Pool Notes from a Brooklyn Native
I was born and raised in New York City. Yes, I am one of those, a rare New York City native. Growing up, I straddled the line between Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Ridgewood, Queens. I grew up in the good ol’Willy B in the 90’s. It was a dangerous place to live in.
My parents were both raised in New York in the 70’s and their families lived right on South 2nd in Williamsburg. Back then it was filled with working-class Latino families just trying to make it. I remember walking by McCarren Park on the way to my grandmother’s building in Williamsburg and every time, my parents would start to reminisce about the good ol’ days.
McCarren Pool opened in 1936 but was officially shut down in 1983. In the late 80’s to early 90’s there were stories about dead bodies and fights - McCarren park was not what it is today.
To my parents, this was their neighborhood. They were not phased by the gangs or the violence; this was their life and they would find joy where they could. They spent most of their summers playing handball in the park or taking a dip in the pool. McCarren Park was their playground, the place they would sneak into and spend away their youth.
As a kid, I would listen to them with envy, wishing I could have experienced their Williamsburg.
Who knew they were such rebels?
I’m pretty sure they were part of the reason the neighborhood residents of Greenpoint wanted the pool shut in the early 80’s.
As a 20-something living in gentrified Brooklyn, I am mostly jealous that they got to go to a pool in NYC – a foreign and exotic luxury to today’s New Yorkers. You see, back then, in the 90’s, if you were living in NYC, your options were limited to far away beaches or restrictive pools.
Going to the beach was exciting, but going to a pool was heaven to a fire-escape-stoop-sitting-kid from the concrete jungle. I remember being invited to a friend’s party in grade school: she told me she was having her party in a house in Long Island that had a giant in-ground pool. I desperately wanted to go, but my parents would not allow it.
“You don’t know how to swim and we do not know how big this pool is. The answer is no,” they said.
Back then, if you found a pool, chances are that you would have to travel far. Most “good” pools were not available in the NYC urban communities. And even if a pool was available, there were so many rules just to get into it: no book bags allowed, you only have a couple of hours of swimming, you need to bring a lock for a locker, you cannot have certain clothes when you come into the pool, you cannot bring in any food or drink, etc. The list goes on and on and on – who wants that?
However, times have changed. Brooklyn is the new “Manhattan” and McCarren Pool reopened in 2001 with a lot of fanfare and publicity. All of NYC’s Park pools are free throughout the summer and although some residents may still find it difficult to travel to some of these, it is still well worth the trouble to be able to live out your childhood summer dreams – who’s with me?