40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#100: Kosciuszko Pool

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Configuration: 3 wide lanes of 100 feet in Early Bird lap swim area; pool is 230 feet the long way

Fee: Free

The prospect of pool number 100 hung over me all year. I wanted it to be local and special, a tall order given that I’ve spent seven years ticking off other pools that fit those criteria. Happily, Parks came to my rescue by adding a Brooklyn wunderpool to the Early Bird lap swim program.

As soon as I saw Kosciuszko Pool on the list, I asked four of my favorite pool pals — all of them with 40 Pools from the beginning — to join me there for 7:00 a.m. laps one Friday early in the season. In a summer full of unexpected health issues among this cohort and our loved ones, it was extra special that we all turned up that steamy morning ready to explore a “new” pool and check out a neighborhood spot for breakfast. Kosciuszko Pool, correctly pronounced with two sh sounds but known more easily as K Pool, was perfect for the occasion.

5 of us in swimsuits

Pool and the Gang: Amanda, Lisa Lisa, me, Janet, and Piezy sneaking some post-swim pics. That’s a nice-looking shade structure and the lap area off in the distance.

What’s more, Amanda agreed to be our designated photographer, Janet gamely composed a special workout for the occasion, and they both agreed to share their work herein. Thank you Lane 2 buddies!

Check-in was smooth and professional, with Lisa Lisa coincidentally getting card number 100 — a high count given that this was just the sixth day of lap swimming. Clearly, this addition to the Early Bird program was already well appreciated. The locker rooms were roomy with a larger bench area that we are accustomed to, and the lap swim staff and fellow swimmers were welcoming. No pool rage here. (My only significant criticism was that after the swim the showers gave us just a modest trickle out of each head.)

Unlike many of the city’s massive lap pools, this one dated not from the WPA era but the 1960s. Buh-bye brick, hello concrete! Despite the change in materials, the attention to detail was just as thoughtful as the pools from 40 years prior, with Modern play sculptures and a shade overhang incorporated into the design.

Pipes and pyramid

Architect Morris Lapidus designed this play space atop the locker rooms, but the slide he created is no longer in use.

The lap area is at the far end of the pool, and regulars told us it’s even available during the day. (As of this posting date, there are two days left of lap swimming and then one more week of outdoor pools, so get there stat if you want to see for yourself.) One challenge for Janet in her workout writing is that we didn’t know ahead of time what the distance would be. It turned out to be the “short” dimension, which is 100 feet across. Three wide lane-like areas were designated slow, medium, and fast, and the acquatics specialists kept a close eye on things to prevent collisions and misanthropy. More and more swimmers piled in as the session went on, and we gazed longingly at the vast empty water beyond the lap area.

Long view of pool and bleachers

The lap area is so small and far away that you can barely see it!

The week was steamy hot, making the water in my usual Early Bird pool cloudy and warm, but K Pool was amazingly chilly — too chilly for Piezy to even stay in but perfect for me. The biggest detraction was the remnants of a chicken dinner strewn across the bottom or our lane area. Really.

This superblock of a pool was the work of Morris Lapidus, an architect who designed resort pools full of flare in places like Miami and the Caribbean. An immigrant from Russia, he grew up in Bed-Stuy, so it’s fitting that the Parks Department commissioned him for a pool in that neighborhood. Riding my bike here that early morning and then to Queens afterward, I was struck by how quickly and dramatically the neighborhoods in Brooklyn shift. Immediately surrounding the pool are low-rise residences, a school, and not much commercial activity or greenery.

The pool’s namesake, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, an earlier immigrant from eastern Europe, has more than his fair share of structures named after him, including a New York bridge that reopened today. Janet incorporated colorful facts about both of these men into her commemorative workout.

With thanks again to my fellow pool tourists, here is Janet’s workout. And yes, I’ve continued to think about old Tadeusz whenever I try to do a good streamline.

