Sixty years later, Linda Hoff-Young Marlow still remembers the concrete steps.
She was 4 years old when she started swimming at the Bridesburg Recreation Center pool. On summer days, Marlow set up her towel on those steps — always warm from the sun — so she could lay down there when she got cold.
Those steps, and the entire pool, are an integral part of the Bridesburg community, she said. But this summer, the pool won’t open as it usually does, and the neighborhood will be left without a central place to swim for a season.
The pool is being demolished to make room for a brand new one. Construction started in March, and the old pool has already been leveled.
“I would hope they keep the steps, but they probably won’t,” Marlow said. “It’s just a nice memory of Philly.”
For the Bridesburg neighborhood, the construction is bittersweet. The pool was first built in 1954, and since then has become a staple of the community.
But rec center employees note the renovations are long overdue.
“It’s a little bitter because something they’ve cherished is going away,” said John McBride, director of Bridesburg Rec. “It’s sweet because what’s coming back is more state of the art. It’s a pool the community deserves.”
It has need repairs for at least six years, McBride said, as long as he’s been working there.
Jackie Desanctis — known by pool-goers as Miss Jackie — started as an instructor at Bridesburg Rec 59 years ago.
She officially retired in 2005, but stayed around as a volunteer. Desanctis estimates it was two decades ago when the pool walls first started swelling with water and leaking on all sides. Thing got so bad that it became the butt of a recurring joke.
“If this pool collapses and I drown, if I flow down the Delaware, I’m coming back to haunt you,” Desanctis said she used to tell the plumber who came by to fix the leaks.
Public pools are eligible for the city’s $500 million Rebuild initiative, which aims to repair Philly’s libraries, parks and rec centers over the next six years. Philly has 70 active public pools, and Bridesburg is one of the oldest. In total, Parks & Rec estimated the city’s pools require about $100 million in repairs.
“The pool is up to code for 1954,” McBride said. “The pool staff and the skilled trades of Parks & Rec have done a phenomenal job of keeping it germane, but it deserves an upgrade.”
Sure, the Bridesburg pool is in desperate need of renovations. But those close to the rec center still feel like they’re mourning a loss.
Desanctis called the pool “the center of the neighborhood every summer” — she estimated 350 Bridesburg kids register for lessons every summer, and 275 visit the pool at least four days a week.
The pool has for years been the site of annual water shows, where Bridesburg residents performed synchronized swimming routines at the end of the summer.
“That used to be a citywide, end-of-summer tradition at almost every pool,” McBride said. “The water show at the Bridgesburg Recreation Center is the only one that still goes on. It’s the last vestige of what I think was a great tradition.”
Remembering the pool
When construction first got started back in March, McBride hosted a ceremony for the neighborhood to say goodbye to the 64-year-old pool. Bridesburg residents attended alongside past lifeguards and other employees.
“We found the pool meant so much to them that they deserved a chance to say goodbye,” McBride said.
Last week, McBride offered neighbors another opportunity to remember the pool with something more tangible. He started selling the pool’s bricks for $10 each, with all the proceeds going toward Bridesburg Rec’s gymnastics program.
The center sold 40 of about 150 available bricks — mostly to Bridesburg residents and gymnastics meet attendees. Some were shipped out of state to devoted Bridesburg natives in Iowa and South Carolina.
But the first brick? That one went to Desanctis, who dedicated her life to the pool.
“I had to get the first one since I was the oldest hen in the henhouse,” she said.
Bridesburg residents can take comfort in the proximity of another public pool. This summer, McBride said he’ll direct people to the pool at Samuel Recreation Center, which sits on Gaul Street near Tioga about two miles south of Bridesburg Rec.
For the kids registered for summer camp at Bridesburg this year, instructors at have set up a sprinkler and some water balloons. Until next summer, that’ll have to do.