“McCarren Park Pool has an illustrious past and a bright future,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It is once again going to be the center of neighborhood life for Williamsburg and Greenpoint.”
McCarren Pool, situated in McCarren Park in North Brooklyn, was one of 11 pools that was commissioned by Robert Moses, and McCarren Pool and Astoria Pool in Queens were the two largest. It opened in 1936, one of the hottest summers in the city's history.
In the days before air conditioning, some 500 people drowned each year in New York city's waterways trying to cool off, according to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. So the pools were seen as an act of civic generosity when they were opened in the middle of the Great Depression.
The $50 million rehabilitation of McCarren Pool preserves the historic bathhouse building and entry arch, and creates a brand new swimming pool. The pool area can accommodate an ice skating rink in the winter.
The renovation also creates McCarren Play Center, a recreation and fitness center. Last Thursday's ceremony also marked the opening of all of the city's 55 outdoor swimming pools for the summer.
“Our outdoor pools are officially open for the summer, and we are especially proud of our latest addition,” said Benepe.
While Bloomberg touted the new facility and the city's investment in parks during tough economic times, a recent hearing regarding the city's failed promises to create acres of new park space as part of a 2005 rezoning of the area was still fresh in some minds.
Bloomberg addressed the criticism.
“You have this great facility and then you have park on the other side of it which is just spectacular, and there's never going to be enough open space, because you have to room for people to live and shop and work,” said Bloomberg. “It's a blend, and I think we're achieving that.”
The excitement surrounding the opening of the pool was briefly marred on Friday, as the pool was forced to close early after a group of teens got into a altercation with a lifeguard. No one was hurt in the incident, and the pool reopened on time on Saturday.
McCarren Pool almost didn't exist to see this renovation. In 1979, the city set aside money to renovate all of the 11 pools opened in 1936. In 1983, the renovation at McCarren Pool was started, but was blocked by area residents who were worried it would attract an undesirable element to the neighborhood.
In 1984, a local councilman allocated funds to have the pool demolished, but some residents formed a group dedicated to saving and restoring the pool. They raised funds and grew support, and eventually discovered the demolition was illegal.
“City buildings cannot be demolished unless plans to replace them are completed,” read a history of the struggle that Phyllis Yampolsky, a lead organizer to save the pool, was handing out at last week's opening. “We thought that was the end of the controversy, it turned out to be the beginning of a 19-year struggle.”
In 2005, the pool began to generate interest as a venue for the arts and again became a focal point of the community. Concerts were held in the empty pool, and in 2007 the structure was declared a landmark. That same year, Bloomberg announced that $50 million would be allocated to restoring the pool.