Frequently asked questions

Pool Season starts later this month, but Wondering About the Pools Season has been going strong for a few weeks now. The latter revolves around two core questions:

When do the pools open?

Philly public pools open after Philly public schools close. This year, the last day of school is Thursday, June 22nd. So I would have said that swimming should be possible come Friday June 23rd… but this year the Department of Parks and Recreation has actually posted opening info in the most accessible place I’ve ever seen them do so (nice work!!!!) and says the pools will open on a staggered schedule from June 22nd-July 1st.

Four indoor pools stay open year-round, but the start of the season involves waking all 70 of the others from their winter slumber: cleaning them, repairing them, filling them with water. This is no small task and is why the pools don’t all open the same day. For a sense of what this year’s opening schedule might look like, check out how they rolled out in 2015 and 2014.

For the full listing and map of pools, click here.

For a beginner’s guide to using them once they open, see this.

Why don’t the pools open sooner?

I have no inside information on this question, which – trust me – I’m asking the universe daily this time of year. That said, I suspect the answer involves:

  • That the pools cost a fair bit of money to operate.
  • That we’ve got a shortage of lifeguards as it is. (If you know people who’d make good ones, send them here!)
  • That it’d involve shifting established patterns of how things are done.
  • That pool season is already a huge lift for (and not always well loved by) the people charged with making it happen.
  • And that there’s not always enough consistent demand.

There is a lot more that could be said about all of the above. For now, though, I’ll just note that while some of these factors are more complex than others, they all have their roots in the heartbreaking levels of under-funding that have plagued our recreation infrastructure for years. As would answers to other frequently asked questions like: “Why are the pools not open longer hours?” and infinite variations on “Why are the pools not better maintained?”

If our pools – and the larger recreation, parks and library system that they are part of – are important to you (and, I suspect if you are reading this, they are), please take five minutes today to let our City Councilpeople know. For the first time in recent memory, a Philadelphia mayor is proposing investing in our rec centers! The mechanism would be a 3 cent per ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks, which would bring in $95 million/year for Pre-K, Community Schools, and rebuilding our parks, rec centers and libraries. This proposal has garnered fierce, multi-multi-multi-million-dollar opposition from the beverage industry (and various counter-proposals, all of which would bring in less of the needed funds). For more info on all of this, check out Philadelphians for a Fair Future.

Over the next week and a half – starting with a vote this coming Wednesday, June 8th – the 17 members of City Council will decide what the future of our parks and pools will look like. They are getting tons of visits, calls and postcards sponsored by the beverage industry. We need to make sure they also hear from those of us who want to see the maximum amount of new revenue generated to rebuild our glorious, but crumbling, recreation infrastructure.

Here is their contact info:

Philly-City-Council

Keep swimming!

Pool season is a week longer this year! I don’t know why this is, but I suspect that it’s more likely to happen again in future years if we take advantage of it now.

These nine pools (listed in rough order of how much I love them) will be open for splashing, floating, lolling, swimming, and other water-based wonderfulness through the end of the day next Thursday, August 27th (all other pools are closed or closing today):


KellyKelly (in Fairmount Park, next to the Please Touch Museum): The biggest, not to mention the only pool in the system with grass, inside the pool deck, that you may lie on. Weekend hours: Lap swimming 12-4:45pm; open swim Sat 12-4:45pm; family swim Sun 12-4:45pm. Weekday hours: Lap swimming 11am-6:45pm; open swim 1-4pm; adult swim Mon, Wed, Fri 5-6:45pm; family swim Tue, Thu 5-6:45pm.

ManderMander (on the edge of East Fairmount Park, at 33rd and Diamond): I was in lifeguard training with longtime guard Reina and would trust any member of my family’s life in her hands. She may have gone back to school at this point, but her mother, head lifeguard Nancy, runs a tight ship as well — and leads water aerobics during adult swim.
VareVare (at 26th and Morris in South Philly): If you love to swim and live South, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with Vare, which is usually the area’s first pool to open and last to close. Its spirit harkens back to the early days of public pools, when working-class boys turned reformers’ baths into joyful, raucous playgrounds.

MyersMax Myers (at Hellerman and Horrocks, just north of the Boulevard off Bustleton in the Northeast): Representing the opposite end of the rules spectrum from Vare. As long as you expect to shuttle back outside of the pool gate every 45 minutes, this large, T-shaped pool is a lovely place to spend a day — especially if you snag some deck space next to the veggie garden.

WaterlooWaterloo (at Cumberland and Waterloo in Kensington): A true neighborhood pool. Small and hemmed in, but somehow here that feels cozy rather than cramped. Ask the staff about their rec leader, Anthony Washington, if you want to inspire yourself to be a better person.