Warmup: 400/533 yards (12-16 lengths). While swimming, streamline off of every wall, imagining your body as stiff and sturdy as the logs Kosciuszko used to dam rivers during the American Revolution. From Wikipedia:

The British advance force nipped hard on the heels of the outnumbered and exhausted Continentals as they fled south. Major General Philip Schuyler, desperate to put distance between his men and their pursuers, ordered Kościuszko to delay the enemy. Kościuszko designed an engineer’s solution: his men felled trees, dammed streams, and destroyed bridges and causeways. Encumbered by their huge supply train, the British began to bog down, giving the Americans the time needed to safely withdraw across the Hudson River.

Kosciuszko pool was designed by Morris Lapidus, the architect of the Fountainbleau in Miami Beach: “During an age when proper, refined American architecture was smitten by the big boxes and straight lines of such European internationalists as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Morris Lapidus was drawing curves and installing cupids in his lobbies.” Be inspired by Lapidus’s curves:
Swim 4 x 1 length, alternating lane leader—play follow the leader, making your length as curvy as the pool/crowd permits.

More Lapidus inspiration, from the Washington Post [with emphasis added by yours truly]:

It was as if American design were dominated by something like nouvelle cuisine — stark portions of food artfully arranged on an otherwise empty plate — while Lapidus was serving up great, heaping, artery-clogging slabs of triple-chocolate cake. As he put it himself: “If people like ice cream, why give them one scoop when you can give them three?” His contemporaries said “less is more,” Lapidus recalls. “And I said, less is nothing.”

So — in celebration of both of triple layers of triple chocolate cake, topped with triple scoops of ice cream, and also in celebration of Hannah’s 100th pool, let’s do
3 x (3 x 100 (i.e. 3 laps)):
          1st set: easy 100, medium 100, fast 100
          2nd set: each 100 easy-medium-fast by length
          3rd set: fast 100, medium 100, easy 100

Now back to Kosciusko: At some point in 1777, Kościuszko composed a polonaise and scored it for the harpsichord. According to Wikipedia, a polonaise rhythm goes like this:
musical notations

Let’s see if we can do 2 x 1 length kicking to this rhythm in honor of Koko.

And finally: Kosciuszko has had monuments/bridges/pools/towns named for him all over the US as well as in Europe, including his native Belarus. Do you know who was born in Kosciuszko, Mississippi? Oprah Winfrey, that’s who! Be your best swimming self as you do 6 lengths perfect stroke warmdown.

nice landscaping outside the pool complex


#88: Tony Dapolito Recreation Center Outdoor Pool

Village street scapeLocation: Greenwich Village, Manhattan

Configuration: 6 striped 50-foot “lanes”

Fee: Free

I never expected to like the Tony Dapolito Outdoor Pool. Known for being short and crowded, the pool attracted my visit two Fridays ago solely by virtue of its participation in the city’s Early Bird lap swim program–and only after I’d exhausted the rest of the list.

I was in for a pleasant surprise: I thoroughly enjoyed my swim, the company, and the sense of a New York from yesteryear. Tucked so snugly in to a Greenwich Village block that it almost feels like a backyard pool, Dapolito is an old school treasure. Despite its location in one of New York’s most desirable neighborhoods, there’s nothing fancy or pretentious about it. What’s more, I felt like a youngster among the small crowd of chlorine addicts.

Keith Haring mural

Lap swimmers swim the short way across, each in his or her own invisible “lane,” gazing upon the 1987 Keith Haring mural at entry and when resting. I loved the colors and sense of whimsy in this large work along the western edge. As the morning progressed, the sun lit up splotches and eventually the whole thing.

Ellen, Hannah, Dapolito entrance

Ellen and I await the magical swim time.

Ellen–who swims here every morning and then hits Asser Levy at the end of the day–was my Dapolito mensch, providing encouragement and patient answers to my countless questions in the week leading up to the swim. She advised arriving well before 7:00 a.m., wearing my swim suit under clothes that can be ripped off in an instant, tucking my swim cap into my top, and nonchalantly hustling through the locker rooms and out to the desk once the doors open. I followed her instructions to a T

The rat race, as she calls it, is for a spot in one of the 6 black-line-marked “lanes,” which you can either swim on top of or in between, meaning there are about 13 of these highly desirable slots. (If this sounds like a recipe for collisions, it is.) Those not early or quick enough can swim sans black lines in the shallow end of the pool or across the diving well if there is enough demand. That’s right, this is one of the few city pools that still has diving.

