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The Fleishhacker Pool
August 30, 2011 1:41 PM   Subscribe

The Fleishhacker Pool, formerly located in San Francisco, California, was once the United States' largest swimming pool, as well as the world' largest heated saltwater pool. The pool closed in 1971 and was eventually acquired by the adjacent SF Zoo, which filled in the giant pool to make its present parking lot. The Pool's Bath House, however, is still standing, albeit derelict.
posted by MattMangels (45 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, of course. They had to close it, after...
*flashlight-on-face*
... The Night of the Flesh-Hacker!
posted by gurple at 1:51 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


What a shame. I guess we should be glad it's not another Walgreens.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:52 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, Sutro Baths and now this place... it's true that both locations seem horrible for a pool as they're both pretty cold all the time, but still. Huge pools are cool. Closing them is not so cool, San Francisco.
posted by GuyZero at 1:52 PM on August 30, 2011


I had never heard of this place. A swimming pool with boats on it. Wow.

One of the most vocal supporters of Fleishhacker Pool in its last days was an old lifeguard named Billy Nichols. He had once asked Herbert Fleishhacker why he built such a big pool. Fleishhacker told him to swim the entire length and back. When the lifeguard returned Fleishhacker asked, "Did anyone get in your way?" Nichols answered no. "That's why I did it.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:01 PM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


A sewage line passes through the land, and instead of a recreation site, the city has a water treatment plant at the ocean's edge.

OK, so a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer and a civil engineer are arguing over what kind of engineer God is.

The mechanical engineer says, "God is a mechanical engineer -- look at the complexity of the musculoskeletal system!"

The electrical engineer says, "No, God must be an electrical engineer -- look at the wonders of the nervous system and the brain!"

The civil engineer quips, "Nonsense, God is a civil engineer. Who else would run a sewer line through a recreational area?"
posted by indubitable at 2:09 PM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


The punchline I always use has the civil engineer denying God could be a civvie because, etc.
posted by GuyZero at 2:12 PM on August 30, 2011


Looks like this is it?
posted by Big_B at 2:14 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fairness, it's been like 20 years since my grandpa told me that one.
posted by indubitable at 2:18 PM on August 30, 2011


That's it, Big_B. I find it odd (in a good way) that Google Maps still has the Zoo parking lot labeled as the Fleishhacker Pool even though it has been closed for 40 years.

gurple, I seem to recall reading somewhere that the name "Fleishhacker" actually means "butcher" in German, which would make sense.
posted by MattMangels at 2:20 PM on August 30, 2011


And this was Sutro Baths. Strangely similar.
posted by GuyZero at 2:22 PM on August 30, 2011


Sad that the world's largest pool became a parking lot. Still, you can't fight progress and I confidently predict that, by the year 2050, everywhere in America will have become a parking lot. And even the parking lots will have parking lots.
posted by rhymer at 2:25 PM on August 30, 2011


And even the parking lots will have parking lots.

Yo dawg...
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:29 PM on August 30, 2011


Uh, I would not swim in a pool called Fleishhacker. Sounds like a fucking Rammstein song.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:31 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


At least they closed it before the invention of JetSkis and the filming of Weekend at Bernies XVII: The Fleishhacker!
posted by blue_beetle at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2011


I confidently predict that, by the year 2050, everywhere in America will have become a parking lot.

Don't it always seem to go...

By the way, is this not the most ridiculously ornate diving structure you have ever seen?
posted by MattMangels at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


My mother trained there for the olympics before catching pneumonia. The pool was not the source of her pneumonia but her pack a day habit.

Recovery would take over a year and she never took up swimming seriously again. She immediately resumed smoking though.
posted by pianomover at 2:36 PM on August 30, 2011


Heh... my hometown, nowhere near the size of San Francisco, had a two-million-gallon pool from 1927 to 1957. It was slightly smaller than a football field and was laid out as concentric circles—18 inches in the outer ring, 4 feet in the middle ring, and 12 feet in the center diving area.

In case you were wondering, yes, it's a parking lot now.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:42 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


My mother trained there for the olympics before catching pneumonia. The pool was not the source of her pneumonia but her pack a day habit.

Recovery would take over a year and she never took up swimming seriously again. She immediately resumed smoking though.


You just wrote the first 2 paragraphs of Philip Roth's next book.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:46 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The pool was not the source of her pneumonia but her pack a day habit.

