June 8, 2015

Dive Into These Six Historic Swimming Pools

  • By: Meghan Drueding
McCarren Park Pool

photo by: Malcolm Pinckney, NYC Parks

The pool at McCarren Park.

We’ve had historic swimming pools on the brain lately. The Summer 2015 issue of Preservation magazine features a story on the architect Julia Morgan, who was known in part for designing unusually lovely pools. (Plus, it’s another hot summer here in Washington, D.C., so the thought of a refreshing dip helps make our workday go swimmingly.)

Below, we’ve assembled a photo tour of six standout pools, three of them designed by Morgan. If you have other favorite historic pools, please let us know about them in the comments section.

McCarren Park Pool (shown at top)

During the summer of 1936, the Works Progress Administration opened eleven huge pools in New York City. One was the McCarren Park Pool, designed by Aymar Embury II. A 2012 rehabilitation project by Rogers Marvel Architects (now two separate firms) brought the long-closed Brooklyn facility into the 21st century while preserving the original brick bathhouse building and grand entry arch.
The pool at Berkeley City Club

photo by: Jay Graham

The pool at Berkeley City Club.

Berkeley City Club

Open to members and hotel guests of Berkeley City Club in Berkeley, California, this gracious, Julia Morgan-designed pool dates from 1930. Ceramic tiles arranged in graphic patterns, rows of tripartite windows, and gigantic arches add a fairy-tale quality to the sturdy, reinforced-concrete space. There’s also an observation deck for those who just want to enjoy the architecture without actually swimming.

Richmond Plunge

The 1926 Richmond Municipal Natatorium, known to most as the Richmond Plunge, had suffered significant structural damage by the time it closed in 2001. But the 160-by-60-foot pool reopened to the public in 2010 with an energy-efficient restoration and renovation. The project, led by Todd Jersey Architecture, included restoring the original tilework and clerestory windows. (For more on the Richmond Plunge, see our Preservation magazine story from Nov.-Dec. 2010 magazine story from Nov.-Dec. 2010.)

The Richmond Plunge

photo by: Scott Haefner

The Richmond Plunge.

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle

photo by: Jay Graham

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle.

Neptune Pool

The Neptune Pool (currently drained for a restoration project) is one of the main attractions of Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s palatial former residence in San Simeon, California. Julia Morgan designed it, along with the rest of the property, and its dramatic Greco-Roman flourishes make it a worthy counterpart to the ocean-view setting. For more on the Neptune Pool and the castle, now a part of the California State Parks system, visit the Hearst Castle website.

Roman Pool

Also part of Hearst Castle, the indoor Roman Pool is a masterwork filled with natural light and fantastical tile mosaics by artist Camille Solon. Julia Morgan tucked the pool beneath a tennis court and designed it in a style Hearst Castle historian Victoria Kastner calls “whimsical Art Deco.” The water’s gleaming surface reflects the room’s curved marble ladders, alabaster lamps, and classically inspired marble statues.

Roman Pool at Hearst Castle

photo by: Hearst Castle, CA State Park

The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle.

Waikiki's War Memorial Natatorium

photo by: Donna L. Ching

Waikiki's War Memorial Natatorium.

Waikiki's War Memorial Natatorium

This Beaux-Arts saltwater gem hasn’t been open to the public since 1979. Designed by Lewis Hobart, it was built in 1927 in Honolulu as a memorial to World War I veterans. The 100-by-36-meter pool hosted famous swimmers such as surfer Duke Kahanamoku and actress Esther Williams, and generations of locals learned to swim there. The National Trust named it a National Treasure in 2014; find more information on the Natatorium here.
Headshot Meghan Drueding

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design.

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