We waited about 20 minutes out front before the pool opened. It was nice to catch up with Ellen and also meet the reigning champion of NYC lap swimming. My stress from the hustle dissipated a few laps in–yes, I got a spot among the black lines, with belated apologies to any regular I may have displaced–when I realized how fun it was to rack up laps at such a clip. Dapolito is a great place to work on turns and streamlining, since you have so many opportunities to push off the wall. I got down to seven strokes per length and knocked off 200 laps in what seemed like no time.

Although it’s tiny, this pool has WPA origins just like many of my favorite behemoths. Its older, indoor sibling closes for the summer season, but all visitors get to pay their respects and admire its empty beauty on the walk from the locker room.

I don’t find myself in Greenwich Village very often, but if I’m down there again at the right time I would definitely return to this charmer.


Outdoor Season Preview

New York City’s outdoor pools 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 in Central Park, which was green earlier in the week but is enticingly blue now. I prefer early bird lap swim (starting July 6, 2015), and at other times I triple check that I have my lock so as to not get turned away by the pool staff. I can’t stress enough the importance of adhering to the Parks pool rules.
view to the High Bridge water tower
plaque about poolSo what’s new this season? A new way to get to Highbridge Park Pool, for one. New York City’s oldest bridge–built as an aqueduct in the mid-nineteenth century–the High Bridge is also the newest byway for pedestrians and cyclists, having just reopened after being off limits for more than 40 years. It’s beautiful and sure to help many Bronxites get to the pool in Manhattan. I’ve been turned away at Highbridge Park Pool due to arriving too close to closing time, and in fact I was also shooed off the bridge before closing time the other night, but I’ll try again this summer. I at least managed to visit the splashy Splash House (and meet the rec center’s orange tabby mouser-in-chief) during Open House New York last fall.

I thought we might have a longer pool season to celebrate, but it’s looking like just the beach season will be extended until mid-September. The beaches already open more than a month before the pools, so this change heightens the disparity. It’s too bad. I’ve certainly been known to swim at “closed” beaches, but a drained pool is a no-go.

Meanwhile, pools have been in the news of late due to a yet another racially charged, overpoliced situation in Texas. Jeff Wiltse’s Contested Waters documents the changing norms around pool use and shows how pool segregation became completely commonplace, setting the stage for exactly this type of incident. One of this blog’s followers also recommends a children’s book relating to pool discrimination experienced by Olympic gold medalist Sammy Lee, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, and I plan to check that out.

Mindful of this troubled history and the contemporary situation, what can we do to ensure that pools are welcoming to all? Use them! While there, be sure to thank the staff, politely heed the regulations (provided they are reasonable and fairly enforced), and swim with, play with, and chat with people whose skin color is different from your own.


Officially Summer

lap swim 30th birthday cakeIt’s swim time! New York City’s outdoor pools open tomorrow, and the weather couldn’t be more cooperative. Expect tens of thousands of cool, happy people drip-drying throughout the boroughs all weekend.

We lap swimmers have to wait until Monday, July 7, for our early bird and night owl programs to begin, but you may be able to get in some laps in pools with designated areas such as Red Hook or Sunset Park. Just be sure to know and follow the rules, lest you be denied entry to pool paradise for lacking a lock or liner.

I took this opportunity to register for adult lap swim at a bunch of pools to give myself added motivation for pool tourism. Registration is instantaneous and free if a bit cumbersome. Should you wish to register for six pools, for example, you will have to type in your name twelve times. It’s worth it. Be sure to check the box for award eligibility so that you can earn an invitation to the annual awards dinner, which is a veritable poolapalooza.

me in a giant empty pool“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.

