When Marion Cure first stepped into the blue disc that is
Lincoln Park Pool in 1931, she didn't know how to swim.
By the end of the summer -- the pool's first season -- "I was
able to pick my feet up and doggy-paddle all the way across the pool,''
said the Albany resident, now 79 years old.
On Wednesday, Lincoln Park Pool will celebrate its 70th birthday in
much the same way it marked its first day and thousands of summer days
in between. Weather permitting, adults and children will arrange
themselves on the grassy border and step gingerly into the still-cool
Through the Depression, the pool was an almost daily destination for
Cure and her friends, who would hike down the steep slope from Delaware
Avenue. "As long as the weather was nice, we'd be there,'' she
If they could stay for more than a quick dip, they lounged on the
sandy verge or cooled off in the gradual slope of the water. Back then,
lifeguards in black one-piece bathing suits patrolled in rowboats. Every
few summers, polio scares would thin the crowd, and Cure's mother would
discourage her from going. The family doctor, she recalls, assured them
it was safe.
The rich may have gone off to summer homes or the ocean; the masses
went to Lincoln Park. After graduating from Albany High School in '39,
many of Cure's classmates headed to house parties. "But for us,''
she recalled, "it was out of the graduation outfits and into our
The unique design of the 300-foot-wide pool -- like a giant's contact
lens -- attracts people from all around the Capital Region, and makes it
one of the handful of civic spaces where divisions seem to disappear.
"It brings people together,'' said John D'Antonio, assistant
commissioner of Albany's Youth and Recreation Department. "Every
time I go down there, I see everyone from toddlers to senior citizens,
and people of every race.''
Before the pool was built, the best swimming in downtown Albany was
just a few hundred feet away, near the present site of the Montessori
Magnet School, in a freshwater hole called Rocky Ledge. (Fresh springs
still flow beneath the park's surface.)
"Teenage boys were daredevils -- jumping off the rocks and
swimming in the waters below,'' said Albany city historian Virginia
Bowers. The pool was built to provide a safer alternative, and to fit
into a long-standing plan to make Lincoln Park the city's athletic hub.
The pool and bathhouse were constructed under the administration of
Mayor John Boyd Thacher II. They were completed in less than a year by
the firm of Feeney & Sheehan -- a name that conjures up the old days
of Albany's Irish-American ascendancy -- at a cost of $53,820.55.
The pool's designers did their best to re-create the feel of a
coastal beach in the middle of an inland city, and even trucked in
genuine Atlantic beach sand to complete the illusion. (Health code and
filtration regulations forced the city to replace the sand with grass in
the 1960s, according to pool supervisor Andy Csiza.)
Cure remembers the crowd as being predominantly white, an impression
borne out in photos from the '30s, '40s and '50s. "It used to be
that the colored people stayed in the right corner near the bathhouse,''
she said. "I don't remember hearing that it was compulsory, but it
was one of those things that seemed to happen.''
While the pool has remained remarkably unchanged since 1931, the city
surrounding it has been transformed. Many of the old row houses still
border the park, but the low line of homes between it and the Hudson has
been replaced by the apartment buildings of Albany's South End; uphill
from the pool, the State Museum and the Empire State Plaza give evidence
of successive generations of city builders.
The crowd at the pool has changed as well. Today, a blend of white,
African-American and Hispanic families flock to the water's edge on
Since the early '60s, Mars Hill has been among them. "I still
make it down to the pool just about every evening,'' said the
78-year-old author and longtime Albany resident. "I take a quick
dip, get in my laps and come out.''
Hill calls the pool "a part of three generations of my family.''
Hill's son Joffrey was a lifeguard when he was a teenager; today,
Joffrey lives in New Jersey, but his daughters Imani, 10, and Kieara
Leola, 3, spend the summer with their grandfather.
"I still consider the pool a beautiful place,'' Hill said.
"It's like my own beach within the city.''
In the past few decades, the pool became less beautiful. The
bathhouse, in particular, fell into disrepair; from 1990 to 1997, Hill's
laps were shortened when half of the pool was closed to the public.
"There wasn't enough money in the city's budget to pay all the
lifeguards they would have needed,'' D'Antonio said.
Last year, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings -- who learned to swim at the
pool -- raised the salaries for lifeguards. This year, the pool got a
much-needed new filtration system, and the bathhouse received a $3
million face lift that's still in its final stages.
City officials say much more needs to be done.
"Band-Aids have basically been holding the pool together for the
past 20 years,'' said Csiza, the pool supervisor. "Eventually,
surgery is necessary.''
Despite discussions last summer, Jennings insists there are no plans
to demolish the pool this year.
"We're going to monitor activity for the next few years,''
Jennings said. "Then we'll decide whether to maintain (the pool) as
it is or create a brand-new swimming facility.''
The pool's design, while unique and charming, makes it a challenging
property to maintain.
"We can't even get a vacuum in there,'' Csiza said. "The
pool gets thoroughly cleaned once a year, and that's at the end of the
Marian Cure's lifeguards in rowboats are long gone. Today, the 18
guards perch on raised chairs or patrol the shallows on foot, keeping an
eye on the 1,000 people who use the pool on an average summer day. Kids
cluster on the platform at the pool's 7-foot-deep center, although
diving hasn't been allowed for years. They run through the
chlorine-enhanced jets of water shooting up from spigots along the
Like Marion Cure and Jerry Jennings, Albany's children still learn to
swim at Lincoln Park Pool. Imani Hill, who got help from the Girls and
Boys Club of Albany, prizes the certificate she got for completing her
This summer, she and her grandfather are teaching Kieara Leola how to
Imani was 8 years old when she first completed the 300-foot transit
across Lincoln Park Pool -- almost the same age as Cure when she
mastered the water 70 years ago.
"Now,'' Imani said, "I go back and forth all the time.''