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