Planing and Construction Fleishhacker Pool and Bath House, San Francisco California

The first official mention of plans for a beach-side swimming pool appears to be found in the Park Commission minutes for the meeting on October 13, 1921. At this time Herbert Fleishhacker outlined a resolution "relative to the purchase of land belonging to Spring Valley Water Co. to be converted into a swimming pool at the foot of Sloat Boulevard and The Great Highway and a golf links in Balboa Park and land adjoining." Of the purchase cost, $15,000 was to be taken from Park funds and the balance of payment would come from other City sources. At the January 12, 1922, Park Commission meeting, Fleishhacker made assurances that if the Board of Supervisors furnished, the land, "as much money as necessary for the contemplated improvements will come out of the regular park appropriation. . ." and that plans for the pool were tentative to date.

Soon, however, the scheme moved toward action. On October 5, 1922, McLaren was authorized (by the Park Commission) to enter into a contract for excavation at the pool site and to prepare plans and specifications for the concrete construction work for the enormous task. In November, McLaren presented these plans drawn by Earl Clements, Engineer, and issuing from the Office of the Board of Park Commissioners. The last month of 1922 saw the Commissioners taking the next step toward realization of the project. A letter of December 16, 1922, was sent to Mr. Clarence. Ward, Architect (at 454 California Street) asking if he would prepare preliminary plans for the playground buildings and bath house envisioned as part of the initial 37-acre development of the 60-acre parcel purchased from the Spring Valley Water Company. The letter explained that Ward would receive no fee for his preliminary design owing to the public nature of the structure, but that the Commissioners would do everything in their power, if the scheme were, approved by the Board of Supervisors, to see that Ward would be retained as the architect for the comprehensive plans for the building and receive his share of the budget in professional fees. The letter stated that Willis Polk and Bakewell & Brown had made similar agreements for the design of the Beach Chalet and Aquatic Park, respectively.

By the spring of 1923, McLaren had been authorized to lease equipment and purchase materials for the construction of the pool. The monumental project was underway. As final impetus, at the same time, Mayor Rolph appeared before the Park Commission with a resolution to dedicate the project in the name of "Herbert Fleishhacker Playfield" for this and many other projects that the President had made possible through his generous donations to the Park system. Although not mentioned by Rolph at this time, later thanks also went to the generosity of brother Mortimer Fleishhacker for both the pool and playfield. The two brothers had featured in the playfield plans the "Mothers House" dedicated to their own mother, Delia, to accommodate women bringing their children here to play. This building was their donation to the recreation area.

Through 1923 and 1924, presumably, the construction of the world's largest pool flowed fairly smoothly. The Park Commission selected light buff walls and a green tile roof for the bathhouse in May 1924, the same color scheme that the building exhibits today. In December 1924, an ordinance addition made it illegal to remove towels, suits and other city bathing paraphernalia from municipal pools, and a resolution was passed to establish an emergency hospital facility at the new bathhouse.

Before the pool opened, in early 192S, the Park Commission had dealt with construction of the pool promenade, diving tower, plans for the boiler room (also by Ward and Blohme) and heating system. The pool was generously landscaped to shelter it from ocean winds, and light standards encircled the promenade. The giant plunge was filled with salt water, supposedly heated to an even 70 degrees. The intake/outfall pipe ran under the Great Highway to a distance of 200 feet. The circulation and chlorinating systems were designed to keep the pool water flowing and to allow fresh seawater in to make up for surface evaporation.

The bathhouse facilities were equal to the pool accommodations in scale and service. There was dressing space for 500 to 800 in the mid-level men's and women's bathing pavilions. For the 25$ admission per adult and 15$ per child, each bather was to receive two towels, a suit, and locker space. Between rentals, the laundry was sterilized in two enormous washers and two more huge dryers on the basement level below the dressing rooms. The top floor of the structure housed a cafeteria-style restaurant with beach and pool views on either side of the building. (Clarence Ward's architectural partner, Harry Blohme, who had joined him after Ward's initial contract with the Park Commission, had convinced the Commissioners to add the restaurant facility to the plans in December 1923.)

Figures and other specific facts connected with Fleishhacker Pool are, when available at all, conflicting. However, most of the following information has been gleaned from Park Department records.

The 60-acre land purchase from the Spring Valley Water Company, for the pool and playfield, cost the City $4,000 per acre, or $240,000, payable over a ten-year period. The pool was constructed at a cost of $1,035,000 including the pool itself and the bathhouse facilities, and most of the construction was completed, in 1924. The boiler room was built in 1925, under a separate contract. (The Mothers' House in the playfield cost approximately $50,000 and was donated by the Fleishhacker brothers.)

The pool was finally put into service on April 23, 1925, as San Francisco hosted the American Amateur Union (AAU) men's championships, or as the San Francisco Examiner put it, ". . . America's greatest swimming meet ... in the world's largest tank." For this and subsequent swim meets, the deep end of the mammoth tank was walled off to the proper length with a moveable float arrangement. Thousands overflowed the stands to see the 1925 opening events and watch as Johnny Weissmuller (known then as "the Human Fish", not Tarzan) won the four-day competition for his team, the Illinois Athletic Club, with a new world record in the 100-yard freestyle race.

On May 1,. 1925, the general public swarmed to opening day and waited in four massive lines for admission to the pool facility at 9:00 A.M. In addition to everything one could hope for in swimming and observation accommodations, there were patches of gleaming sand for sun-worshipping on the eastern side of the pool area. The day ran onto 5:30 P.M. with 5,000 admissions, twelve lifeguards, and no mishaps.