Here for good measure, are a few more possibilities to whet your appetite: Jackie Robinson, Asser Levy, and Hamilton Fish in Manhattan and the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park and of course lake Crotona Park Pool (pictured at left).

Even before it’s begun, pool season is passing too quickly, so get out there and enjoy immediately.


#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. 


#45: McCarren Park Pool

Location: Greenpoint/Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Configuration: Lap swim area is a mere 8 x 25 meters despite the pool being 100 x 50 meters in parts.

Fee: Free

Fees to Date: $181.74

McCarren was the pool story of the summer, the young upstart that burst onto the scene and stole all the attention from its more established, more reliable forebears. That’s how it seemed, anyway, but in reality this “new” pool is actually from that favorite year in NYC swim history, 1936, revived after sitting empty for a generation save for rock concerts. Its return to life as a pool is a happy tale of historic preservation, complete with repurposed wood from the Coney Island boardwalk, mixed with 21st-century budgetary and demographic realities.

The locals embraced the pool en masse, and not always peacefully, overwhelming the capacity and the lifeguards from day 1. That lap-swim area that you see in the lower right of the pool rendering could have been used during regular hours, à la Red Hook, if only the pool weren’t so crowded. Reinforcements were called in from NYPD, and the media spewed out a steady stories of unsportsmanlike conduct.

pool entranceGiven the plethora of pool options available in New York in the summer, I decided to let this one cool down, occupying myself in other venues nearly until the end of the season. Finally, on a day that started out at Lasker Pool in Central Park, I ventured to Brooklyn to see what all the fuss was. John joined me for the ride from Manhattan, and we met up with million-meter-man Ethan at the pool. I was happy to see two other friends also there for the night owl lap session: bike-buddy Wentworth and my swim teammate Charles.

A small army of po-po let us know that we weren’t in Kansas any more, but they cleared out along with the free-swim crowds, turning the southwestern corner of the pool over to us lap swimmers. Even though the pool is 100 meters long with two 50-meter legs, lap swimming was relegated to this small area, crowding dozens of swimmers into just 8 x 25-meter lanes. The Williamsburg Swimmers petitioned for more space, but the Parks department stood firm: only 25 meters for you this season. Given the crowding, the lanes were pretty well organized, and swimmers had better etiquette than I’ve seen at most other city pools.

Image from Gothamist.

The card I got after checking in was #2520, the highest  number in my collection. This backs up what the commissioner said that the awards dinner earlier that week: Despite being the last pool to the party, McCarren was the most popular of the whole bunch. It’s easy to see why–it sits at the border of two rapidly growing and changing neighborhoods, and it fills a crucial gap in the city’s pool network.

Plus, it’s a very uplifting place to visit, at least when it’s not at capacity. The grand entryway (above left) makes you feel like you’ve arrived somewhere special, and the locker rooms (left) and shower corridor cleverly mix plein air and privacy. Those benches are where the Coney Island boardwalk comes in. If only the lap area could be expanded next year, this will be hard to beat.

After the swim, we continued the après pool tradition of hunting out good eats, satiating ourselvs a few blocks away in Greenpoint’s at Lomzynianka. The stick-to-your-ribs Polish food was the perfect ending to our action-packed day and is every bit an enticement to return as the pool.

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Lap Swim Awards Dinner

lap swim 30th birthday cake

As if the twice-daily free outdoor lap-swim programs in more than a dozen city pools weren’t generous enough, the Parks Department throws a giant awards dinner and pool party at the end of the season. The date is usually the second-to-last Wednesday of the season, the location Hamilton Fish Pool during night owl hours. This year’s took place on August 22, and I was glad to attend with some friends who are more recent converts to the wonders of this Parks program.

Early Bird swim T-shirt and John Jay pool mug

Check out my John Jay Pool mug! Is that me swimming in the corner?

