Historic Structures

Fleishhacker Pool and Bath House, San Francisco California

Date added: July 6, 2016 Categories: California Community Facility

The world's largest swimming pool of its time opened in San Francisco in 1925. Fleishhacker Pool, located at Sloat Boulevard and the Great Highway, may still hold its superlative title at a length of 1000 feet, width of 150 feet at the midsection, a depth of 5 to 14 feet, and a capacity of 6,000,000 gallons of salt water. It was named in recognition of the 1920's President of the Park Commission of San Francisco whose many donations to the recreational facilities of the city included the development of the pool and adjoining Herbert Fleishhacker Playfield.

With the notable exception of Golden Gate Park, the development of public parks and recreational facilities in San Francisco did not begin in earnest until after the turn of the century, and saw its greatest period of growth in the 1920's and. 1930's. The lack of public facilities before that time was partly taken up by private amusement parks such as Woodward's gardens, but there had also been less demand for such facilities before when the general public did not have so much leisure time, when the more physical nature of work left people too tired for additional exercise, and when the accessibility of undeveloped open space made publicly opened parks unnecessary. By the 1920's, a more developed park system was long overdue, however, and in the twenty years to 1940, Aquatic Park, Marina Green, the Fleishhacker Pool, Playfield and Zoo, Stern Grove, Phelan Beach, the Palace of the Legion of Honor,. Kezar Stadium, Harding Golf Course, Mt. Olympus and Mt. Davidson were all acquired by the City. In addition, the St. Francis Yacht Club and Playland at the Beach opened under private initiative.

This development reflected a changing perception of the role of city government which was now seen as obligated to involve itself in the lives of its citizens in an active way. And it reflected new patterns of recreational activity in which the family unit typically went on full-day outings.

Together with existing, public and private facilities and natural features, there developed in this period a continuous recreation zone along, the western rim of the city. Lincoln Park, Sutro Baths, the Cliff House, Playland, Golden Gate Park, Fleishhacker Playfield, Pool (and later loo), and Balboa Park were all linked together by the beach. Excellent public transportation carried vast numbers of people to these facilities.

The July 16, 1925 issue of the Municipal Record, dedicated to recreation, stated: "Today San Francisco is spending millions of dollars to conjure away exhibitions of temper under the direction of the park and playground commission and Board of Education. The children are being trained in sportsmanship. The citizens have voted 10 cents on every hundred dollars of assessed valuation shall be devoted to park purposes and that, 5 cents shall be used for playgrounds. The anticipated 1925 yield from these allocations was $732,000 to the Park Commission (for maintenance) and $350,000 to the Playground Commission, lit addition to these sums, considerable additional expenditures by the Board of Supervisors were made, specifically for the purchase of the sixty-acre Fleishhacker Playfield (this included the pool site), the cost of beach and ocean property for Aquatic Park, and the purchase of additional land for park and playground areas. The same Municipal Record attributed San Francisco's prodigious park legacy to its Spanish heritage in which a pueblo or village was entitled to approximately seven square miles of land, or for San Francisco virtually the entire northern tip of the peninsula. This gave the City ample lands to sell for profit and others to be retained for municipal uses, including a park system.

Swimming in the mid-20's was a particularly significant form of recreation. The Municipal Record stated that 54,000 daily admissions had been counted at the two plunges open prior to the completion of Fleishhacker Pool in 1924. And swims for the partial 1925 season with Fleishhacker Pool open were triple those for the corresponding period in the previous year. Aquatic Park was in the preliminary planning stages, with a proposed cost to the City of $1 million for land alone.

The pool is essentially rectangular in shape with a wider central section formed by a bulge on the east side. The pool is 1000 feet long, 150 feet wide at its mid section, and approximately 100 feet wide elsewhere. It ranges in depth from three feet at the south end to fourteen feet at the north end. The pool itself is constructed of reinforced concrete and will hold 6,000,000 gallons of water. There are concrete steps along the entire shallow south end of the pool. Pool ladders and lifeguard stands of ordinary pipe metal construction are placed at intervals along the sides of the pool. At the north end is a steel frame five- and ten-meter diving platform built about 1940 which replaced an elaborate wood frame structure with classical balustrades and decorative brackets under each of two platforms.