The big news for overheated Brooklynites this month has been the re-opening of the totally renovated McCarren Park Pool. As I count among those whose work schedules allow for weekday escapes from the "office," and I live in the neighborhood, I headed to the pool to check it out. I was blown away, not just by the loveliness of the facility, but by the story behind how a Robert Moses pool has evolved over the past 76 years.
The was first opened in 1936, built by the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal. It accommodated 6,800 swimmers and was among the most used pools in New York. Over the decades, it fell into disrepair, blighted by vandalism and used as a drug haven. It was closed in 1984. Funds were appropriated the next year for renovation, but the plan fell through.
Nothing was done with the empty pool for more than 20 years, until the City Parks Foundation did basic work to stabilize the area. Once safety concerns were alleviated, the pool was used for concerts, film festivals, dance performances and other public events.
Had the story of the McCarren Park Pool ended there, I would be pretty happy. As I noted with the pool in Astoria being converted to a Greek style outdoor theater: "public, urban spaces can be creatively transformed, and continue to serve the public long after they seem to have outlived their purpose."
But the McCarren Park Pool had some fight left in it. In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg announced the allocation of $50 million to renovate the pool and build a year-round recreation center, as part of the PlaNYC initiative. The 1936 bathhouse and entry arch were restored. A small skate park, sand volleyball court and space for a skating rink come winter were all installed.
The newly built McCarren Play Center is home to a gym, a cardio room, an indoor volleyball court, a fitness room and a computer resource center.
From the opening of the pool, I heard only rave reviews (marred by a decent number of fights). Visiting the pool, I was really impressed. Apart from hair in the pool (unavoidable), it's clean. It was crowded on Friday afternoon but there was no line to get in. People swam laps, tanned on the deck, and played around: exactly what you'd expect.
I'm thrilled to have the McCarren Park Pool nearby, and really hope that more cities put the money into projects like this one. The free admission pool serves as a community gathering space. It promotes exercises. It's a great way to beat the heat without turning on the AC. And it makes more sense than building a super high-tech pool in the East River. I'll be going back soon.