The old pool clearly had seen better days.
Its cement was cracked, its paint faded. Dirt and leaves had collected in the bottom of the deep end, along with a purple Royal Crown whisky bag. A gray, gloomy afternoon completed the melancholy tableau.
The occasion was an open house at Lowell Pool, 1601 N. 28th Street, in Boise’s North End. Lowell, along with the pool at South Junior High School, has been closed for two summers. Built in 1953, they’ll need extensive repairs to reopen.
How many years had it been since I’d set foot in Lowell Pool, once a virtual home away from home? Years?
No, decades. More than I care to contemplate.
Stepping inside the entry’s double doorway brought at once a feeling of deja vu and a stark realization of how much time had passed. New and teeming with noisy, youthful customers when last I visited, the pool this time around was empty and silent, a forlorn ghost of its former self.
A sign by the doorway encouraged patrons to use sunscreen. Sunscreen hadn’t been invented when kids from my old neighborhood spent summer afternoons there. By the Fourth of July, our bodies were brown as bagels. Now we’re paying for those youthful tans in visits to dermatologists’ offices.
Like so many things remembered from childhood, parts of the pool seemed smaller. The changing and shower room, where the slap, slap, slap of flip-flops on the concrete floor reverberated through what seemed to be a seemingly spacious tunnel, felt cramped and claustrophobic. To say nothing of dark, dank and depressing.
For those unfamiliar with Lowell and South pools, they were built using a design pioneered by engineer Wesley Blintz of Lansing, Mich. More than 100, according to the Wesley Blintz Swimming Pool Network, were built between 1919 and the 1960s. They saved cities money in construction costs because they were above ground, requiring little or no excavation. Plant facilities, changing rooms and showers were at ground level, the pools themselves upstairs.
Lowell Pool was four blocks from my childhood home. Its opening day in 1953 was the biggest thing to hit the North End since the Lionel Train man set up shop. Every kid who knew how to swim, and some who didn’t, was there. I was among them, despite having rudimentary knowledge at best of how to float, let alone swim.
It was a big deal when a friend and I learned to float during a morning swimming lesson at the pool. Such a big deal that we rushed home to brag to our parents, and anyone else within hearing distance, that “we know how to face float!”
The pool wasn’t heated, and the water early in the season was so cold your teeth chattered. This did not deter us, however. Within a few weeks we were doing cannonballs off of the low dive and swimming back to the end of the pool as if we’d been doing it all our lives.
I was surprised to see during the open house that the high dive appeared to have been removed. Summoning the courage to jump from it was a rite of passage. You walked a little taller on the way home after that.
The lifeguard stand also had been moved, from the north to the south side of the pool. How many times had we tried to flirt with the pretty lifeguards who were stationed there and been rebuffed as the pint-sized pests we were?
We spent virtually every summer afternoon in Lowell Pool, often returning after dinner to swim until closing. It wasn’t just that we enjoyed swimming; the pool was one of the few places you could cool off on days so hot the tar on the streets bubbled in the sun.
Though it was mainly kids who used the pool in the afternoons when their parents were working, it was common to see grownups there in the evenings. My mother and sister, who was ten years older than me, took swimming lessons there. Family nights at the pool were well attended. It was a magnet for both young and old.
Looking back, I can’t recall happier, more carefree times than those spent in that wonderful old pool. It would be a shame to see it demolished, as has happened with many other Blintz pools around the country. Of the more than 100 that were built, according to the Blintz network’s website, only 17 remain.
And Boise has two of them! Lowell and South pools aren’t just swimming pools, they’re pieces of Americana. And from a design standpoint, they’re close to being unique.
Those are compelling reasons to save them. Another is that the cost of renovating the pools and that of tearing them down and building new ones, according to Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway, would be about a push. It wouldn’t make a lot of sense to build new pools with zero history and probably not as much character, especially when most of the public testimony has favored keeping the old ones.
North and South End kids places to swim on hot summer days. Two summers without a pool is a long time for a kid, and a third is all but certain.
Here’s hoping the city gives the kids something to celebrate by the summer of 2023.