The summer that officially ends this holiday weekend is the first in almost seven decades to pass without a couple of beloved Boise institutions. For the first time since 1953, a summer has ended without cannon balls, belly flops and squeals of delight at Lowell and South pools.
Both are showing their age. The city closed them because they need millions of dollars worth of repairs. Issues included dilapidated interiors, cracked asphalt and outdated supplies. Lowell also was found to have violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
For their patrons, it was a frustrating summer. The pools are popular as ever with the youthful denizens who flock to them. Kids who live in their neighborhoods count the days until they open for the summer.
I know because I once was one of them. Though lacking personal experience with South Pool, Lowell Pool was a short bike ride from my childhood home. For the kids in our neighborhood, it was the place to be on hot summer afternoons. We all but lived there.
Memorial Day weekend in those days meant two things. One was a trip to an aunt’s farm near Star to put flowers on the graves of ancestors buried in the cemetery there. A sumptuous picnic feast followed at Aunt Amy’s house.
The picnic was a prelude to the true beginning of summer. Long before dessert was served, my thoughts had turned to my friends who would be lined up at the entrance to Lowell Pool. We couldn’t get home from Star fast enough for me to join them.
Every kid in the neighborhood learned to swim in that pool. We were good swimmers, but for reasons that were never clear to us, the neighborhood mothers united in insisting that we all take swimming lessons at the YMCA. We protested, but they were adamant.
When the instructor at the Y promoted us from tadpoles to flying fish on the first day of class, our mothers relented and said we wouldn’t have to go any more. Armed with our newfound flying-fish status, we were back at Lowell every day from the pool’s opening at 1 p.m. until it closed at 5 p.m. for dinner.
It was a big deal to graduate from the low dive to the high dive. A big deal, and badge of honor. Kids who conquered the high dive walked a little taller. I don’t remember how many times I waited in the line, making it as far as the ladder before chickening out. And who could forget the first time actually making it to the diving board, high enough to see for blocks, summoning the courage to take the plunge. That I succeeded likely was due less to bravado than to jumping being the quickest way down.
Cannonballs required no such derring-do. All you had to do was run a few steps and leap, locking your hands around your knees to form the “cannonball” before hitting the water. This did not go over well with the lifeguards who got splashed while working on their tans.
Flirting with the lifeguards was another pastime. Even after all these years, I remember their names – Kip, Ruth and Carolyn. The flirting was to no avail, of course. The lifeguards were older and considered us obnoxious pests.
Just across the street from the pool was a drive-in restaurant. Hamburger Korner was the perfect place to go for a flavored Coke, a milkshake or a burger after working up an appetite in the pool. The specialty of the house was the Belly Buster, a double burger with special sauce and a slice of ham. Alas, the savory Belly Buster and Hamburger Korner itself are memories now.
The pool was such a kid magnet that a friend and I tried to sneak in before its official opening one year. From a vantage point on a limb of a nearby tree, it was possible to see that the pool had been filled. Climbing the wall to get to it was virtually impossible, however, which was probably a good thing. The water was so cold that that early in the year that we’d become ice sculptures.
For readers unfamiliar with them, the design of Lowell and South Pools is unusual. They’re above-ground pools with walls made of cinder blocks. You enter through a front door, pass through ground-level changing rooms and climb stairs to the pools themselves. That, according to Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway, “affects the accessibility of the pools and contributes to the ADA violations.”
Replacing them with ground-level pools would improve access, but South and Lowell have “a storied history” and “a unique attachment for anyone who grew up swimming in them,” Holloway said.
Besides having a place in the hearts of those who used them, the pools are rarities – and becoming rarer all the time. Only about 100 were built, by the Wesley Blintz Co., between 1919 and the 1960s. Fewer than 20 still survive. Some, according to the Wesley Blintz website, have been renovated while others are “nearly unrecognizable ruins.”
The city is asking for opinions from the public on what should be done with the pools. With Lowell and South comprising a significant percentage of those still standing anywhere in the country, it would make sense to renovate them for their historical value. And as someone who knew Lowell Pool as a beloved neighborhood hangout, I’d love to see it repaired and brought up to code.
If that’s too expensive, ground-level pools would be an alternative. Either way, it would be a shame for the pools to stay closed for a second summer. Kids don’t care why they aren’t open. They just want to swim. And when you’re a kid, two summers without a pool is forever.