Thursday, March 13, 2014

805 WPA Swimming Pools

(The WPA constructed this swimming pool, and also a large bathhouse, at Constitution Park in Cumberland, Maryland, 1938-1939. Both the pool and bathhouse still serve the community today (see here). Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)  

Across America, WPA laborers built 805 new swimming pools, and also engaged in 339 projects to repair or improve existing swimming pools. WPA laborers also built 848 new wading pools (while repairing or improving about 80 more).  

The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation describes the pool construction work of the WPA in New York City:

"A new era in active recreation arrived in the 1930s and 1940s, when the Department of Parks assumed jurisdiction over the city's bathhouses and harnessed Works Progress Administration labor to develop a series of outdoor pools for the city."

"The WPA swimming pools were among the most remarkable public recreational facilities in the country, representing the forefront of design and technology in advanced filtration and chlorination systems. The influence of the pools extended throughout entire communities, attracting aspiring athletes and neighborhood children, and changing the way millions of New Yorkers spent their leisure time."

"The pools were not just huge but also examples of state-of-the-art engineering and fine design..."

"Massive filtration systems, heating units, and even underwater lighting provided a more controlled bathing experience than the often treacherous and polluted waterfront currents in which the city's masses had traditionally swam. The palette of building materials was mainly inexpensive brick, concrete, and cast stone, but the styles ranged from Romanesque Revival to Art Deco."

"The WPA pools were designed to adapt to off-season uses such as paddle tennis, shuffleboard, volleyball, basketball, and handball. Wading pools were used as roller skating rinks, and indoor locker rooms and changing areas were adapted for boxing instruction and evening dance halls for teens."

Read full article here: "Parks' Swimming Pools"

(WPA poster, promoting swimming. This was one of many WPA posters promoting recreation, exercise, and health. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Some people, even today, have expressed their opinion that WPA workers were lazy good-for-nothings and that the projects they worked on were utterly useless. 

Do you believe them? 


  1. This is a very interesting article, mainly because this only shows how much the WPA was built for the convenience and recreation of most Americans here in the country and how much they’ve tried to ease the summer heat for all of us. :) I also love the fact that they have prepared the pool areas for different seasons and temperatures through heating systems. :)

    Tiffany Fields @ Pools N More

    1. Thanks for your comment Tiffany!

  2. Swimming helps a lot in maintaining a fit body. For that reason, it’s nice to know some pools were made for everyone’s use at any time of the year. That assures those swimmers that they’ll have a place to practice their diving and swimming skills. Thanks for sharing that interesting article, Brent!

    Leena Wolf

  3. So, that’s where it all began? It would be nice to believe the good advocacy they promote. If it’s for the good of many, then I don’t see why it would be called “good-for-nothings”. As for the workers, perhaps it’s up to those who patronize the pools to judge if they’re doing their job right or not.

    Joanne Henry @ Tranquility Pools, NJ