She started smoking because of the pool?
posted by goethean at 2:53 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


That pool looks hard to guard lives in. The boats sure wouldn't help.
posted by DU at 3:01 PM on August 30, 2011


We go to the SF Zoo almost every week--nice to find out what that structure is. I always figured it was solitary confinement for mischievous skinks.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:03 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe it was easier to think big in the 1920s. The world's largest pool and its bathhouse were conceived and created in just three years. The recently constructed Charlie Sava public pool on 19th Avenue and Wawona Street took over a decade.

That article (last link in the excellent FPP) is from a decade ago, and if anything things have gotten even slower since then. Our planning process tries to balance community, environmental and business interests for both current and future residents of SF, but planning has become so contentious and politicized that I find myself being surprised when things actually happen nowadays.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:15 PM on August 30, 2011


Strangely similar.

Not so strange, really - the late Victorians were pretty obsessed with salt-water bathing, whether in the sea or in a pool, and built some pretty great monuments to it on the East Coast as well. I was lucky enough to grow up swimming in a Victorian-era saltwater swimming pool in Long Branch, NJ. It closed in the 1980s, and condos are there now. Asbury Park had an indoor saltwater pool called the Natatorium
posted by Miko at 3:27 PM on August 30, 2011


That looks wonderful - I'm so sorry they closed that.

What's the story with salt-water? If you have a salt-water pool, can you go without clorine?
posted by jb at 3:37 PM on August 30, 2011


If you have a salt-water pool, can you go without clorine?

Yes. People still do it today, too. I'm guessing the Victorians were interested in the "health" benefits, which is often Victorian code-speak for "Gee, this is pleasurable and fun! I better couch this in terms of medical need or else people will think I'm a hedonist!"

There are also some freshwater, non-chlorine pool systems that use freshwater plants, sand, beneficial bacteria and other natural features to make a clean, clear pool not unlike a Koi pond or natural spring-fed pool something. I hear they're absolutely amazing, and about the second best thing to a naturally creek-fed swimming hole or spring.
posted by loquacious at 3:44 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


No, you can't go without chlorine, but you can use a lot less because saltwater retards bacteria growth.

I personally believe that there are real health benefits to salt water - not because I'm afraid to enjoy it, I do, but honestly I think it does a body good.
posted by Miko at 3:45 PM on August 30, 2011


Saltwater Pools - What's Different?

Interestingly, I'm reading about this trend of having saltwater pools that are actually fresh water pools to which you add salt, and then your mechanical stuff breaks the salt down into, ta-da, chlorine and some byproducts. The pools we've been talking about here are all natural saltwater. Chelsea Pool was too, which was why it was freaking COLD early in the season. It wasn't artificially heated, but the sun warmed it up a little more than the ocean.

Another thing you don't see any more is 15' diving platforms at public pools like the one we had there. As a kid, I would climb up the long ladder in a long row of people to get to the platform, and once there wait on a short line to walk out on the board. By the time you got that far there was really no turning back, because you'd have to make everyone get off the ladder to get out of your way, and usually there were a dozen people clinging on various rungs. So there was some pressure. And it used to drive us nuts when some kid on the end of the platform would get scared and stand there trying to screw up their courage before jumping. "Come OONNNNN" we'd shout.
posted by Miko at 3:52 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The city of San Francisco has since cleaned out the interior of the original Fleishhacker bath house (for better or worst), which I can personally say was an incredible example of the ingenuity of the homeless. There's a nice description of the pre-sanitized version, as well as a history of the pool here.
posted by pangearocks at 3:52 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Miko: I don't disagree that there are health benefits. When I was a kid cuts and scabs always healed faster with a good swim in a healthy ocean.

I was just talking about the Victorian perspectives and justifications. There's a lot of random fun and often sexy stuff that was hidden as "medical practice" back then - not trying to discount modern perspectives.

I've also read about completely chlorine-free pools both salt and fresh water, but they're fantastically expensive to maintain above a level of being more pond than swimming pool.

On preview: And yeah, we're talking about seawater pools. The Pacific around those parts is reaaaally cold. And Victorian woolen bathing suits are effectively thin wetsuits, so that might count for something.
posted by loquacious at 3:57 PM on August 30, 2011


(thinking more) This kind of pool is also a byproduct of the early 20th century and city conditions. There are whole generations of pools around the country from the 20s and 30s that were built to help public health, keep people sane in summer and give kids a public, safe(r) place to cool off. Cities were getting denser and denser, and do-gooders were thinking about ways to keep kids away from a life of crime by offering them the chance to develop healthful pastimes.

List of WPA-built Swimming Pools
NPR story on the 'contentious history' of public pools - tied up with segregration.
Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America
May 2011: Public Pools Closing Across Country as Cities Struggle with Budget Cuts

I can remember swimming in a whole set of public pools as a kid. They are actually all gone now. The last city I lived in had a terrific and recent one, which cost city residents $1 to get in for the full day. It's a fantastic pool and well loved - while reclining there many a lunch hour I marveled that they can still 'get away' with it. There is no deep end - it maxes out at 4'.
posted by Miko at 4:00 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was just talking about the Victorian perspectives and justifications. There's a lot of random fun and often sexy stuff that was hidden as "medical practice" back then - not trying to discount modern perspectives.

Oh, no contest there. I just read a great history of vacationing on the Jersey Shore, and some of the best entries were from teenagers and twentysomethings in the Victorian era who were having the time of their lives at the shore. It must have felt great to get out of your corset and boots and wear what was a nice, loose garment and thrash around in the surf and sun. In the surf, they used to tie up towropes so you could have something to hang onto while you waded out into the waves (most people couldn't swim so this was smart). The big thing for the young women was to find a nice guy to take you into the surf and "help" you hang on to the rope. There was another great set of entries about a kid who used to cut school all the time. He and his friends dragged an old shack down to the beach, spent the days harvesting mussels, and then they'd get the girls to meet them there, roast mussels for them, and then make out.

Good times!
posted by Miko at 4:04 PM on August 30, 2011


The Pacific around those parts is reaaaally cold.

In some sections of the CA coast (not sure about San Francisco) the ocean is warmer in the winter than in the summer due to upwelling.
posted by MattMangels at 4:05 PM on August 30, 2011


In some sections of the CA coast (not sure about San Francisco) the ocean is warmer in the winter than in the summer due to upwelling.

I'll say; I was hospitalized for advanced hypothermia after an unscheduled dip in it just a couple of months ago. Attractive as these facilities were in visual terms, the western SF is about the least suitable environment I can think of.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:53 PM on August 30, 2011


Uh, I would not swim in a pool called Fleishhacker. Sounds like a fucking Rammstein song.

"... and that's how Shark Week got its name."
posted by mhoye at 5:07 PM on August 30, 2011


There have been a few of these fascinating posts about San Francisco of Yore lately (like the Doggie Diner post!) and ... dang, I feel old. Don't stop on my account, but seeing stuff I remember cast as ancient history is ... well. Ouch.
posted by zomg at 5:19 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember swimming there once when I was a small child on one of the Sunset's rare warm & sunny days. The pool was cold, yes, but huuuuuge and to my little child's mind, amazing. Even now when go to the SF zoo and park on what was once the pool, I look around and am blown away by what was once there. Why SF has let so much of it's amazing landmarks go by the wayside puzzles and depresses me.
posted by echolalia67 at 8:41 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't believe that northern California can have ocean water as cold as off the north shore of Nova Scotia, where the stream is straight from Labrador and the Arctic. I remember floating in an inner tube and my bottom going numb from the cold in the middle of August.
posted by jb at 9:23 PM on August 30, 2011


my bottom going numb from the cold in the middle of August

I can attest that this is entirely possible at SF's Ocean Beach. Yes even in the middle of August. Upwelling's a bitch.
posted by MattMangels at 10:10 PM on August 30, 2011


Well this is somewhat disappointing. I stayed there in the mid-90's, but was told it was a former insane asylum.

In 1996, I drove out to San Francisco with some friends and just enough cash to cover gas. We went straight to Haight & Ashbury and from that point we mostly split up. I sat around on the streets with the other pseudo-homeless kids, found someone with gel tabs of acid. Dropped and hung out with them for the rest of the day.

Throughout the day, we gathered a big crew of people and by nighttime, we needed some more adventure. A couple of the seasoned professionals somehow negotiated with a bus driver to let us on for free. He dropped us off near the beach and then we went straight for "the old insane asylum". There was a whole backstory on how Reagan had closed it down in the 70s and that it was part of the reason for the number of homeless people in the area.

To get in, we had to scale a barbed-wire fence, but with flannel and whatnot we were able to cover up the sharp spikes and get over safely.

Upon entry, the main room had a pile of dead birds and their excrement stacked up like the sand in the bottom of an hour glass. There was a downstairs area that was pitch black and the stuff of nightmares, cliché nightmares to be sure but there's a good reason for those clichés. We saw the shower room and that in particular served to reaffirm the notion that this was an old insane asylum.

Then we proceeded upstairs where we started throwing things through the windows, until some skater guy's french girlfriend got upset and he asked us to stop. After that, we proceeded to the only room in the building that did not have broken windows. There was no indication of permanent squatters. The hippies that came along had plenty of sleeping bags and blankets, so we laid them all out.

Then we sang random songs that we all knew, from Dead Kennedy's to the theme of The Gambler, told stories, ... etc.

It was a San Francisco late-summer, so it was freezing and we basically just huddled together and went to sleep after that. We woke up the next morning, found an easier way to get past the gate, somehow got back to Haight and all went our separate ways.
posted by o0o0o at 12:44 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't believe that northern California can have ocean water as cold as off the north shore of Nova Scotia, where the stream is straight from Labrador and the Arctic.

It's not as cold - or at least, no colder. The NOAA average ocean temp charts can show tha. I have relatives in Northern California who have always said "OMG the ocean is too cold to swim!" and I supposed I believed them. When I visited SF for the first time a few years ago, I was prepared to lose feeling in my feet when I went wading - but in fact, I was surprised at how warm the water was. It is strange, but the whole culture of ocean swimming just seems really different from one coast to the other. For one thing, the surf in some places seems to be just horrendously fierce, worse on a regular day than storm-driven waves are on the East Coast. I know the continental shelf is differently shaped, and maybe that's why. Also, there aren't as many nice sandy beaches - a lot of the shoreline seems to be made of bluffs or rocky spots where you don't have that nice long sloping beach with the water lapping up onto it. Those things all make swimming feel like less of a good idea.

But having lived in New England for most of my adult life, I can definitely attest that people do go swimming in water that's 50 or so. It is numbing and painful, but kids especially are willing to put up with it, and some especially rugged adults do too. I have one acquaintance in New Hampshire who goes ocean swimming every single day of his life -wetsuit in the colder months, but still. Every single day, year round.

It's just a different attitude toward ocean swimming, combined maybe with less favorable conditions for just relaxing in the water.
posted by Miko at 6:52 AM on August 31, 2011




Those tables show that ocean surface temperatures off Rhode Island and even some of Maine are higher in August than off Oregon or Washington. Another link leads to the central Pacific coast, including northern California, and averages are in the 50s, as opposed to the 60s or higher for late August off the east coast (only Eastport, ME at 51).

That said, I don't know what averages are for Nova Scotia. It FELT like 50 aka 10 degrees in real temperatures or lower, but that doesn't mean that it was or not.
posted by jb at 11:27 AM on August 31, 2011


That's definitely true, but people don't only swim in August. Temperatures do spike in August in the Northeast as the Gulf Stream veers inshore for a few weeks. But I thought you were thinking back to swimming in the Northeast in May, June, or July when it's just as cold as it is much of the year off Northern Califormia. Lots of people do do this, in new England too. A few years ago I went to Bar Harbor the first weekend in June, and we swam a little. The water was 50. A fair number of people were in the water, though not lingering long other than wading, because it feels pretty darn cold. But they were engaging in swimming-like activities.

It is oddly hard to find a table of ocean temps for Nova Scotia! Also, it's usually Celsius, which I'm not great at understanding at a glance. This says that in spring and summer "the Atlantic Ocean and Bay of Fundy water is relatively cold averaging around 8 - 12ºC (46.4 - 53.6ºF)." I notice a lot of locations advertising themselves as "the warmest beach in Nova Scotia!" so I guess that's a point of interest. The highest temp I saw was 64.
posted by Miko at 12:42 PM on August 31, 2011


Bay of Fundy water can be quite warm at the actual beach, because it is so shallow that the sun will heat it up over the course of the day. Same is true for the Wash in Britain -- the North Sea is cold, but the Wash was like a bathtub when I went because the shallow next to the beach had all warmed up.

Celcius is, of course, the normal way to measure temperature. And so very logical - 0 = ice, 5 = warm for winter, but maybe with some wet snow, 10= sweaters required, 15 = you can take off the sweater, 20 = room temperature, 25 = nice summer day, 30= hot summer day, 35 = stupidly hot, oh my god I'm going to die, 40 = fry some eggs on my forehead.
posted by jb at 1:58 PM on August 31, 2011


I have no beef with Celsius, I just don't have the ingrained ability to understand. Well, strike that, I do have a beef with it. Having grown up with Fahrenheit, I just think Celsius degrees are too big. There's a decent amount of difference between 85 and almost 88 - Celsius doesn't reflect that unless you go to a decimal place. Similarly, there's a big weather difference between 31 degrees and 33 degrees - Celsius doesn't give you the nuance to know whether tonight is likely to be freezing rain or dry snow, without going to the decimal place.

IT's totally arbitrary but there you are. I'm just used to Fahrenheit.
posted by Miko at 6:36 PM on August 31, 2011


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