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Monday, June 29, 2009

McCarren Park Pool

As I mentioned in an earlier post about the Renegade Craft Fair, I said I would eventually post about the McCarren Park Pool, where the craft fair was located.
Well, today is the day. I have heard the name McCarren Park Pool many times since I have lived in New York. Most of the converstaions started out with "So and so is playing at the McCarren Park Pool, we should go!"
Even after all of these times hearing about it, I still have never been for a concert, movie or one of their famous pool parties.
Having lived in New York almost four years now, I better hurry up because I am not sure how much longer the McCarren Park Pool is going to be the McCarren Park Pool I keep hearing about.
Recently, the new design of the pool have been approved by the Landmarks Preservaion Commission. These new designs make McCarren Park Pool actually just a pool. I guess that means no more concerts.
It is a Williamsburg landmark and very interesting to hear about. Therefore, during my very busy work day, I went ahead and researched a little about the pool. Enjoy learning about one of Brooklyn's most talked about hot spots!



McCarren Park Pool, the crumbling, Depression-era public swimming pool on the border between Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn, is set to become a swimming spot again, but the concerts that put it on the rock map over the last three summers are set to move to the Williamsburg waterfront. Stephanie Thayer, executive director of the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, a nonprofit group that coordinated last year’s concerts, said that a strip along the East River between North Eighth and North Ninth Streets that was designated a New York State park a few years ago will have concerts this summer, with room for 6,000 fans. The news was confirmed by the office of State Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, who represents Greenpoint and Williamsburg. “This is the continuation of McCarren Park Pool,” Ms. Thayer said. “It’s different, but it has its own exquisite beauty, with the waterfront and the skyline of Manhattan.” She added that she plans to work with many of the promoters who put on events at the pool, but that if enough sponsorship money comes through, she hopes to also put on classical and opera concerts as well. Ms. Thayer, who in addition to her role with the Open Space Alliance is an administrator with the City Parks Department, said that renovations on McCarren Pool were set to begin on schedule this summer.

THE McCARREN PARK POOL in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is surely one of the last places in New York you would expect to see a concert. Shuttered by the city 22 years ago, it is a 50,000-square-foot void, its floor specked with decades-old turquoise paint and its walls blanketed by layers of graffiti. It lacks electricity and lights, and its bathrooms have long been boarded up. And it is a pool. As in splish-splash.

But in the strange logic of the New York summer concert season — when a pier on the Hudson River and the boardwalk of the South Street Seaport play host to loud indie rock, and the empty courtyard of a Queens museum becomes a dancing and people-watching nexus — this all makes the McCarren Park Pool an ideal performance space. It's enormous, it's a blank slate, and it's available: three uncommon and highly prized attributes.

"It's just been sitting there, like the monolith in '2001,' " said Sam Kinken, who books concerts throughout the New York region for Live Nation, the giant promoter. He has programmed six nights at the pool, beginning July 29 with the British band Bloc Party.

Free Williamsburg Article: McCarren Park Pool: A Political Tale
The Early Years

The pool was opened in 1936 during a monumental summer of public projects in New York. It was the middle of The Great Depression, and the Works Progress Administration opened a series of ten pools throughout the city. They were designed to provide recreation, generate employment, and get people's minds off the economy.

The brainchild of Robert Moses, who was responsible one way or another for nearly all of the city's open spaces, the network of pools would supplement the one existing public pool in the city and become an example of civic generosity.

Moses and Mayor LaGuardia opened one pool every week that summer. McCarren Park Pool, at a cost of $1 million, boasted a capacity of 6800 simultaneous swimmers and was the size of three Olympic pools combined. It was one of the largest public pools in the world. It, like its 9 counterparts, was an immediate success with the residents.

The Dark Years

In 1979, the city approved $100 million to restore the entire network of pools (many of which had fallen into a state of disrepair and neglect due to the fiscal crisis of the 70's that had forced major cutbacks in upkeep and security) so they would all be ready for the 50th anniversary celebration in 1986.

The pool was closed in 1983 to begin repairs and then the community said no. A blockade of residents protested fixing the pool up, citing the petty crime and undesirables it attracted. (I was sitting in The Charleston one afternoon at happy hour last year, talking to a long-time resident who was near me at the bar. The pool came up in conversation and he claimed [proudly] he was part of the effort to close it down back then "one way or the other, to keep the coloreds out." Officials and other people I talked with for the article admitted times were different back then.)

Enter politics. A task force was set up to determine how to overcome the community divide. A recommendation was issued to shrink the size of the pool and demolish the bathhouses that issued out of the sides of the arch.

"That was a stupid idea. The archway and the bathhouses are world-renowned pieces of architecture. The highness of the arch to the long, low-slung bathhouses creates a unique silhouette. Besides, it was illegal to tear it down if there were no plans for its future," explained Phyllis Yampolsky, head of the McCarren Park Conservancy, a private advocacy group.

There were no plans for its future. The demolition was put on hold, and Yampolsky began her fight to restore the arch and renovate the property. Community Board 1 had other ideas, and division ruled again.
The pool sat alone, a hulking, decaying mass, with razor-wire fencing and graffiti its only guests.

Grab your speedos and bikinis and pack that sun tan lotion. We're going to do a few laps around Brooklyn's largest swimming pool, with a capacity of between 6000 and 7000 swimmers. And it's absolutely FREE...all you need are some wire cutters and a few thousand gallons of water!

Opened in the teeth of the Depression as a Works Progress Administration Project in 1936, the McCarren Park Pool in Greenpoint, Brooklyn was the last of eleven pools built in New York City during the Depression years. Mayor LaGuardia, at its opening day dedication (seen above) noted that "no pool anywhere has been as much appreciated as this one."




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