From an aerial view, swimming pools are turquoise jewels amidst neighborhood landscapes. And whether the pools are in-ground, above-ground, on the roof, in the basement or at the country club, these welcoming aquatic basins have been attracting swimmers for thousands of years.
Pool lore across the country abounds. In the summer of 1936 alone, New York Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, a master urban builder and swimmer himself, opened 11 municipal swimming facilities in New York City.
His Astoria Park swimming pool remains one of the largest and most popular municipal pools in the country. The gargantuan oval complex includes an art deco bathing pavilion built during the Works Program Administration (WPA), has a main pool that holds 3,000 people, and boasts the best view of the Triborough Bridge. (Imagine swimming the breaststroke or freestyle and looking up at this impressive suspension bridge that forks into both the Bronx and Manhattan.)
Victoria Pool, Saratoga Springs, NY; Photo credit: Bonni Brodnick
After WWII, the building of home pools flourished. In Million Dollar Mermaid, the 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer aquamusical, Hollywood actress Esther Williams helped make backyard swimming pools the new suburban status symbol.
Today there are more than 10 million residential pools and more than 300,000 public pools in the U.S. And whether your personal backyard pool is permanent or collapsible, there is something about a town pool that reflects a campy sense of commonality. It's where swimmers and non-swimmers congregate on a hot day to get some rays, take the plunge and have some fun.
"The town pool is a great place for the community to come together," said Dodge Sgaglio, a 16-year-old lifeguard at the town park pool in Pound Ridge, N.Y. While growing up, he and his seven brothers and sisters -- Hayes, Cord, Briggs, Gaze, Archer, Fury and Ensen -- have made their way from the baby pool to the recreation pool to the diving tank. Five of the Sgaglios have also graduated to the lifeguard stand.
A master at the butterfly stroke, Dodge has competed for 11 years on the town swim team, the Pound Ridge Dolphins, and is a member of the Fox Lane High School varsity swim team.
"I kind of grew up at the town pool," Dodge said from his perch. "In the summer, it's like my second home."
In a poolside survey, the following are a few reasons other patrons enjoy their seasonal municipal swimming facility:
#1. No worries about balancing chlorine and pH levels, checking alkaline substances, monitoring calcium hardness and other unsightly buildup in the water. (Leave the alchemy to the lifeguards.)
#2. Sitting by the pool can be a refreshing break from checking email, text messages and telephone calls.
#3. It's an excuse to read a trashy novel.
#4. Swimming laps is relaxing. Just stroke, kick and breathe. Do it a few times back and forth and you've had a good workout.
#5. When is the last time you kicked around in a pair of flippers?
#6. Floating on your back and watching the clouds is good for the soul.
#7. Doing cannon balls off the diving board brings back memories. (Even hearing the occasional belly-flop is an auditory throwback.)
#8. It's nice to exchange pleasantries with neighbors you haven't seen since last summer.
#9. In August, it's a rarified ad-free zone from the bombardment of back-to-school commercials.
#10. The pool is the only place you can wear a bathing cap and no one will make fun of you. (And let's face it... it's the only place you can walk around half-naked in public and not get arrested.)
One more thing that crowns an afternoon at the pool:
#11. You can't beat an ice-cream sandwich from the snack bar.
Lap it up before the lifeguards return to college and the call of "Marco Polo!" is silenced. It's a long wait from September to May, when the pool reopens for another splashful summer.
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