as newspapers and colored T-shirts, as is necessary at New York City’s public pools. The only delay was that the pool area was at capacity, so we had to wait about a minute until other people exited to be allowed in through the gate.

While just a quadrant of the pool was open for rec swim, in accordance with the lifeguard count, the three lap lanes extended the full length. Another novelty for this New Yorker was that the pool had actual lane lines corresponding to the black lines at the bottom. Interestingly, the “deep end” was in the middle of the pool, with shallow ends at both ends of the lanes.

The fellow swimmers were an eclectic bunch of chlorine addicts ranging from polite to oblivious and using all manner of gear. I enjoyed the view of the Please Touch Museum alongside the lawn. It seemed like there were changing facilities in there, but we never made it over that way because of a grumbling rumbling. About 20 minutes before closing time, we suddenly had to clear the pool and exit the lawn due to a thunder-like sound. We heard something, but the sun was out and there was so much noise in the park that we were skeptical of there actually being thunder. Still, the lifeguards were more than happy to get off a bit early.

Philadelphia Aquarium history posterThe park is a bit of a distance from the downtown area. Knowing we were short on time even without accounting for the possibility of thunder, we took a cab to get there. Heading back into town, we caught a direct bus just across the street from the park entrance. There was a lot of free parking by the pool, and correspondingly a lot of people fled to their cars when the thunder machine roared.

Earlier that same day, we happened to learn some pool history at the amazing Fairmount Water Works Museum. Kelly Pool used to be right here on the Schuylkill in the former water works building, but it was destroyed by a storm in the early 1970s. The National Historic Landmark site is now full of information about Philadelphia’s water supply and environmental stewardship — I highly recommend a visit.

Likewise, I recommend the pool. The Parks Department website is short on detail, so see the pic below for some valuable intel about when you might be able to enjoy the lane lines at Kelly Pool.

sign with pool hours

Post-thunder exodus. All photos courtesy of Neil.

5 Comments »