Cannonball! Swimming Pools in the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

Ducks in White House Pool
Security overlooks ducks swimming in the White House Swimming Pool (National Archives Identifier 276564131)

In the month of July, when the temperature is hot, people will find relief in swimming pools all over the country.  Did you know there are a number of pools that are on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Pawnee Municipal Swimming Pool and Bathhouse in Pawnee, Oklahoma (National Archives Identifier 86511880), which “was erected by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s. The swimming pool, measuring 600 feet by 250 feet with a stone retaining wall, was begun in late 1934 by the FERA and completed under the WPA in 1937. The stone bathhouse, started the following year, was completed in 1939 by the WPA. In addition, there is also an historic stone railing in front of the bathhouse; an elaborate stone stairway with multiple landings from the bathhouse to the east; an historic stone retaining wall at the mid-level between the pool and bathhouse; several historic sets of concrete stairs with stone sidewalls connecting the pool and bathhouse; another historic stone retaining wall with a sidewalk on the west side of the pool; and two nonhistoric wooden piers extending into the swimming pool.”

Washington DC (McKinley) Pool
Lantern Slide of McKinley Swimming Pool (National Archives Identifier 183514874)

In Northwest Washington DC is the Banneker Recreation Center (National Archives Identifier 117691961), located opposite the urban campus of Howard University, [that] was built in 1934. It was erected on steeply sloping ground, and the resulting “banked” construction causes the building to read as a single story on the east (street) side, but two stories on the west. The latter elevation rises above a large swimming pool set in a broad expanse of concrete. Symmetrically arranged near the northwest and southwest corners of the pool are two pumphouses, small rectangular structures with brick exteriors and steep hipped roofs. Beyond the pool lie tennis courts. The various facilities are demarked by chain-link fences.”

“Banneker Recreation Center is significant for its role as a focal point in the development of the black community in Washington, D.C. Named for Benjamin Banneker, the black surveyor who worked with Andrew Ellicott in surveying the District of Columbia, it was the premier black recreation center in the period during which municipal facilities in the district were segregated. Although it was not one of the centers selected for experiment in inter-racial recreation programs in the summer of 1949, it was among the first centers declared “open”, or desegregated in the spring of 1954. The tension between the Department of Recreation and U.S. Department of Interior in the late 1940s, moreover, parallels the ongoing issue of home rule for the District of Columbia, which has distinguished its political history. In terms of architectural value, the Banneker Center represents a utilitarian adoption of stylistic themes promoted from Colonial Williamsburg to the functional requirements of a public recreation facility. The Banneker’s success as architecture lies less in formal or aesthetic qualities, and more in its utility, which has proved viable for 50 years and should continue to do so in the future.”

“Historically, the center’s program encompassed table tennis, shuffle board and volley ball. Its purpose, like that of other recreation centers, was to provide leisure time activities for adults and super vised play for children. Specific activities included athletics, drama, mothers’ centers, music and dance (Annual Report 1934:8-10). Historic photographs in the possession of the Office of Development and Planning, Department of Recreation, indicate that track and field activities were popular, and the swimming pool, a feature of the facility since its construction, was a “center of activity in season” (Evans 1936:43). In 1946, the swimming pool was considered the “No. 1 outdoor facility for Negroes” in Washington (Washington Star Collection, “Recreation 1940-49” File, Martin Luther King Library).”

Glasgow Swimming Pool

In Hugo, Colorado, one can swim in the Hugo Municipal Pool (National Archives Identifier 84127128), “constructed between 1936 and 1938 under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) . . . On September 2, 1935, the Town Board of Hugo submitted a WPA project proposal for the construction of a “concrete swimming pool together with bath house, landscaping and grading and other necessary work to complete a City Park.” Until this time, the town did not have a city park or other recreational facilities of this nature. The Town Board felt that the nature of the facilities and the location on the main thoroughfare would attract tourists passing through Hugo, in addition to providing excellent recreation facilities for the local community. According to the application, J.P. Iseman, the mayor of Hugo, prepared the plans and specifications for the project. However, an article in the Eastern Colorado Plainsman named District WPA Engineer Lloyd E. Heggenberger as the architect of both the swimming pool and Hugo’s new WPA gymnasium. Heggenberger designed several Modernistic WPA buildings in northeast Colorado including the Genoa School, Karval School, Burlington Gymnasium, and the Seibert Community Building. Heggenberger clearly favored modernism, so he was likely the one responsible for the Art Moderne styling of the bathhouse.”

