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 »

#98: Richmond Plunge

full length of pool

Location: Richmond, California

Configuration: 8 lanes of 25 yards plus shorter shallow lanes

Fee: $6 for non-residents

I thought I’d found pool heaven at Hansborough in Harlem, but it turns out that there is an even bigger, more light-filled pool paradise across the bay from San Francisco in Richmond, California. It’s the Richmond Plunge, which I visited on a sunny September Friday morning with local pool blogger Dave, who is a regular here on weekends. What a treat!

exterior with MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM sing

If only NYC’s Riverbank State Park had been built 70 years earlier, it might be showier, like this. The tunnel to the left leads to Keller Beach.

I’ve been unable to find an exact definition of this sense of “plunge,” but it seems to imply a cavernous, indoor, public pool built in the first half of the twentieth century, for both swimming and socializing, and situated near the California coast and likely near a train, too. The Richmond Plunge, opened in this bustling port and railroad town in 1926, ticks all these boxes. In fact, I first saw the building on my last trip to California, on the way to Keller Beach.

We had to wait a while out front for the pool to open due to a late lifeguard, something all too familiar to Riverbank swimmers a few years ago. The regulars who were gathered were reminiscent of Riverbank, too–a diverse slice of local life–making me speculate that perhaps my public pool of choice would have turned out like this if only it had been built 70 years earlier.

high ceiling above pool

How about that natural light and fresh air?

Once inside, I changed in the vintage locker room and paced the deck to fully take in the marvelous structure. The lights weren’t even turned on, all the better to appreciate the beams of sunshine streaming in from the east through windows that actually open.

The north half of the pool was set up with 8 x 25-yard lanes, and it was uncrowded enough that circle swimming wasn’t necessary. There was shorter-distance lap swimming without lane lines in the other end. The water had a silky quality due to the saline treatment system that was installed during a major renovation/rebuilding earlier this decade and is touted for its environmental sensitivity.

The San Francisco Bay Trail is adding new travel and recreational options for the area, which is part of a historic district in a town that’s seen some rough times. Anchored by this exemplary public amenity, and with a number of parks, museums, and historic sites nearby, Richmond and its plunge seem to have a bright future in store. I certainly hope to be back, especially now that my count of nearby nephews has doubled.

women's locker room windows

Simple yet classy locker rooms.


This mural, based on a nearby park, was added during the recent renovation.

Hannah and Dave

Thanks to Dave for facilitating this pool visit.

Leave a comment »

#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.


Henri Matisse’s Swimming Pool

The Swimming Pool in Matisse’s dining room at the Hôtel Régina, Nice, 1953. Photo: Hélène Adant. © Centre Pompidou – MnamCci – Bibliothèque Kandinsky. From MoMA website.

At Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, the exhibition on view at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), sublime modern art translates into pure pool joyousness. One of Matisse’s most significant and popular cut-outs, and the focus of a major art conservation effort that sparked the show, The Swimming Pool is on display for the first time in 20 years. Swim, don’t walk, to see it.

Following his surgery for cancer in 1941, the French artist and master of modern art Henri Matisse (1869-1954) turned to colorfully painted, cut paper as his primary artistic medium. Using a process he called “painting with scissors,” he cut out plant, animal, human, and abstract forms in a variety sizes, arranging them in compositions featuring vibrant color contrasts and a pared-down, decorative approach. The exhibition includes over 100 works of art and provides new insight into this important area of his art work.

The Swimming Pool (late summer 1952) was inspired by Matisse’s visit to–as noted in the exhibition’s description–a “favorite pool” in Cannes, France, where he went to study divers. According to the exhibition catalog, this appears to be the pool at the Palm Beach Hotel in Cannes, a MoMA librarian and swimming fan has helpfully determined.

Unable to endure the summer heat, he returned home and announced: “I will make my own pool.” In his dining room at the Hôtel Régina in Nice he had his assistant place a band of white paper, about 70 cm wide, at eye level, along the tan burlap walls of the room. Over the next several weeks, he cut out swimmers, divers, sea creatures, and other shapes from paper painted ultramarine blue, arranging these forms within and outside the paper’s boundaries. The diving, swimming, flipping, and turning water-colored forms against the white background create an interplay of positive and negative space making swimmer and water interchangeable. The dynamic relationships between the graceful forms cut and placed by Matisse (with the help of his assistant) evoke the essence of waterborne movement in a swimming pool on a bright summer day.

