Up until the moment we decided to start dipping our toes (and more) into public pools this summer, the “public pool” was merely a distant memory of our childhood summers. A lot has changed since those days, but it’s funny how diving back into old territory can bring back the good ole’ times.
Some things will always stay the same, like the smell of chlorine on sun soaked cement and its chemically earthy smell that wafts into your nose when you rest your head on the towel, like the shouting of lifeguards who add more “a”‘s then you ever could imagine fitting into the word “waaaaaaalk”, and the way the smooth black tiles of the lane dividers contrast with the feel of the rough concrete bottom. One of the things that I have found remarkable about these pool visits are the ways in which I wasn’t expecting to be reminded of childhood.
We joked in our last post about the “pool of rules” but, in reality, rules are a big deal at these pools. One of the most confusing things I remember as a child was that I knew the world was full of rules and that some were obvious and some were hidden. It felt like adults knew all the rules and they got so frustrated when you didn’t know them or deemed them unimportant based on the wisdom of being five years old. It is a confusing time being a kid and not having a grasp on social behaviors and how they constantly change in different places and with different people.
As adults on our own living in a big city, it feels like we’ve mastered the intricacies of society’s basic rules. These pools, though, have brought me down a few notches with the realization that I don’t actually know what to expect and that there may be secret adult rules that I still don’t know about.
Some of them are posted like “no white t-shirts in the pool” and others you have to learn by being yelled at like “no picture taking at the pool.” Few of them make sense and you end up feeling like a naughty kid, but then you look around and you are on the adult side of the pool these days.
For our pool visit this week we chose the Griffith Park pool, which was formerly known as the Municipal Plunge and is the largest public pool ever built and in operation in Los Angeles. In 1896, Colonel Griffith Jenkins Griffith donated 3,015 acres of his land (formerly Rancho Los Feliz) to the City of Los Angeles to be known as Griffith Park and used for public recreation for the “plain people.” In keeping with this mandate, the City of Los Angeles Charter of 1925 provided increased funding to the Playground and Recreation Commission for a 20-acre playground at the southeastern corner of the park near Los Feliz Blvd. and Riverside Dr. The area would include tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, baseball fields, horseshoe pits, and a large children’s playground.
One extremely popular facility was the Municipal Plunge, a 50′x 225′ pool that opened with great fanfare on August 13, 1927, at a cost of $80,000. In addition to swimming, other activities included water polo, lifesaving classes, canoeing and, for many years, an “Enchanted Pool” pageant. (Can you imagine?!?! I tried finding photos, but couldn’t…)
During World War II the pool hours were extended for war-time workers to swim in the evening. In 1942, the 125th infantry occupied the playground, using the pool for training, and showering in the Bath House. Women lifeguards were employed for the first time there in 1943. In 1968, forty years after it opened, the Municipal Plunge closed permanently. I can’t find out when it re-opened (maybe someone knows?) but today it serves as one of Los Angeles’ seasonal pools and is open from late June to August each year.
The skies were blue and the sun was shining bright (we have the tan lines to prove it!) when we arrived on Sunday afternoon. The atmosphere would have been more relaxing if it was not for the noise of Interstate 5 that was, unfortunately, directly adjacent to the pool. There wasn’t much offered for shade around the pool itself but there was a grassy area with trees not too far from the pool.
They have a very strict bathing suit rule here and a lady will check you before entry that to make sure you have one on or with you (yup, I totally lifted my shirt up for a Granny). There is also no toilet paper in the bathrooms so you have to get it from the attendant and return it when you are done, which frankly does not go very far in supportin the whole ‘no peeing in the pool’ thing. So, I tried not to think too much about.
Overall I’d say the biggest strength of this pool is the length of it that gives you a plenty of room to spread out. Most of the families with children were on one end, with a deep end in the middle, then some lap swimming lanes, and another shallow end that was closed due to lack of lifeguards. This made for a much quieter area that helped the relaxation effort. All in all, we enjoyed ourselves and Amanda even tried a few underwater somersaults and didn’t even mind when she promptly got water up here nose. It made us appreciate the warm concrete just that much more.
So, a rule: spread your arms wide for some lap swimming or a game of Marco Polo, spread out your towel, and spread the love for your neighborhood public pool.
The Griffith Park pool is located at 3401 Riverside Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027, in Los Feliz. The pool’s website is here: