Our Pool Is Now Open

June 30, 2011

The City is sending signals that it wants to shut down Lincoln Park Pool, so go swimming right now this summer while you can

Lincoln Park Pool has opened for the summer. This unique City of Albany treasure is one of the largest outdoor public swimming pools in the world, so big that Google Maps erroneously labels it “Lincoln Park Pond.”

Lincoln Park Pool, Albany NY, June 2011 Lincoln Park Pool, Albany NY, June 2011

The doors to the pool house are opened the day after the public schools close for the summer, and they close the day before the public schools resume at the end of August. Presumably this is to give the South End kids on vacation a place to go, but doesn’t give the kids a reason to play hooky when school is in session. That’s what I’ve always been told.

The pool is one of the last public places left for our local kids to congregate outside of school. But unfortunately the City of Albany government apparently does not consider bored unengaged teenagers roaming the streets as a problem. It is only with the greatest reluctance that the City continues to maintain and keep the pool open.

Our fabulous swimming pool remains terribly underused. Once upon the time the pool remained open longer and was even used regularly in the winter. Check out this photo that I bought from Dennis Holtzman Antiques of an ice skating race on the Pool, dated February 3 1938:

Lincoln Park Pool, Albany NY, February 1938 [Click on photo for larger size] Lincoln Park Pool, Albany NY, February 1938
[Click on photo for larger size]

Penciled on the back is the information that that the fellow in the lead won the race, his name was Ed Ray. The fellow at far right, Frank Begliu, came in second. The cryptic notations at the bottom elude my understanding, perhaps readers can help interpret.

Perhaps this modern underuse of the Pool reflects the inherent laziness of children today, they’d rather hide indoors and play video games than swim. Or maybe the kids prefer to hang on the street corner and sell crack to suburbanites. Then again, maybe there might be some other reasons.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation outside Howe Library with Officer Ben Sturges, who is a beat cop assigned to the South End. At the beginning of this year the new independent administration of the Albany Police Department instituted a system of regular foot patrolling of City neighborhoods. The taxpayers have been literally crying for this sort of effective police protection for decades.

Officer Sturges told me, “I get complaints almost every day about groups of teenagers hanging outside of people’s houses. The kids are loud and carry on because they have nothing to do. Sure, people are scared of the kids and want me to do something.

“But what can I do? I chase the kids away and they congregate on the next corner in front of somebody else’s house. The kids need someplace to go or they’re going to get in trouble. We need to find something for these kids to do.”

Lifeguards Inside The Fence, 3 Days Before The Pool Opens Lifeguards Inside The Fence, 3 Days Before The Pool Opens

I checked out the pool a few days before the official opening on Friday, June 24. This was a sunny warm Tuesday afternoon, a perfect day for swimming in Lincoln Park. But only the lifeguards preparing for their summer employment got to hang inside the fence as the last maintenance preparations were being made.

More than a few observers have noted that the typical Lincoln Park Pool lifeguard hired by the City of Albany is a white kid imported from outside the City. This follows the traditional practice of forcing Albany taxpayers to provide jobs for suburbanites, which has always been a cornerstone policy of the administration of Albany mayor Jerry Jennings.

While standing around poking my camera through the chain link fence, several groups of teens and adults showed up with towels to use the pool. I took it upon myself to explain that the pool opened on Friday. They all seemed baffled why an outdoor swimming pool would be closed on a sunny hot day at the beginning of Summer.

NYC Taxis Parked Near The Pool House NYC Taxis Parked Near The Pool House

Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice several dozen NYC taxis parked near the pool house. I asked one of the cabbies and he said, “You shoulda been here earlier, we had over 200 cabs parked.” Oy. It was near the end of the State legislative session, the cabbies were protesting a proposed increase in the number of NYC cabs, which apparently needs State approval. Whatever.

Lincoln Park is regularly used as an overflow State parking lot. When it’s budget time a few blocks away at the Capitol, it’s not unusual to see dozens of diesel busses from downstate lined up nose to butt idling their diesel engines. Idling for hours. I guess it’s all right to pump diesel engine waste into a City park shaped like a bowl, that is, as long as the pumping engines are mostly out of sight and the people living nearby don’t matter.

Waiting For The Doors To Open Waiting For The Doors To Open

So I came back to the Pool on Friday which, sad to say, was one of those cool on-and-off rainy days that we’ve had so much of this spring. But other than the weather plus the fact that it was opening day, it all looked the same as on Tuesday. The lifeguards were milling around inside and the entrance door was locked.