There are a few different ways to score an invitation to the dinner, and each comes with its own swag. The most certain is to swim the minimum number of miles to earn a T-shirt. This year was the 30th anniversary of the program, so the cutoff was raised from the usual 25 miles to 30 miles–and in addition to the T-shirt there were beautiful, customized pool mugs as prizes! As I explained at the start of the season, you report your lap tally to the pool staff after each swim. They keep track through an elaborate, error-prone system, so you may want to keep your own log and cross-check their tally if you are on the borderline or a stickler for accuracy.

Another way to get an invitation is to be in the top three by gender and session at your pool. For example, if you are a man with the third-highest tally at your pool’s night owl session, you would be invited to the dinner. At my pool, all the people in these categories are well above the 30-mile threshold, but at some of the less busy pools, it is possible to be on the podium even if you do not earn a T-shirt. All top-three placers get trophies, and there are also trophies for the highest tallies among all the pools.

The third way into the dinner is to swim as part of your pool’s relay. The rules on this are a little fuzzy, but if you are someone who turns in your yardage tally and who has a competitive edge, you may be chosen or be able to nominate yourself to swim in the 4 x 50m mixed relay that kicks off the dinner. As with all other categories, the top three teams get prizes–and as with all other results, your mileage may vary. Caitlin was part of the Red Hook team that was awarded first prize this year, and yet they had not even won their heat.

The Parks Department pulls out all the stops for this dinner.

After you’ve cleared the technicalities, what can you expect? An invitation in the mail, for one, and a phone call from HQ in Flushing Meadows Park to confirm that you will be attending. When you arrive, you’ll find the pool deck festooned with balloons, the dinner tables decorated with framed photos from the various participating pools, and many familiar faces. My pool’s lead aquatic specialist was there, and he reported that breakdown lasted until the wee hours of the morning–and yet there he was at the pool for the 7:00 a.m. start the next day.

If you’re swimming in a relay, you can do a few laps to warm up before the competition starts. My pool’s relay members somehow did not all know they were swimming, so we had to scramble to secure enough bathing suits and then ended up with an extra person who we farmed out to the Crotona team. Competition was strong, so rather than worrying about placement I enjoyed the opportunity to swim with an Olympian. Special guest Bobby Hackett swam legs 3 and 4 of a Parks staff relay in the same heat where I swam leg 3!

After the relays, along with a dinner buffet catered by Katz’s Deli, there is much hoopla: singing, synchro, speechifying, award presentations, and more. You may even be asked to sing along to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Pool.” Outgoing Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe led the ceremonies, and other special guests included Nancy Barthold and John Hutchins of the Parks Department, both of whom deserve great credit for the success and growth of the lap-swim program, and former commissioner Henry Stern, another pool lover.

As a special 30th-anniversary treat, there was a beautiful pool cake (see above). I waited in a long line to get a piece of that delicious pool.

All this celebration is bittersweet, however, as it signals that the season is almost over and that time is running out for outdoor pool tourism. Pools I missed out on this summer include Sunset Park (Brooklyn), Astoria (Queens), the Floating Pool (Bronx), Marcus Garvey (Manhattan), and Lyons (Staten Island), not to mention the dozens of lovely pools that don’t have lap swimming. I’m already looking forward to summer 2013.


#44: Lasker Pool

Lasker Pool by Janet

Thanks to Janet for this picture.

Location: Central Park, Harlem, New York

Configuration: Oval with lap crossing of up to about 60 meters. The max width and height are 190′ x 240 ‘.

Fee: Free

Fees to Date: $181.74

Lasker Pool has been torturing me all summer. I pass it on my way to work as I bike down the big hill in Central Park toward the park exit. There it is, all blue and sparkly, beckoning me to come swim. Fortunately, at the time I pass by the only activity allowed is children’s lessons, so the fantasy of stopping for a dip is not a possibility in reality. Other times of the day are fair grab, as it has a busy early bird and night owl lap scene, and there’s usually a lap lane open in the middle of the pool during daytime and weekend general swim sessions.

pool view from the Loop Road

Hannah, come swim here, the pool beckons as I pass by on my way to work.