Acquired by the museum in 1975, and first displayed in 1977, the monumental, 50-foot-long work has been re-installed in a special room in the museum, allowing the viewer to experience it as the artist did in his dining room in Nice. Entering the sanctuary of The Swimming Pool and taking in the surrounding scene of bodies moving in water that plays out along the four walls is both meditative and exhilarating. The environment and the subject matter re-create in the imagination the experience of swimming in an actual pool.

When Matisse said “I will make my own pool,” he spoke for anyone who decides for him- or herself to do something creative, meaningful, or challenging. Every swimmer will relate to this, I think.

Information on timed tickets (required), admission, and museum hours are available on MoMA’s website. The exhibition runs until February 8, 2015.

Thanks to devoted reader and pool enthusiast Zoe for this contribution. –Hannah

Leave a comment »

#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. 


#56: Deep Eddy Pool

Deep Eddy

Location: Austin, Texas

Configuration: 12 or so lanes of 33 1/3 yards plus large wading area

Fee: $3

We’ve seen how remarkable the year 1936 was for pools in New York, and it turns out to have been good to Texas, too. The state’s oldest pool, Deep Eddy dates to that same year and owes its existence to the same pot of WPA money. It made me feel right at home during a recent swimcation, when I joined a bunch of  marathon swimmers converging in Austin three weeks ago.

Would I be able to swim the same afternoon we arrived in town, I wondered? Sure, we can always swim, our co-host and tour guide Leslie reassured me. We made our first pilgrimage here shortly before closing that night and came back two other times during the weekend, basking in the cool, spring-fed, unchlorinated water that reminded me in color only of John Jay College Pool.

Deep Eddy takes its name from a deep eddy in the nearby Colorado River–visible in the top of the photo above–which was the local swimming hole before a proper pool was created. It’s a refreshingly cool temperature even during the hot Texan summers thanks to the springwater, which is drained out and replaced a few times per week.

We all loved swimming here. The 33-yard length didn’t feel that much longer than 25 yards, and yet the yardage racked up more quickly. The lap area is deep and spacious, and the staff and other swimmers were all very friendly.

View from the shallow end.

View from the shallow end, with the lap lanes way off yonder.

indoor-outdoor locker room

One of my favorite things here was the locker room, which managed to be both private and open-air. From the showers, you could admire the trees.

Circle swimming in this lane - sign

Texas is so big that swimmers don’t usually have to share lanes. According to Leslie, people usually queue up for a lane rather than sharing–except in a few specially designated lanes for those in a hurry.

John "Waldo" by the mural

An elaborate mural by the shallow end relates the history of the pool and park.


H&H, photo by Devon.

Leave a comment »

Not a Pool: West Side Y Small Pool

West Side Y small pool
Janet had helped me plan my swim at the West Side Y so that I’d finish up when the so-called small pool was available. Previously unaware that this pool existed, I was excited to see it–and it did not disappoint. Entering from the showers at the upper left corner above is quite simply breathtaking. Look at the beautiful Spanish tiles, painted arches, colorful windows, and dramatic Neptune mosaic (bonus points if you figure out why it’s rated PG-13). If the skill and love that went into this pool were more common, the world would be a much happier and prettier place.

Neptune mural

At 20 yards, this pool might be used for laps at a lesser facility, but here it is the teaching pool, and the water is kept at a warm, learning-friendly temperature. We had to leave when a gaggle of extremely cute young children paraded in for their swim time.

Piecing together information from various sources, I believe that both pools were built at the same time as part of the 1930 building that the Y moved to from its 1896 home on West 57th Street. The new facility was the largest-ever Y up until that time. The architect,  Dwight James Baum, had a thing for Romanesque and Moorish styles, and he was not shy about expressing himself in this commission. His flair and attention to detail are evident throughout, including the marble columns and arched doorways on West 63rd Street, ornate chandeliers in common spaces, and that medieval-style door we saw in the larger pool. Alas, his masterpiece was being built as the U.S. economy slid into the Great Depression, and the small pool’s ornamentation was in question. None other than King Alfonso XIII of Spain came to the rescue, donating the tilework to ensure that the small pool was outfitted according to Baum’s splendid vision.

Hannah,Janet, and stained-glass windows

Some 75 years later, the tiles were showing their age, and again Spain stepped in, this time at the behest of a Y member originally from Spain. A 2006 restoration was completed with more than 600 hand-painted tile pieces created by a Spanish company called Adex. It’s an interesting story that I couldn’t do justice to without lifting it entirely, so I recommend you check it out: Tile Restoration of the Spectacular Spanish Pool of the West Side YMCA.

