With all of our concrete and asphalt spaces, it is sometimes very difficult to find refuge from the summer heat in New York City. As a child I envied my neighbors in the apartment building across the street which had a pool. It was surrounded by a fence high enough so that you could only see swimmers plunge off the diving board. If only I had known then of the free public swimming pools scattered through all of the five boroughs!
Public swimming pools have an interesting history in New York City (covered very concisely in the New York City Department of Parks and Recreations website), starting with the establishment of public bathhouses in the nineteenth century to the present use of McCarren Park as a venue for live musical events.
This history leads me to be grateful to the very complex character, Robert Moses, a man with whom I have disagreed on many occasion. There is no denying Moses’ influence in the development of New York City’s parks and public pools. Prior to Moses’ work with the Works Progress Administration, the city’s indoor and outdoor pools were unsanitary and in poor condition. By the summer of 1936 eleven new pools were opened to the public starting with the Hamilton Fish Pool. There are now 54 full-sized pools and mini-pools throughout the metropolitan area and they open next week!
If you've wondered about the origin of the public swimming pool in the United States you may want to check out Contested Waters, and The Springboard in the Pond.