Piez organized a Pool Tourism Club visit to the pool last Friday for early bird lap swim. Joining us were Janet, John, Kent, Joe, and birthday-boy Larry. We marked the occasion by seeing how far we could get in 58 strokes and estimated that the lap area we chose was 58 meters across–suitable for a 58th birthday.  Afterward, Kathleen met up with us at Piez’s for breakfast. It was a great combination of swimming and socializing.

In fact, Lasker seemed to serve a large social function, with much more talking than swimming among all users. We were lucky to get a spot in the pool with lane lines nearby and a black line on the bottom. On the way across, a perpendicular current in the middle of the pool provided an interesting challenge to navigation, likewise the curved metal walls, which test the mettle of even the most dedicated flip-turner.

phone, anyone?As I learned thanks to Van Cortlandt, this pool was the only oasis built by the city Parks department between the WPA era and the 1970s. It opened in 1966, and I’d like to think that the circular shape, which is mirrored in the bathhouse, is a nod to that time period’s grooviness. The bank of phones in the bathhouse also seemed very 1960s to me, though it’s quite possible they came later.

Kathleen, Janet, John, Piez, me, and birth-day boy Larry at brunch. Photo by Kent.

Kathleen, Janet, John, Piez, me, and birth-day boy Larry at brunch. Photo by Kent.

While the Flushing Meadows pool is housed in a complex with a skating rink, this is the only pool I’ve been to that actually turns into a skating rink in the winter, for a time period much longer than swim season, I might add. In other words, if I liked ice skating, I would be tempted to stop off here for a quick spin on my way to work in the chillier months. Instead, starting next week, I’ll just long for the pool to start torturing me again.


#41: Van Cortlandt Park Pool

Me, Michael, Janet, and Tony (in front) resting from our hare-like efforts. Photo by John.

Location: Riverdale, Bronx

Configuration: 12 lanes of 50 meters

Fee: Free

Fees to Date: $181.74

The Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park is notable for many reasons. At 1,146 acres, it is the city’s fourth-largest park. It’s got the oldest house in the borough, the oldest public golf course in the country, and a world-famous cross country course (est. 1913) marked by a renowned statue, Tortoise and Hare. It’s also got the pool that ended a near-drought in NYC pool building in record time.

The Van Cortlandt Park pool opened in the early 1970s. My teammate Tony (above, at front) visited it that summer and then not again until last Thursday, when he joined me, Janet, Michael, and John in our own lane for early bird laps. Tony and Michael are not normally early birds, but we had such a lovely time that they said they’d be motivated to do more morning swims during the last weeks of outdoor-pool season.

We picked a great morning to go–the blue sky and puffy clouds looked especially nice together with the woods framing the pool. The complex feels to me like a country club, given the various pastel cabanas and out-buildings–fine concrete specimens, all. Swimming along, it’s easy to pretend you are far away from the busy Bronx streets and elevated subway line just outside the park.

Janet embraces tortoise and hare.

Janet dressed for the occasion, sporting a Tortoise and Hare T-shirt, and we chose this theme for our workout. Sets included a team pursuit-like drill where the last swimmer had to overtake the first and a race between tortoises doing 200s and hares doing 50 sprints with naps in between. I favor the tortoise approach but put some effort into the hare portions when appropriate.

The pool itself is something of a hare, having raced from conception to completion in just 11 months, a feat Mayor Lindsay claimed as a record. More impressive in my book is that this pool was the first of 19 to open in the early 1970s, ending a dry spell in new pools since the WPA Era (the only exception being the 1966 Lasker Pool in Central Park). Designed by Heery & Heery architects, the complex originally included a diving pool, wading pool, and Olympic-sized pool. The diving pool is no longer there; I’m wondering if beach volleyball marks the spot.

As explained on the Parks website, the pools built at this time “were handled in an accelerated manner, owing to the acute need for more recreational facilities. The ‘systematized’ design process explains the standard look of each site, which included cabana-like modules, 24 feet square, made of precast concrete and prefabricated aluminum pool tanks and filter systems.” It all looks good to me, and if this pool weren’t so far away I’d try to make it more than once a year.

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