I’m counting this as not-a-pool because it is not set up for laps. I should point out, however, that the pesky rope separating deep end from shallow end did not deter one lap swimmer while Janet and I lazed around on floaty noodles. I should also point out that, pools aside, this entire Y has a truly wondrous array of offerings. The international organizations Achilles Track Club and Elderhostel both started here, the Writers Voice has its home here, there are overnight accommodations, a pre-school, and all the other fitness and community services one expects from a YMCA. I highly recommend a visit.


#16: Brooklyn Sports Club Pool

Patricia and Hannah in paradise

Photos: Patricia Sener (except locker, below).

Location: East New York, Brooklyn

Configuration: 6 lanes of 25 yards plus bonus aqua exercise space

Fee: Free with seven-day trial pass

Total Fees to Date: $128.91

Space may be the final frontier for Trekkies, but it’s also something New Yorkers boldly seek out and explore right in town. In this episode, I am happy to report on a discovery of unexpected spaciousness at the Brooklyn Sports Club.

all my stuff in a locker, and still plenty of roomPlease note that this club is unrelated to the similarly named New York Sports Club, and that this airy, light-filled facility could easily fit a half-dozen of those Midtown gyms. The pool is of course my main focus, but before I could get there I was blown away by the locker room, which is fully carpeted, includes a sauna and steam room, and has aisles as wide as Manhattan streets. Behold my locker, which even when loaded with my bike panniers stocked for a day-long expedition to pool, accountant, and lunch date has plenty of extra room. Realtors would call it a walk-in closet.

Moving on to the pool, the luxury of space continues. For example, it’s got 5 extra yards on the other side of the bulkhead, for 30 yards total, meaning that lap swim need not be compromised during exercise classes. Should you want to exercise independently of a class, there is a lane for you. Bless this pool for spelling out the distinction and providing instructions (ahem, Shorefront Y):

aqua exerciser definitionSo simple, right?

view from the deep endI found myself enjoying this lovely place thanks to an invitation from Patricia. She works as a photographer when not herding cats organizing CIBBOWS, allowing me the perfect trifecta of pool tourism: She arranged for my visit, provided a workout, and took the pictures! I am really getting spoiled. Because the pool was “crowded,” we shared a lane with each other (and no one else). The water was the perfect temperature, and nice and clear. The pool’s lining was rubbery like that of the Myrtha pool in Panama City Beach, and there was so much sun shining in to the natatorium that I almost felt like we were outdoors. That would pretty much be the case on warmer days when the doors open onto the adjacent sun deck, which beckoned with trees in full spring bloom yesterday.

Believe it or not, this pool owes its existence to the government. Brooklyn Sports Club is part of Spring Creek Towers, a 46-building complex housing more than 15,000 people, or half the population of my hometown. It was built by the federal government and opened in 1974, and you might know it as Starrett City, a former name. For their largest-ever subsidized housing project, the feds certainly did right by the pool.

cute little beach mural in the cornery The drawback for me is the long journey to get here. On my bike during rush hour, the ride took about an hour and 45 minutes. By transit, travel time from my apartment would be just a little shorter and involve two subways and a bus. It makes sense that the trip to this new dimension takes some time, but for everyday purposes, or even for another visit within my seven-day window, it is tough. Once you get here, though, as this little mural shows, you’ll be in an altered state of reality.

1 Comment »

#10: McBurney YMCA

Melissa, Hannah, Miriam at the end of practiceLocation: Chelsea, New York

Configuration: 7 lanes of 25 yards

Fee: Fitness Passbook pass (or use a free guest pass)

Total Fees to Date: $115.58

It’s fun to swim at the Y-M-C-A! This is especially true at the McBurney Y, which was the inspiration for the famous Village People song.

The Y has pools strategically located throughout New York. McBurney is one of the newer ones, replacing a facility of the same name that was on 23rd Street. The old McBurney, where the song came from, had a marble-lined pool where financiers Merrill and Lynch first met in 1913. The new McBurney, on 14th Street, has hosted someone even more noteworthy in my book: Michael Phelps. He visited in 2008 as part of a media event, and I’ve heard that he’s stopped by for a swim more recently as well.

