July 11, 2018

Splash Down into These Four Swimming Pools at Historic Hotels

The swimming pool at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort.

photo by: Omni Bedford Springs Resort

The eight natural freshwater springs on the grounds of Omni Bedford Springs Resort, a Historic Hotels of America member, were thought to have healing and restorative properties.

Swimming might be the quintessential summer activity. Swimming pools and summer go together like ice cream and sprinkles; there are few better ways to beat the heat of a mid-July afternoon than enjoying a pool’s pristine waters. That’s why we’ve gathered a list of four swimming pools at historic hotels for you to cool off in this summer. This story will only be dipping a toe into these pools’ histories, because to take a deeper dive, nothing beats visiting them in person!

Omni Bedford Springs Resort—Bedford, Pennsylvania (pictured above)

Only one pool on this list can claim to be fed by a natural spring, and that’s the indoor pool found at the appropriately named Omni Bedford Springs Resort’s Pool Building. The mineral-filled water from the Eternal Spring is treated in accordance with health code regulations before being filtered into the pool.

Constructed out of brick and wood, the Pool Building dates to 1905, making it one of the first public indoor pool rooms to be built in the country. It was revitalized along with many other structures on the property in 2007, as part of a $120 million restoration project. Its first floor boasts a wrap-around veranda, and its second-floor sunroom is perfect for catching some rays. It retains its original archways and linear column tiling. Other aspects of the pool have been changed during past renovations, including the decrease in depth from 9 feet to 5 feet today, but very little of its character has been lost.

The swimming pool at the Grand Hotel.

photo by: Grand Hotel

Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, and five United States presidents have visited the Grand Hotel.

Grand Hotel—Mackinac Island, Michigan

The Esther Williams Swimming Pool at the Grand Hotel owes its current name to the star of the 1947 “aquamusical” film This Time for Keeps, which was filmed there. Williams was a competitive swimmer who intended to compete in the Olympics, but turned to show business when the 1940 Summer Olympics were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.

When it opened in the mid-1920s, however, the outdoor pool went by the name of “Paul Bunyan’s Footprint.” An identical foot-shaped pool opened around the same time over a hundred miles south in Traverse City, back on mainland Michigan. Hotel employees like to say that Paul Bunyan stepped in Traverse City and then Mackinac Island during his journey northward. But the success of Williams’ film in drawing visitors to the Grand Hotel meant that a change of name only made sense. A member of Historic Hotels of America, the hotel is perhaps better known today for being a National Historic Landmark and owning the longest front porch in the world (at approximately 660 feet). However, the pool that Esther Williams “built” remains one of its oldest and most notable amenities.

The swimming pool at the InterContinental Chicago.

photo by: InterContinental Chicago

The pool at InterContinental Chicago is one of the hotel's few features that have been left nearly untouched since opening.

InterContinental Chicago—Chicago, Illinois

The InterContinental Chicago’s indoor pool also boasts a connection to Esther Williams— following the building’s conversion from men’s club to hotel in 1949, the swimmer became one of the pool’s patrons. But more significantly, it was once considered an architectural marvel. That’s because the junior Olympic-sized pool was built in 1929 on the 14th floor of the structure, making it one of the highest pools in the world at the time of its construction. It also can lay claim to being Chicago’s oldest extant pool and one of the largest hotel pools in the country.

Like the Omni Bedford Springs Resort and the Grand Hotel, the InterContinental Chicago is a member of Historic Hotels of America, and its pool retains many significant 1920s-era architectural features. Its original blue Spanish majolica tiles and terra cotta Neptune fountain have only needed minor attention over the years, and a row of seats for audience members hearkens back to the sport’s spectator days. Many refer to it today as the “Johnny Weissmuller Pool,” after another dual actor-competitive swimmer who trained in it on his way to the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympics. Weissmuller most famously portrayed Tarzan in 12 early films, and his signature yell became a trademark of the character.

The swimming pool at the Biltmore Hotel.

photo by: Chris Goldberg/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

The Biltmore Hotel and its pool contributed to Coral Gables' rise as a nationwide vacation destination in the 1920s.

The Biltmore Hotel—Coral Gables, Florida

At 23,000 square feet and capable of holding up to 1,250,000 gallons of water, the grand outdoor swimming pool at The Biltmore Hotel is one of the largest pools in the continental United States. It’s one of the most striking highlights of the Spanish Colonial Revival-style hotel, which opened in 1926 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1996.

But aside from its arresting qualities, the pool also played an integral role in keeping the Biltmore afloat during the Great Depression years. The hotel hosted aquatic galas that featured a wide variety of acts, from alligator wrestlers to a four-year-old diver named Jackie Ott who jumped from an 85-foot platform. Thousands of people of all ages would gather for the weekend events.

The pool has been well-maintained over the years. It was refurbished under the direction of landscape architect Emilio Fuster in 1992. The project involved the addition of private cabanas and resurfacing of the pool with polished marble.

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Nicholas Som is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

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