Most years we’ve had ceremonies on opening day, ever since the public stopped Mayor Jennings from privatizing the Pool back in 2003. An elected office holder or two would give a speech praising the Pool, some years Jerry Jennings himself. Ranking City officials would use this event as an excuse to escape from the office, and a few corporate media workers would circle around looking for camera angles. Like I was doing today all by myself.

Plus a fair sized gaggle of kids were brought to the Pool to serve as photo props for the opening event. But not this year. Nobody and nothing. It’s as if the Jennings administration was sending a signal to the surrounding neighborhoods that they don’t care any more. Or at the very least, that they no longer want to draw attention to Lincoln Park Pool.

The sky looked like a deluge was on the way, but a small number of people showed up and waited for the doors to open. And waited. For no particular reason that I could determine (I asked several people) the public was not allowed to enter the pool house until 12:30, a half hour late. Meanwhile, the lifeguards inside tossed frisbees and looked bored.

Front Door Finally Opens Front Door Finally Opens

The woman working the front desk inside the door next to the turnstile was decidedly unfriendly and unhelpful. She made me feel unwelcome in my own neighborhood pool. But that wasn’t all. You see, all I wanted to do is step out to the pool area and snap a few pictures. But I was barred from entry.

A fellow sat in a chair by the far wall with his arms folded and his legs crossed in front. “Whoa whoa whoa you can’t go in there like that,” he commanded. “And you’re not allowed to take pictures.” And he watched me carefully for a reaction.

First off, I can’t exactly put on appropriate attire for the pool unless I pass through the changing area. But more to the point, this fellow not only has no right to order me not to take photos, he is breaking the law by doing so. Over the last decade it has become clear that not even a police officer can censor photography of public places. Not everyone knows that.

I looked at this self-important fool against the wall and decided he wasn’t worth fighting with. I realized as I looked at him that he and the woman at the desk were reflecting with their unwelcoming behavior the attitudes of their bosses, the City officials. That would be appointed officials of the Department of General Services (DGS) and ultimately their boss, the mayor.

So I said okay and left. So no inside pictures of opening day for this blog. I do wonder if this goof would have thrown out a picture snapper for say, the Hearst Times Union or a TV “news” camera. Bet you he’d be afraid to exercise his authority with such important people.

Early Opening Day Seen Through The Fence Early Opening Day Seen Through The Fence

Older folks who live around Lincoln Park will tell you that when they were kids there was a vibrant network of South End based swimming programs sponsored by churches and schools and other institutions. The City provided support and also provided facilities such as Lincoln Park and Bath House #2 down on Fourth Avenue. There was also a program to bring kids out of the City by bus to places like Thatcher Park, which until recently had a popular big swimming pool.

Too bad the last of these programs was dumped in the 1990s after Jerry Jennings assumed office. Learning to swim or to at least develop a familiarity with water is an essential part of everybody’s education. Not giving kids a chance to learn to swim is certainly not as critical as preventing kids from learning to read (another ongoing problem imposed on the South End.)

Learning to swim is the kind of thing that might prove to be decisive at a critical moment. Like so many other potentially dangerous problems, the possibility of drowning can be mostly avoided with a little early education.

Later In The Day More Swimmers Showed Up Later In The Day More Swimmers Showed Up

Recent studies have shown that inner City kids are less likely to know how to swim than suburbanites, and that in general black kids drown at three times the rate as white kids. The problem is that in urban areas we have no natural swimming holes where kids can learn about water on their own.

We in the South End no longer have easy access to private swimming facilities such as the ones located way uptown and out in the suburbs. The only swimming facility we have left is the Lincoln Park Pool, which unfortunately is only open in the summer and only for part of the day. These restricted hours are an annoying hardship for many people, particularly those who are under doctor’s orders to swim as therapy, morning being the best time to hit the water for health.

Also, in August first one half then later three quarters of the Pool is closed off, which makes it impossible to swim circular laps. Where else in the world can you swim circular laps? You gotta come to Albany’s South End in July or the last week of June.

Unnecessarily Crumbling Steps In Front Of The Bath House Unnecessarily Crumbling Steps In Front Of The Pool House

The red line painted on the bottom of the pool is about 220 yards. The Wife, who only started to learn to swim about ten years ago, has actually followed this circle afloat 6 times without stopping, about seven tenths of a mile. However, trying to swim the circle on a hot day when the Pool is crowded with hundreds of kids, she has indeed been known to receive a stray juvenile elbow in the eye.