AwburyAwbury (at Ardleigh and Haynes, by the Awbury Arboretum in Germantown): It’s cooler up here in the trees, and there are benches to sit on. I’ve had more experiences arriving at this pool to find it closed than I wish to remember, so if you’re coming from another part of the city, maybe call first.

FeltonvilleFeltonville (off Wyoming between A and B, a few blocks south of the Boulevard): I’m excited this pool will be open, as I haven’t swum here since 2013 and am looking forward to making it back. Feltonville (which rumor has it is an especially well-run rec center) is generally the pool with the longest season up this way.

VogtVogt (at Unruh and Cottage, in the Tacony section of the Northeast): Another large, T-shaped pool in the Northeast. Vogt’s schedule has something for everyone. And it’s sort of charming how the staff climb through a hole in the rec center wall to get out to the pool.

Christy

Christy (at 56th and Christian in West Philly): Extremely easy to find, right there on the corner. Where Mayor Nutter swam as a kid.

Pool pictures

So this is the time of year that I could update this site and people would actually read it. But who wants to be futzing around on a computer when you could be in the water?

I do take pictures of the pools I go to, if you’d like to check them out on Instagram. (I try to include info on special hours, features and events there too.) And if you really, really like looking at Philly pool pictures (I’m with you!), the Pop-Up Pool Project and #phillypooltour15 are also very exciting.

Here’s to enjoying pool season while we have the chance. And here’s a link to Parks and Rec’s pool listing and map if you need it.

Wonderful pool openings – Updated with official schedule

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If you’ve spent much time at Philly pools, or any public pools really, you’re probably familiar with the buzz of manic anticipation in the moments when everyone’s standing along the edge of the water, just waiting for the lifeguards to blow their whistles.

Thousands of people around the city are experiencing that right now, and they’re scouring the internet for news of when their pool will open. I know this because a lot of them end up here, and my blog analytics show me their desperate search terms.

Parks and Rec has not yet announced the opening schedule. (I know this because I stalk their social media.) But below is the word on the street. It’s probably about 90% correct. Any errors in it, any pools you show up at to have your hopes dashed, should incite annoyance at me, not at the City, and certainly not at any innocent human beings on site. PPR will probably release the final schedule soon, and I will update this accordingly.

UPDATE: There was one change to the original schedule posted here (Pleasant and Belfield switched opening days); the schedule below should now be correct.

A few other notes: A pool’s opening day sometimes includes it getting filled with water, so it’s wise not to show up too early. A pool’s first week or two is a learning and adjustment period for all involved; please be patient, flexible and extend staff the benefit of the doubt. On that: The pools still need more lifeguards. If you know anyone (conscientious, 16+, able to swim, interested in $12.33 an hour), send them here. If you’re looking for a beginner’s guide to the pools (map, schedules, what to wear, etc.), check this out.

And now, the most wonderful list in the world, when Philadelphia’s public pools are scheduled to open this year:

Tomorrow — Friday, June 19th:

  • Kelly (next to the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park)
  • Mander (33rd and Diamond, East Park/Strawberry Mansion) – opening-day event
  • Max Myers (Hellerman and Horrocks, Northeast Philly)
  • Vare (26th and Morris, Gray’s Ferry)

Monday, June 22nd:

  • Awbury (Ardleigh and Haines, Germantown)
  • Bridesburg (Richmond and Buckius)
  • Feltonville (Wyoming between A and B)
  • Fox Chase (Rockwell and Borbeck, Northeast Philly)
  • Francisville (18th and Francis, just north of Fairmount Ave.) — home to the inaugural Pop-Up Pool Project
  • Lee (44th and Haverford, West Powelton) — home to Swim for Life Camp
  • Vogt (Unruh and Cottage, Northeast Philly)
  • The five indoor pools also (re)open today:
    • Carousel House (Belmont and Avenue of the Republic in Fairmount Park) — for people with disabilities
    • Hartranft (8th and Cumberland, North Philly)
    • Lincoln (Ryan and Rowland, Northeast Philly)
    • Pickett (Wayne and Chelten, Germantown)
    • Sayre Morris (59th and Spruce, West Philly)

Tuesday, June 23rd:

Wednesday, June 24th:

Thursday, June 25th:

  • American Legion (Torresdale and Devereaux, Northeast Philly)
  • Barry (18th and Bigler, South Philly)
  • Cobbs Creek (63rd and Walnut in Cobbs Creek Park)
  • Gathers (25th and Diamond, North Philly)
  • Lackman (Bartlett and Chesworth, Far Northeast)
  • Lawncrest (Comly and Rising Sun, Northeast Philly)
  • Ziehler (B and Olney, Olney)

Friday, June 26th:

