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Roman Blazic was an excellent lifeguard. Almost all the time.
Back in his day, he protected kids at the now-closed Shissler Rec pool from broken glass and neighborhood gangs, he said. He taught them how to swim — even leading one Fishtown cherub to a gold medal for freestyle at the city finals.
Blazic was also known for letting kids jump into the pool from the roof of the rec center. But only sometimes.
The summer of 1970 conjures up fond memories for the Fishtown lifer. It was Blazic’s third year keeping watch over the former Front Street watering hole. In the last few days before the pool closed for the season, he brought out his camera and snapped some timeless images of Philadelphia summer fun.
The following year, the pool known as Newt’s would close up for good — leaving just a sprayground behind and sending neighborhood swimmers about half a mile away to the Lederer pool instead.
But Blazic preserved Newt’s memories in pictures.
There are photos of Fishtown kids goofing off near the girls’ bathroom, and tossing their friends into the water. There’s a snapshot of civic duty — folks sweeping and wheel-barrowing trash from the street outside the playspace.
Also, a few pics of a youngster doing a front flip into the water.
“My god, this kid was incredible,” Blazic recalled. “I let him go up and do his thing, and I took a picture. I thought, ‘Who’s gonna believe this?’”
Blazic, a lifelong photographer, stumbled upon the pictures recently among his collection. He posted them online — and like glue they brought him back together with his childhood neighbors. Blazic found himself reconnecting over the memories shared at Newt’s.
“This went over big with a lot of people,” he said. “It just brought back a lot of memories.
“I had a lot of fun,” Blazic added. “You’re with your neighbors day in and day out. They were very supportive, and really a good bunch of folks to have around.”
The photos likely had a greater impact due to current circumstances. Fishtown’s only remaining public swim spot — the Lederer pool, aka Swimmo — has been closed for years waiting on repairs.
The Swimmo is now finally getting a tune up. But that doesn’t erase the three consecutive summers that the neighborhood went without a place to hang out by the water. It’s a community staple, as far as Blazic is concerned.
“Of course it stinks,” he said. “My kids grew up using that pool. It was a good thing. Kids learned how to swim.”
The Lederer pool will likely open back up to the neighborhood next year — and Blazic is glad. His nearly 50-year-old photos are evidence, he said, that a public pool can bring an entire community together.
“There are so many different crowds, different neighborhoods, different streets, different playgrounds,” Blazic said. “This is a common ground. There is no trouble there.”