I’ve lived a 15-minute walk from this pool for two summers now, and yesterday was the first time I’ve got it together to go for a swim. The pool is open 11-3 and then 4-7 every day, and I was there for the evening session. It was the first hot and sunny day after a few days of heavy rain and gloom, so it was busy – I assume it’s always busy – but it’s huge, so even with several hundred kids playing all over, it didn’t feel overcrowded. The whole experience was unexpectedly nostalgic and moving for me; the bare-bones locker rooms with their turquoise-painted open-fronted changing booths took me right back to the municipal pools and lidos that I grew up visiting, and the feeling of curling your toes on the scratchy wet concrete floor, hopping the puddles and enduring the dankness and dark corridors for the sake of emerging into the light and the blaringly bright poolside.
It’s not easy to swim laps since most people are hanging out in groups and playing, carving out little corners for themselves by the ropes that bisect the pool or at the edge of the water, but if you persist in your mental lane they’ll move out of your path. The place has all the democratic charm of a busy park on a sunny day, but concentrated and intensified by the excitement of the water.
The pool is a glorious monument of WPA architecture, stunning in its proportions, its generosity, its sheer presence. Nothing temporary or cost-cutting cramping its style. It opened in the summer of 1936 on the Fourth of July, making it the oldest outdoor pool in the city. Although it’s free it feels lavish, and as I lay drying off on one of the white plastic recliners in the sun I couldn’t help feeling like I was getting away with something.