Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about my favorite summer spot, the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool. Upcoming posts will offer more detailed memories including: getting there, the bathhouse, the pools, the snack bar, and working there.

Ah, childhood and teen-hood memories of years of many long, happy summer days spent at the Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool.

The sights: the big, yellow brick bathhouse; sunlight reflecting off the water in three pools and lots and lots of concrete; girls in one-piece or very modest two-piece swimming suits; girls and women wearing ugly, detested swim caps*; men and boys in short (by today's fashions) swim trunks.

The sounds: children laughing; children screaming; water splashing; lifeguards' whistles tweeting; KDKA radio blaring top-40 hits over the tinny, sound-distorting speakers mounted on light poles; transistor radios playing stations cooler than KDKA.

The smells: chlorine, Coppertone, wet clothing, musty towels, hot tar, french fries being deep fried in the snack bar.

For part of the day, we'd lay contentedly on small beach towels laid on hot concrete. For part of the day, we'd be in the pool, playing, swimming, or just standing in the water cooling off. And when we got a bit older, part of the day would be spent strolling around the pools, hoping that the boy or girl we had a crush on would notice us.

And all the while we'd be socializing with friends or talking with siblings, and in those days before we were warned about sun exposure causing skin cancer, and we were not yet worried about developing prematurely wrinkly skin, trying to get as tan as possible as quickly as possible. There were no SPF sunscreens then. Only lotions to promote a "deep, dark tan" or a homemade mixture of baby oil and iodine that reputedly made you darker, quicker. but probably just stained your skin.

And usually, we were at the pool without parents or other adult supervision. All day.

Of course, when I was very young, I went with my parents to the pool. Usually on the hottest Saturdays or Sundays of the year, when the pool was packed with people, and you could hardly find a spot in the baby pool to pretend to swim in.

I don't exactly remember when my mother started letting me go to the pool with my younger sister or a friend, but it seems I was perhaps 7 or 8 years-old. And the people running the pool didn't mind that we came without someone to keep an eye on us. Can you imagine a parent these days letting an elementary school age child go to a public pool by themselves? And the pool allowing those children to come without an adult?

I'm sure the admission prices, which seem unbelievably inexpensive now, were still a financial stretch for some of our parents: the Beaver Valley Times of July 17, 1958, announced that half-price season passes were available: Children in grades 1-6: $2; Children in grades 7-12: $2.50; Family passes for families of any size: $6; adults: $4. Season passes, not a daily admission fee. Swim lessons for children were free, although there was a $0.50 registration fee. I haven't yet found out what the daily admissions fee was in '58, but in 1969, children paid $0.25 per day to swim**.

But before you could do anything at the pool, you had to get there...

Next: Getting there: the trek to the pool.

*Girls and women were expected to wear swim caps because long hair clogged the pools filters. That was through the early 60s. Then boys and men started to wear longer hair, and there was a rumor that boys and men with long hair would also be required to wear swim caps. But then, I guess long hair was no longer a problem for the filters, because no one had to wear swim caps anymore. Unless they wanted to. But no one did.

**Beaver County Times, May 13, 1969


  1. I liked climbing to the roof of the bathhouse and looking out over the pool area to see who was there before going in. I've never been anywhere else where that was possible. (For those unfamiliar with the Ambridge pool, there was a flight of steps to the roof - a decked area with railings.)
    I usually took a dollar with me - 25 cents to get in, and 75 cents for snacks if I didn't lose my change in the pool.
    Snacking was confined to the snack area - there were more than a few yellow jackets around who were eager to share a Popsicle.
    There were 4 or 5 life guards on duty and the main pool was shallow. It was a very safe place. That may account for the confidence of our mothers. (Not that the dollar a day child care wasn't welcomed.)
    I remember those metal turnstiles that were only one way - you couldn't back out (even if you had forgotten your towel and swim suit on the roof).
    Next to the pool was a walled off area where the water was filtered and treated. I liked to lean over the wall and look down into the green chlorine depths. Careful not to fall in. Bad bad.
    Thanks for the memory jogger, Nancy.

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  3. jd aka john domansky

    THE POOL was the jewel of ambridge in the 1940s & part of 50s, the steps up were a meeting place, never a druggery, fun stuff, the 2 low & 1 high boards in the diving pool, calling it a diving tank sounds like not the thing to call it. all 3 boards got a workout when i was there, but 1st i had to learn how to swim, no one ever watched me, the big pool was 5' deep, me being under 5' was tough, you learned how to bounce step to keep from swallowing water. 1 season was all i needed to become safe in the deep pool, diving was next, my love for diving brought me to near death a few times, diving from the bluffs at beaver river, 1st time there regular guys asked is that kid nuts?? not me it was there i dove, the pools high dive was my favorite place, swan dives , twists flips, never could get the 1 1/2 tho, tried but boy did that hurt. always dreamt about acapolco mexico. chicago beach at coast guard station had 4 big stair step rocks, the top rock was about 15 from water & about 15' high & needed a running start, & a flat out dive to surface fast, 1st time there no one told me that, i deep dove, my left wrist hit bottom first, then my head head, 6 or 8 stitches & back next week doing a flat dive, no more bottom hits.
    i think pool cost in the 40s was a dime, maybe less. i carried old ladies groceries for money.

    1. jd aka john domansky

      forgot the forgotten dive off the high dive, walking on hands under bud marquettes watchful eye, handstands were a snap, getting set on high dive board to get up to a hand stand & then letting go for a straight down dive to bottom & push off to get up fast, best fun was tag on high board. next was doing a flat dive off high board, to see how fast you can touch ladder, bigger guys slammed wall a few times, there were some great divers there , but i was just average, gainers & 1 1/2 gainers & many more, not many girls did good dives tho. do not remember snack bar in the 40s or early 50s, recall doing flips & 1 1/2 off side of big pool tho. not unusual to do width 2x under water w'a diving start. sunburn was bad for my czech skin, peeled at least 2 x a summer