He was not there this morning, but I was still in good company. Miriam (above right) was my official swim buddy for the day, and she arranged for me to join the master’s workout with coach Mark. Miriam is a member of my team, and she’s one of the most dedicated cheerers at events, always waving orange and blue pom-poms. Melissa (above left), Phyllis, and Elke were also part of the masters group, plus a couple people I had not met previously. Since we used just two lanes, we got a lot of personal attention from the coach and did a number of helpful stroke drills.

swim mural above the poolMy favorite thing about swimming here (aside from the good company) is a recent addition, a swimural by Arnie Charnick. Originally installed alongside the track that circles the top of the pool area, it was moved to its rightful home above the deep end last summer and can still be seen through the windows from the track and workout areas. It’s full of powerful-looking pool lovers swimming and playing–the big guy on the left looks like Michael Phelps to me–and I love the cool expressions of the swimmers in the middle lanes. Long kicks sets fly by with this mural as a distraction, because I notice something new in it during each lap.

True to its roots, the Y is a family facility. Since there’s only one pool here it’s kept pretty warm to accommodate all ages and types of users, and there is always plenty going on in the lounge area overlooking the pool as well as the rest of the Y.

There was almost a glitch with my pass. Apparently it’s only supposed to be used when the front desk is open, so they wanted me to wait an hour. I was able to convince the attendant to allow my entry in time for the masters group, however, and then stopped by the desk on my way out to complete the necessary paperwork. Next time I go at an off hour, I’ll try to remember to call ahead.

The fact that it’s mid-February and I’m already at pool #10 indicates faster-than-needed progress toward the goal of 40 pools by year-end. This is turning out to be so much fun that I think I’ll keep up the pool tourism and blog throughout 2012, even if the total ends up equaling a higher age. Keep the suggestions coming!


#8: Metropolitan Pool

Nickname: Met Pool

Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Fee: Free (first Mondays only)

Configuration: 3 lanes of 25 yards

Total to Date: $55.33

City of New York Parks & Recreation, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways, starting right here in Williamsburg:

  • You have a pool designed by the architect of the Lincoln Memorial.
  • The pool has such amazing natural light that it is almost like being outside.
  • One of the lanes bans breaststroke. Hello!
  • Tiled floral bouquets decorate the women’s showers.
  • The building entry is graced by an inspirational mural.
  • These wonders and more can be enjoyed free of charge.

This was my first visit to 90-year-old Met Pool. Due to a last-minute baby-sitter cancellation, the friend who was going to go with me couldn’t join in. I decided to make the trip anyway–it worked well with several errands and meetings on my list for today, and there is a chance that my Mondays will become less conducive to pool tourism–and will gladly return with my friend, who is sure to love it here as well.

After last week’s space crunch at LaGuardia, I checked regarding the swim session and learned that the pool would be fully devoted to lap lanes, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. The pictures show striping for six lanes, but it’s set up with just two lane lines, making three pleasantly wide lanes for circle swimming. Swimmers were in and out constantly during my hour-and-a-half swim, with a maximum of about eight in the lane and a minimum of three. People were friendly and observed good etiquette for the most part.

My favorite thing was the skylight, which sounds small when described as such, but is comparable in size to the pool itself. Check out the first two photos, above right, to see how the copper shone a number of years ago, and how elegant it looks now with its green patina. I swam lots of backstroke just to enjoy the sunlight.

The pool hall and pool itself are lined with white-glazed terra cotta bricks, which make a nicer swim surface than you might imagine. The black lines on the bottom go all the way to the wall, but there are no other markings, so you do have to keep an eye out for the oncoming wall. The temperature was pleasantly cool, and the visibility good.

Located in a part of Brooklyn that is cuter than I’d like to admit, this pool has quite a following among newcomers to the neighborhood and long-time residents alike, as well as a dedicated staff that recently earned top honors from the Parks Department. To accommodate the large Hasidic population nearby, it even offers women-only sessions several times a week.

If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day gift for yourself, or perhaps a swim date, bring your love of pools here. You’ll be glad you did.


Image borrowed from Medhat Salam Associates, Architects

Met Pool skylight

The cooper ceiling has taken on a patina like the Statue of Liberty since being shined up in a late 1990s renovation.

Met Pool fast lane: no breaststroke allowed

A lane that does not allow breaststroke is the lane for me! (Will travel to kick.)

Met pool mural: Let the good spirit grow

"Let the good spirit grow." This mural to the left as you enter the building depicts happenings in the pool pretty accurately.

Met Pool facade