1936: the year of the city swimming pool

Mayor La Guardia was a busy man during the Depression summer of 1936, the hottest on record in the United States.

Through June, July, and August, he attended dedication ceremonies at the 11 brand-new municipal pools the city opened that year.

The pools were a monumental achievement. Built with WPA labor, they were safe alternatives for city kids who used to cool off by swimming in the East and Hudson Rivers.

Judging by the enormous crowds seen in these vintage photos from that opening summer, they were a huge hit. The McCarren Park pool (top left), was so enormous, it could hold almost 7,000 swimmers at a time. Closed in 1984, it’s finally reopening this summer.

Astoria Park in Queens offered incredible views of the Hell Gate Bridge and was so state-of-the-art, Olympic trials for the U.S. swim and dive teams were held there.

The Sunset Pool, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, featured underwater lights, which were flipped on by Mayor La Guardia during the opening ceremony on July 21.

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10 Responses to “1936: the year of the city swimming pool”

  1. Alex Baugh Says:

    Wow, I loved those pools when I was a kid growing up in the 60s. We swam in Sunset Pool all summer long, except when we swam at Coney. Great post!

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks!I I swam in a little pocket pool installed in the early 1970s at a park on Thompson Street. It sure seemed pretty big at the time.

  3. wordgrl Says:

    Seems like a whole other country that had the will to do something for the public during the depression. Imagine something like beautiful pools or public buildings being built now? I can’t.

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I swam at the huge pool on Pitt Street & Houston (I think?) and almost drowned there at one time. I was about 10 or so but I never went back there.

  5. petey Says:

    i learned to swim in the John Jay park pool, 78th street and east end ave

  6. Joe R Says:

    To a kid growing up in the “concrete jungle” of 50’s Brooklyn these pools were a godsend. I remember going often to Betsy Head in Brownsville and the huge (and very clean) McCarren pool in Greenpoint. 10 cents for kids, 25 cents for adults.

  7. Peggy Moran Says:

    When was the Highbridge pool opened on the Manhattan side of the Highbridge? I went there as a child. Still remember!

  8. wildnewyork Says:

    July 14, 1936! Here’s more info:


  9. Two beautiful bridges of an older New York | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] though. To really absorb the loveliness of the Hell Gate, head to Astoria Park, particularly the enormous public pool there. The bridge looms large in the […]

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    […] beaches, community pools, floating pools docked off the East River—you can’t say New York hasn’t made an effort […]

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