“Though the finishing touches on the pool structures were not yet complete, the town opened the facility to the public on Saturday, June 18, 1938. WPA workers still needed to paint the interior and exterior of the bathhouse, construct the wall around the pool, and finish a wading pool on the west end of the pool. However, the heating plant and other equipment were installed by this time, and according to an advertisement in the Eastern Colorado Plainsman, the water in the pool was “just the right temperature.” Mayor William M. Jones and the town board decided, “Why make the kids wait—let ‘em go to it. And that means all kids from 6 to 60.” The Eastern Colorado Plainsman lauded the “new modern and sanitary pool.” According to the article, “infractions of the rules and regulations will be treated in the same manner as traffic offenders on the highway, and persistent violators will be barred from the pool.” No “rowdyism” would be allowed. Admission to the pool cost 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children. Monthly passes could be purchased for $1.75 for adults and $1.00 for children or season passes for $4.00 for adults and $2.00 for children. The pool rented bathing suits for 10 cents and towels for 5 cents. The lifeguards also offered free swimming instruction. Two hours on Saturday mornings were reserved for the exclusive use by the enrollees at the Hugo Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. Initially there were several hours of free swimming each day during the week, but this was soon discontinued. The newspaper reported this was because the pool had not received the “expected financial support.” Apparently too many people were attending the free hours instead of paying for admission. The daily average attendance was 165. Those under financial hardship could apply to the town board for permission to use the pool without charge. The official dedication of both the municipal pool and Hugo’s new gymnasium was held on October 22, 1938. Paul D. Shriver, Colorado WPA Administrator, was on hand as keynote speaker at the ceremony. The project was officially completed on October 24, 1938. Hugo residents continue to enjoy the pool every summer.”

Washington Hotel Pool Puerto Rico
Swimming pool of Washington Hotel, Colon R. de P. 1928 (National Archives Identifier 329582971)

In Ponce, Puerto Rico the YMCA building (National Archives Identifier 131518304) is a “1955, reinforce concrete, one story, modern style building, located in the urban residential area known as Santa Maria in the Municipality of Ponce. Designed by architect Pedro A. de Castro y Gaya in 1953, the building became the second seat in the island for the Young Men’s Christian Association. In 1955, as part of the building’s inauguration, a mural was donated to the facility. Located at the same location and untouched since 1955, the mural was painted by Rafael Rios Rey specifically for the building and the institution, capturing in canvas the YMCA philosophical postures. Rafael Rios Rey is considered by many the most important Puerto Rican muralist. This artwork is precisely the most significant feature of the building.”

“Pass the entrance facing east, the lobby opens up into an open room that serves as the lounge and game room, still following the 1953 design. The lounge’s eastern wall is made out of the originals perforated clay blocks, allowing for natural light and crossed ventilation. Originally, the southern wall of the lounge room, facing Calle Nazaret, had glass louvered windows . . . Rafael Rios Rey’s mural El Hombre is located in the western wall passed the building’s main entrance. The mural, approximately 0.12 m x 0.13 m, is oil painted in cloth adhered into the wall. It has Rios Rey’s signature in the lower left hand corner (facing the mural), along with the name of the mural, a dedication to Antonio Ferre Bacallao and the date October 55. The piece is surrounded by a three-foot high removable metal fence to protect it from the YMCA young visitors. Pass the reception area, the lobby turns into a corridor that runs northerly towards the second volume of the building. This section has an L-shaped asymmetrical layout. The section contains the exercise room, a gymnasium, a small lounge room, showers, locker rooms and storage rooms. The building has several exits to access the outside patio, where many athletics activities are conducted in a daily basis. There is a 1960s swimming pool at the northwest corner of the lot and a 1953 hipped metal roof basketball court, built by the YMCA before the building was completed.”

FERA NJ Camp Pool
FERA; N.J.; Unemployed Women’s Camp; “The Swimming Pool” (National Archives Identifier 196587)

Located near Cloudland, Georgia is Camp Juliette Low (National Archives Identifier 93207381) (named for the founder of the Girl Scouts of the United States, a Savannah, Georgia native) “the original ten acres established as the camp in 1922 along with the traditional historic swimming hole, a portion of the east fork of the Little River, and a portion of land to the top of the ridge on the western side of the river. The surrounding area has gently rolling hills and numerous rock out croppings. The historic core of this former Girls’ Scout Camp is heavily wooded and includes an historic lodge (Juliette Low Lodge) built in 1922 in the rustic style often used for lodges. The exterior of the lodge is simple weatherboard, with no ornamentation, and is stained a redwood color. There are double door entrances on three sides, and a single door on the northeast . . . The most impressive natural features within the historic core are the various rock outcroppings, especially those traditionally known as “Soft Rocks” just behind the Low Lodge and “Sunday School Rock”, closer to the river, which is used for Sunday services and other meetings. Other important natural features are the remaining founder’s trees— those marked by Juliette Low herself to designate the original boundaries of the ten-acre tract. There is a non-historic swinging bridge (ca. 1940) leading across the river just above the historic swimming hole.”

