Operation and Decline of the Pool Fleishhacker Pool and Bath House, San Francisco California

During each pool season, the operation was closed an average of four or five days every six weeks for cleaning, with variations imposed by tidal conditions. At these times the pool was emptied directly into the ocean through the original 200 ft. and later 400 ft. intake/outfall pipe. The sump which existed at the deep end gathering sand and mud below the level of the intake/outfall pipe(which was submerged to a depth of about ten feet), was drained with a portable sand pump that emptied onto the beach, and a squadron of workers hosed and brushed the pool bottom clean. The refilling operation, according to Park and Recreation Department stationary engineers, took 20 hours, ideally, and more often up to 24 hours, over a four to five-day period, at the times of the highest tides, day and night. Incoming water was pumped into the pool and then circulated through the boiler room for heating and purification with chlorine gas (60 - 80 pounds per day) and bluestone (copper sulfate). Aside from being, dependent on tidal schedules, the engineers had other special problems in managing the huge pool, even in times when the equipment functioned properly. The saltwater would turn black and murky if heated above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The 24-hour continuous circulation system was located only along the eastern wall of the pool. The tank had no filtration system. But in spite of all its eccentricities, and, later, problems attributable to age, the pool enjoyed full seasons through 1970.

For many years, Fleishhacker Pool continued to operate for swimmers and special swimming events. Admissions for the first sixty days counted 41,065 adults and 15,688 children for an average of 950 persons each day. The routine established for succeeding years recorded 9:00 to 5:00 hours from approximately April to November in early years, and September 30th in later ones. (Some early publicity boasts night-time swims and a year-round season.)

There were from 12 to 25 lifeguards at Fleishhacker Pool, as recorded during various seasons. Some patrolled In rowboats. In the first forty seasons, from 1925 to 1965 it was estimated that 8,500,000 people swam in the plunge. Admissions were originally 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children. After World War II, the rates went up for adults and down for students. In 1952, all rates were reduced and admissions soared. For June 15 to 30, 1952, attendance was 10,641 and receipts $1,795.45, as compared to 5,690 persons and $1,219.20 for the entire month of June 1951. The July comparisons were also striking: July 1 to 12, 1952 - 7,372 people, $1,185.05; July 1 to 12, 1951 3,530 people, $813.10.

By 1964, pool attendance had gone into permanent decline. Pool operating costs were approximately $60,500 and revenue was just over $7,000 for a seasonal deficit of $53,500. Although these figures are more dramatic than earlier ones, a 1943 news clipping notes a deficit at that time of over $18,000. In 1970, Fleishhacker Pool's operation cost the City an estimated $2.60 per swimmer as compared to $1.42 at the indoor pools. In its last full season, 1970, total attendance was recorded at 56,605, down in the daily average to 309 as opposed to 615 in 1969. (The total 1970 attendance, for a four-and-one-half month season, was cited as being below one month's attendance at the Zoo.)

Most of the 1964 operating costs, $46,271.15, were attributable to wages and salaries. The cleaning and refilling system had always been a major job and age had made the pool's operation even more temperamental. The final blow came with the partial collapse or disintegration of the intake/outfall pipe before the scheduled opening of the 1971 season. (The pipe had been extended 200 feet in 1954 at a cost of approximately $1,000 per foot.) Resourceful engineering made one last attempt to fill the pool with fresh water from wells adjacent to the boiler house. The operation took a month and the standing pool, water began to turn impure during this time. The pool opened for one last month. Then the engineers tossed a 6" disk in eight feet of water in accordance with the aquatic department's standards for lifeguard visibility. The disc vanished. With agreement from the Health Department (the water failed to meet State standards as well), the pool was closed and drained.

Reasons for the decline in use are varied. Generally speaking, the pool belongs to a class of recreation that has suffered as past patterns of family recreation have changed and as the automobile has made different kinds of recreation possible- When Fleishhacker Pool opened, its principal competition was from Sutro Baths and the beaches. By the time it closed, there were a great many more pools in the city, both publicly and privately owned. Whereas a family might have spent the day going to Fleishhacker Pool, now children can go by themselves to a. neighborhood pool. With the greatly increased use of automobiles since World War II, a day-long outing has so many more possibilities than in the past when the streetcar line to the western edge of the city was all most people could consider.

Not the least of the Pool's problems, was its cold and often, foggy weather. Many of the new neighborhood pools are indoors and most are in sunnier sections of the city.

The pool had remained very popular up until its closing for military use after the start of World War II. Attendance problems did not begin until after it reopened in 1943. At this time, preliminary plans were drawn to put a palm-treed island of sand at the mid-section of the pool and divide the large tank into two smaller ones. In 1946 there were plans for conversion to an ice rink.

In 1948, plans included the design of an aluminum cover for the entire pool.

Real changes occurred in the 1940s also. By 1948 a fence was built to protect the pool from increasing vandalism problems (the light standards were removed at this time), and the present diving platform, a replacement for the original wood structure which had suffered from the harsh ocean-side climate and was not of correct measurements to meet present swim competition standards, was another 1840s "improvement".

Changes to the bathhouse facility were also made to accommodate changes in the use of the pool. In 1952 the top portion of the structure became the Center for the Handicapped. They occupied it into 1973, and even had an indoor pool added to the facility.