About McCarren Pool

Early Days

McCarren park pool opened its doors on July 31st, 1936. It is one of ten pools built through the WPA in the New York area, and it is the only one that is not currently functioning as a pool. It still looks pretty much the way it did then.

Opening Day image from NYC Architecture group:

A more typical day (look at the trolley!), from the parks dept site:

Architectural Details

The main pool is 330 by 165 feet. There was once a second "diving" pool to the east of the main pool, which has been filled in. It had five diving boards. (If you go to the Red Hook pool, which is the same as McCarren, the diving pool has been converted to a wading pool.)

 You enter the pool site by going up some stairs and going through a big arch, which has a ticket booth in the middle. The arch is flanked by two bathhouses—one for men and one for women. When the pool was functioning, you would enter, change, and put your clothes into a basket, then check the basket. The attendant would give you a rubber ankle tag, which you would then use to get your stuff back. There are shallow footbaths as you exit each bathhouse to the pool area, that you could put your feet into to protect against athlete's foot. One report says they had high pressure sprays as well. (Current NY Parks practice says all swimmers in public pools must take a shower before swimming.)

 Each bathhouse is approximately 10,000 square feet, and the east bathhouse has a full size basketball court. The bathhouse wing buildings have skylights (some have been closed), and big vaulted ceilings. There are large windows in the changing areas that are up high for privacy.

 There are bay windows on either side of the arch on the pool side, which are now bricked up. One was a first aid station. The site also has some buildings behind the pool, which were used for the lifeguards and are in serious disrepair.

Here are two images from the pool from about 1949, taken by former Greenpoint resident Larry Groff, who runs greenpt.com. Read the letter Larry wrote to us about these photos.




The Shutdown

The pool was in use, and very popular, until the 1980s, when it became apparent that massive restoration was needed to keep it functioning. Money was allocated, but never used, and the pool was officially shut down in 1984. Accounts vary on exactly why this happened. Some say that the community couldn’t agree on what to do with the site, so the Parks Dept. gave up, others say that the Parks Dept. simply wanted to use the money for other projects. The most persistent rumor is that racial issues were involved in the community's lack of consensus, but there is no official record of this.

 Since then, the pool site has been fenced in, and has grown more and more decrepit. A fire in 1987 damaged the arch, the buildings were left to deteriorate, and weeds and garbage filled the empty pool. A lot of graffiti appeared—some consider it vandalism, others consider it art.

 From NYC Architecture:

 From Billburg.com, taken by Jason Kemmpin:




The Aftermath

Once it had been closed, the pool was in constant danger of being torn down. Phyllis Yampolsky's McCarren Park conservancy is largely responsible for preventing this.

 In 2001, the Parks Department hired the architectural firm Vollmer and Associates to create a plan for rehabilitating the pool site. Here is a Billburg.com story on the presentation to the community board. The plan calls for a multi-use site, with a pool, a skate park, a performance area, and a playground. The events of September 11 put an end to this initiative.

 Since then, several groups have been working (see "The Players" section on the Links page) to reopen the pool in various forms—as a performance space, as a community center, as a pool, and as a hybrid of many of these ideas.

In late the late summer of 2005, Noemie LaFrance and Clear Channel/Live Nation donated $50,000 and $200,000, respectively, to restore the crumbling arch and clean up the broken glass and litter, and the Parks Department deemed the site open for some uses. That fall, LaFrance's Sens Productions put on "Agora", a dance performance, in the pool. 

For the summer of 2006, and again in 2007, the pool is open for anyone in the community to use, with the proper parks permits. There are free shows, very expensive shows, movie nights, dance performances, and other programming being planned. Next winter, a temporary ice rink will be installed.

 For the pool to become a pool again, the projected cost is about $40 million. It is unclear now how that money could be raised. More on the current situation and what the future might hold in News.

 The facts in this article come from interviews with community activists, Parks Dept employees, and other long term neighborhood residents. If there is anything you can add to it or that needs to be corrected, please let us know!






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