“The history of Camp Juliette Low, the core of which is the subject of this nomination, begins with the founding of the Girl Scout movement itself. Mrs. Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927) of Savannah founded Girl Scouts in 1912. She was married to an Englishman from 1886 until his death in 1905, and thus spent many years traveling back and forth between England and America. After her husband’s death, she spent several years trying to regain a direction for her life. In 1911, while in England, Mrs. Low met Sir Robert Baden- Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and she became interested in the new youth movement. In March, 1912, after returning to America, she originated the idea of the Girl Scout movement, first calling them American Girl Guides. In 1913, the name was changed to Girl Scouts. The goals of the organization included bringing girls of all backgrounds to out-of-doors, giving them the opportunity to learn about nature, and developing self-reliance and resourcefulness. She wanted the scouts to prepare themselves for their future roles in life, not only as traditional homemakers, but also as possible professional women in all areas of business, social, and civic life. The organization remains, with over three million current members, the world’s largest voluntary organization for girls. Many honors were later bestowed on Mrs. Low, from a postage stamp to a Federal building. Camp Juliette Low remains also as a tribute to her original ideals for her Girl Scouts.”

“It was in 1921 that Juliette Low herself first saw the site that was to become the camp. She was on a special mission to discover an appropriate site at which to establish a Girl Scout leadership training center in the Southern wilderness. Upon discovering the site, she was particularly impressed with the river and the prospect of the swimming hole. The owners of the property agreed to donate to her personally the ten-acre site. Mrs. Low specifically “selected the natural rock swimming pool in Little River and picturesque hillside nearby.” On a 1922 visit, Mrs. Low walked off the boundaries of the ten-acre tract and with the help of Tommy Key, a twelve year old, blazed the boundary trees with marks that are still visible. These same “Founder’s Trees” were the site of ceremonies in later years marking the founding of the camp. Mrs. Low also selected the large out cropping, now known as Soft Rocks, as the center of the camp. Adjoining Soft Rocks the main lodge was erected and named for her.”

Thunderbird Motel Pool Washington / Oregon

In Buffalo, Wyoming, weary travelers can stop overnight at the Blue Gables Motel and take a dip in the onsite pool, the property that “has a cabin court component, multi-unit buildings, and other features that were added as it was converted from a motor court into a motel. Nine small cabins, an office cabin with an addition and adjacent swimming pool and canopy, two three-unit buildings, and a residence comprise the historic buildings on the property . . . Located just off U.S. Highway 16, a major route across the Big Horn Mountains and to the national parks, the property is oriented to North Main Street. The individual cabins are constructed of logs flattened on the top and bottom and laid without chinking; extensions of the logs beyond the notching emphasize the picturesque log appearance. Gable roofs are edged with blue-painted boards at the rake that provide the property with its identity.”

“A sheet-metal canopy that extends from two sides of the cabin brings a 1960s modern feel to the office complex. The flat canopy, tucked under the eaves of the cabin, is supported by slender steel poles. Sturdier poles support the portion of the canopy that covers the driveway and serves as a porte-cochere. A metal coping that covers nearly half of the canopy face creates a shadow line. The Blue Gables Motel sign is held above the roof of the canopy by a steel pole. The internally lit sign has the form of a front-gabled building with blue-painted barge boards that depicts the name of the business; this sign appears in late 1960s photographs of the property. A side canopy covers the north side of the concrete deck that surrounds the in-ground swimming pool that is south of the office. The 16 by 34-foot pool and deck are enclosed with a chest-height chain-link fence. The west side of the office serves as an outdoor gathering area; a section immediately west of the building is paved with concrete and covered with a wood pole-framed shade canopy. The area to the north is a lawn and is furnished with benches.”  The Blue Gables Motel was one of the first group of motels in Buffalo to offer a pool as part of its amenities.

President Johnson in Pool (Texas)
President Lyndon B. Johnson in Swimming Pool (National Archives Identifier 6802688)

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.

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