Look | McCarren, a Pool With a Past

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Back then, the pool could hold up to 6,000 people at a time. Commissioner Benepe says state health codes are different now and McCarren's 2 pools can now only hold 1,500. (Courtesy of the NYC Parks Dept.)

The city is officially opening its outdoor pools for the summer on Thursday. The seasonal rite is arriving with more anticipation than usual because one of the 55 pools on the list includes McCarren Park pool, which has been closed for nearly 30 years.

The city has spent $50 million for the renovation including the pool restoration, preservation of the bathhouse and the arched entryway. The project also includes an indoor recreation center.

In Willamsburg, Brooklyn, steps away from the Bedford subway station, lifelong resident Rina Mottes sat with some friends on her stoop recalling the nearby pool, which was a big part of her childhood.

“You know it was a day of getting away, you know a day away from the house, when we were younger, my sisters and brothers, we all used to go swimming down there,” said the 70-year-old Mottes.

McCarren was one of 11 pools that opened in the summer of 1936 by then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.

Over the intervening decades, as the demographics of the neighborhood changed, it became a hotspot for fights and other unpredictable behavior. “You know, pushing and shoving, they would steal things from your locker room which wasn't nice," said longtime resident Kathy Schaefer. She blamed some of the kids from the “Southside” of the neighborhood at the time.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe remembers that pools all over the city at the time were far from peaceful.

“Young people and adolescents are rowdy and for some people that’s scary but we’ve found ways to make sure they’re not rowdy anymore or at least it’s nipped in the bud, but this was a different time,” said Benepe.

The Parks Department offered to renovate the pool in the 1980s, but the Community Board and other concerned citizens went in the opposite direction and opted to close it instead.

“There was lot more crime and people were anxious about trying to keep their neighborhood safe,” observed Benepe. “They would say we don't want this pool. [Not] for any reasons to do with race. but it became racial, the fact that they didn’t want people coming from other neighborhoods.”

McCarren experienced a brief period of creative re-use when organizers turned the empty pool basins into a stage for performances, including bands such as Wilco and Sonic Youth, and outdoor movies.

Earlier this week, the hum of power tools was music to many people's ears. Residents gathered at the fence outside trying to sneak peeks of the pool once again filled with water.

Matthew Konefal was a baby when McCarren closed it 1984. He said, so far, he liked what he saw. “I mean the brickwork everything is gorgeous....I have pictures of it from 30 years ago and it didn’t look like this.”

The question most people in the community have been asking these days is what does it cost for a swim?

The answer: free.

Kathleen Horan/WNYC
McCarren pool reopens

Mayor Michael Bloomberg celebrated the day by re-opening McCarren Park pool in Willamsburg. The landmark pool, 1st built in 1936 and closed in 19-84, underwent a 3 year, $50 million dollar renovation. In addition to two pools, McCarren has an indoor recreation center and volleyball court.

kathleen Horan/WNYC
Swimmers prepare to jump into McCarren pool
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Swimmers jump into McCarren pool on opening day
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Swimmers take to the pool on opening day
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
A lifeguard stands watch at McCarren Pool
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Ahead of its re-opening, workers make some last minute fixes McCarren Pool.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Opening day at McCarren Pool
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
The city's outdoor pools are officially open for the season.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
A crowd gathers, looking at the pool and awaiting its grand reopening.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
The cornerstone shows the pool was founded in 1936.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Much of the original architecture has been refurbished.
Courtesy of the NYC Parks Dept.
The pool in 1937.
Courtesy of the NYC Parks Dept.
Back then, the pool could hold up to 6,000 people at a time. Commissioner Benepe says state health codes are different now and McCarren's 2 pools can now only hold 1,500.
Courtesy of the NYC Parks Dept.
The pool in 1948.
After the pool was closed, the area was used for concerts and outdoor movies.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Kathy Schaefer, left, Rina Mottes, far right, and neighbors share McCarren pool stories.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
There will be a combined 37,571 sq ft of pool space from the Olympic-sized pool and the wading pool.
Kathleen Horan/WNYC
Refurbished doors.


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Comments [11]

Bill Butler Sr. from Staten Island

I remember walking to this pool (I lived on Lewis Ave and Hart St. Bed Sty)
It was the only cooling off spot available to my brothers (5)and I during the summer (no air conditioning or fans). We were poor at the time although my father worked hard in the Navy Yard as a shipfitter trying to support us. I remember the wooden trains on the Lexington and Myrtle Ave lines, they were really fun to ride in the summer. I think this is the largest pool I have ever been in during my lifetime (I'm 75+ now)Everybody enjoy the pool as I did.

Sep. 20 2013 10:21 PM
Brisbane Swimming Pools from australia

I think this city is officially opening its outdoor pools for the summer. Thanks for sharing with us. Brisbane Swimming Pools

Oct. 09 2012 01:22 AM
Heidi M.

I wonder if they use fence like frameless glass fencing in Perth for that pool. That is really a huge pool and I can tell that people are really excited to swim in it.

Sep. 25 2012 05:07 AM
Regina Hyland Flanary

Get it right.....the pool is in GREENPOINT not Williamsburg. And if you look up the history of the pool, the original name was GREENPOINT PARK.

Jul. 05 2012 03:59 PM
afgan irakson

this PC, "diverse community" nonsense as a defence of criminal behavior is so refreshing ... .

Jul. 04 2012 09:42 AM

And then its closed on the second day because some dumb ass punches a lifeguard community!

Jun. 29 2012 06:55 PM
Janet from NJ

Hey John, if you paid a half mil for your apartment you weren't there in 1984 when it closed. Sinnedco is right, move to a gated community where you can hide from the 'riff raff'
. You sir, are the dark side of gentrification.

Jun. 28 2012 05:00 PM

Life isn't fair. Move out of New York and move to a gated community. The pool is about community and people. Thats what this city is about believe it or not.

Jun. 28 2012 02:32 PM
JOHN from Brooklyn

I am not looking forward to the re-opening at all. The pool attracted nothing but animal/savage type people in the past. It's not fair to pay over 1/2 million for a apartment and have to put up with rift-raft

Jun. 28 2012 01:05 PM
sue yellin

we are in the brooklyn visitors center at boro hall.we have had emails all morning because our number is listed for the contact at Mccarren park there a kiddie pool?how old must you be to go in the pool? could somebody call me at 718 803 8346

thank you sue yellin

Jun. 28 2012 12:51 PM
Janet from NJ

My Dad would've loved this. He was born at 288 Driggs Ave and I can't wait to see the pool re-opened as another chance to reconnect with memories of his early life.

Jun. 28 2012 08:45 AM

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