“Stinger Square is only one square Philly block, but I think of it as a little slice of heaven,” says Irene Russell, President of the Friends of Stinger Square. “Although Stinger Square was established in 1910, it wasn’t until the early 70s that the pool was built. Vare Recreation Center had long been the only pool in Grays Ferry, but Grays Ferry was the most racially volatile area in the city and Vare was in the white neighborhood, which did not want Black kids swimming with their children. So the answer to the problem was to give Blacks their own pool, and that would keep them away from Vare. Since then our children have been swimming in a safe environment that welcomes all ethnicities, and having the time of their lives.”
The gate was closed when I walked up to the pool on a sweaty Saturday in July, so I asked the PMA on the other side if I could come in. “Of course, honey,” she said, taking a momentary break from sweeping the pool deck. “This pool is for everybody.” The bathing-suits-only rule seemed to have gone out the window that day, and a fair number of kids were swimming fully clothed. The lifeguards had enough to handle trying to keep the enthusiastic jumping and flipping games under some semblance of control. “Can you believe I learned to swim in this motherfucker?” I heard one woman laugh to another.
Search through local news archives, and the main things you’ll turn up about Stinger Square are a flurry of reports, every ten years or so, about anti-violence efforts in the area. Talking to Irene Russell paints a much fuller picture. “Stinger Square has always been a safe haven for families to come to, for generations,” she explains. “And the atmosphere at the pool reflects that. It is an air of camaraderie and good wholesome fun. Most of the people who work there are from the neighborhood and familiar with the children and their families so things don’t ever get too far out of hand. It is important to the neighborhood because it is a vital part of our park, which hosts reunions, birthdays, church picnics and many other community events. Also, many summer camps come to the pool so their campers can swim. There is also a high attendance from younger and older adults for adult swim time.”
“Over the years Stinger has evolved with the times. A group of community members formed the Friends of Stinger Square and have been working since 2000 with Parks and Rec, PA Horticultural, the Conservancy, as well as our Council leaders and State Reps to keep our park ‘An Urban Oasis,’ as our welcome sign says. We will be getting a major makeover this winter and look forward to the ribbon-cutting in the Spring. I welcome everyone to come out and visit our park but I must warn you too: ‘Once you do Stinger, you don’t go back!’ But really though, everyone I’ve seen visit our park I’ve seen come back and bring their families with them. They become a part of the Stinger Square family.”
The pool is on 32nd Street between Reed and Dickinson, on the east side of Stinger Square. Wind your way through the family and neighborhood cook-outs to the pool entrance, which is inside the park.