She learned to swim in Lincoln Park. She also learned at Bath House #2 and at the Washington Avenue YMCA, both of which have been shut down recently against the strong objections by the community.

The usual given reason for first starving and then closing our swimming facilities in and near the South End has been “We can’t afford to keep community centers open.” Like most wads of spittle that crawl out of the mouths of politicians and CEOs, this phrase conceals the real reason. The translation is “We can’t afford to keep the swimming pools open for the people who use these facilities. Those people are not worth it.”

That category of Not Worth It includes The Wife, me, my neighbors and everybody else who lives and pays taxes in the South End. (Rule #1: If you live you pay taxes.) As far as the Mayor is concerned, if we were all white enough to deserve a swimming pool then we would move to Guilderland. But we aren’t and we don’t so in return for our taxes we get nothing but occasional humoring from City Hall.

Eight years ago Jerry Jennings tried to shut down Lincoln Park Pool, or rather he tried to sell it for peanuts to a privateer. If He had succeeded in His plan then the Pool would have briefly become a for-profit business charging admission. After a few seasons the privateer would have declared bankruptcy and today Lincoln Park Pool would be a fenced-off crumbling pit.

Bath House #2 On Fourth Avenue Bath House #2 On Fourth Avenue

Judging by the reluctant and unfriendly opening day this year, I suspect that old Jerry is hoping to lock that fence tight and turn our swimming pool into another example of demolition by neglect. Like He’s doing to Bath House #2 over on Fourth Avenue.

Until six months ago Bath #2 was our own small indoor swimming pool that was open all year round. But thanks to invaluable assistance from Second Ward common Council Member Lester Freeman, the Mayor succeeded in turning our beautiful indoor pool into another south End vacant building.

The other day I heard Lester tell a group of City officials and community activists, “No one wants Bath House #2 open more than I do.” This from a guy who stood up in the Common Council chambers and passionately declaimed against our indoor pool.

Lester Freeman Declaims Against Bath House #2 At The Common Council, Dec. 20 2010 (from ACT) Lester Freeman Declaims Against Bath House #2 At The Common Council, Dec. 20 2010 (from ACT)

Now, some folks might say that Lester is just being a politician by pretending he had no part in the shameful takedown of our indoor pool. A master politician like Barack Obama or a clever psychopath like Dick Cheney can tell even the most outrageous lies and get away with them. But a first-term amateur part timer like Lester hasn’t got the skills.

“If the Bath House remains open, 200 workers will be laid off by the City,” he told the Common Council. He couldn’t explain that one, but the prospect of suburbanites losing their jobs certainly sounded ominous. Then he said, “I see groups of people hang out by the Bath House, and I ask them if they use the pool and not one – not one! – has ever used the pool.”

Lester Freeman Stands Behind Jerry Jennings Lester Freeman Stands Behind Jerry Jennings

At that time Lester told a newspaper, “I’’m the only true conservative on the Council.” A few months ago he showed us what he meant by that when he once again stood up in the Common Council chambers and demanded that the City give extra unearned money to the Capital District Young Men’s Christian Association Corporation (YMCA.) They’re the organization that abandoned the Y building on Washington Avenue last year, thus shutting that facility.

So Lester Freeman believes in rewarding corporations who withdraw services from our community, but personally wants to starve and destroy our own community centers because “there’s no money” and because the people of the South End apparently don’t deserve an indoor pool. That’s not conservatism by the way, that’s radical corporatism.

Remember folks, if it weren’t for Lester Freeman Bath House #2 would be open today. His vote in support of the Mayor he admires so much was effectively the deciding vote. Lester helped Jerry close Bath House #2 and anything he says otherwise just ain’t true.

Lincoln Park Pool, Albany NY. Endangered Again? Lincoln Park Pool, Albany NY. Endangered Again?

Fortunately the Lincoln Park Pool is not in Lester Freeman’s Ward, that’s a ray of sunshine. But Lester has loudly committed himself to supporting the random shutdown of South End amenities and necessities. You can be sure that if old Jerry Jennings decides on another all-out blitz to terminate Lincoln Park Pool, Lester will be ready to do dirty work for the boss.

If you love Lincoln Park Pool you ought to make time to swim while you still can. It’s summer, it’s not August yet, so look for the first hot day and jump in. See how far you can follow the red line. And don’t be too put out by the rude reception by the folks at the entrance. Remember, they’re only doing like they’re told.


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