  • Anderson (17th and Catharine, South Philly)
  • Hancock (Hancock and Master, Fishtown)
  • Heitzman (Castor and Amber, Harrowgate/Kensington)
  • Mitchell (Whitehall Lane and Chesterfield Road, Far Northeast)
  • Morris Estate (16th and Chelten, West Oak Lane)
  • Francis Myers (58th and Kingsessing, Southwest Philly)
  • Penrose (12th and Susquehanna, North Philly)

Saturday, June 27th:

  • Dendy (10th and Oxford, North Philly)
  • Jacobs (Linden and Jackson, Far Northeast)
  • Kingsessing (49th and Kingsessing, West Philly)
  • McVeigh (D and Ontario, Kensington)
  • Murphy (3rd and Shunk, South Philly)
  • Piccoli (Castor and Cayuga, Lower Northeast)
  • Pleasant (Boyer and Pleasant, Mount Airy)

Monday, June 29th:

  • Amos (16th and Montgomery, North Philly)
  • Athletic (26th and Master, North Philly)
  • Chew (19th and Ellsworth, Point Breeze)
  • Houseman (Summerdale and Godfrey, Northeast Philly)
  • Hunting Park (9th and Hunting Park, North Philly)
  • Mill Creek (47th and Brown, West Philly)
  • Sacks (4th and Washington, South Philly)
  • Shepard (57th and Haverford, Haddington)

Tuesday, June 30th:

  • 39th and Olive (just north of Fairmount Ave., Mantua)
  • Ford (Snyder between 6th and 7th, South Philly)
  • M.L. King (22nd and Cecil B. Moore, North Philly)
  • O’Connor (26th and South)
  • Scanlon (Glenwood and K, Kensington)
  • Schmidt (Howard and Ontario, North Philly)
  • Shuler (27th and Indiana, North Philly)
  • Tustin (59th and Columbia, Overbrook)

Wednesday, July 1st:

Pool planning

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It is really very hot. What would you NOT have given, these past few days, to have glided through some clear cool pool waves?

So many people have asked me when the pools are opening that at this point I feel like I should mention that I am no longer a lifeguard, nor any sort of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation employee. I have no official knowledge or relationship to these most wonderful elements of our city infrastructure. That said, as this site may attest, I do spend a good portion of my free time sniffing around for information about them. And so [drumroll please]:

The pools will start opening Friday, June 19th.

We’ve got six more days to sweat it out. And – more importantly – to plan.

Pool season is brief. All told this year, it will probably be about eight weeks, and some pools might be open as little as four. If we want to make the best use of them, we might as well start thinking about how.

Some questions to consider:

  • What’s your closest pool, from where you can pad home in just a bathing suit and towel? How many days a week can you get there? Will you introduce yourself to the pool staff, maybe even thank them for their work?
  • What other pools do you want to visit this summer? Who will you invite to join you?
  • What reading do you want to get done with your feet in the water? How many laps do you want to swim? How many neighbors would you like to meet?
  • Are your kids ready to be signed up for swimming lessons? Do YOU want to learn how to swim, or how to float, or feel comfortable putting your face in the water?
  • What can you do to help everyone remember that the pools belong to all Philadelphians (including/especially boisterous dark-skinned and/or working-class children and teenagers) – and that taking care of them is all of our responsibility?

Some potentially useful tools and tidbits:

  • Parks and Rec’s list of pools (by section of the city).
  • The best map I know of (though some pools are missing, some are in the wrong location, and others are no longer open). Anyone know any GIS gurus who’d want to work on a new one of these?
  • Some destination pools to consider:
    • Kelly (next to the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park) Our biggest pool, and seven feet deep in the middle. There’s grass to lie on within the pool gates.
    • Francisville (18th and Francis, just north of Fairmount Ave): The poor man’s infinity pool, with a view of the skyline. This year home to a very cool event.
    • O’Connor (26th and South): “The Country Club,” people from other pools would scoff when I told them I worked there. That, or “the Taj Mahal.”
    • Athletic (26th and Master): It’s got SLIDES!!!! Plus a sprayground next door.
  • And once you’ve checked those out:

Christopher Battle

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From: West Philadelphia

Age: 25 (when interviewed in 2014)

First pool experience: Cobbs Creek, at 12

Work with the pools: As a lifeguard at James Finnegan since 2013

“My uncle taught me how to swim, and ever since it’s one of my passions. I love the pool. I love swimming. I think everybody should learn how to swim. That’s what we do at our pool. We try to get all the kids, we try to get the adults, we try to get everybody interactive with swimming, learning how to swim. Because a lot of people don’t know how to swim in the city, in the inner city. So it’s good to learn how to swim.

I’m in the pool every day. Some people wouldn’t know that swimming is one of my passions. I don’t talk about it a lot. Growing up, I played football; I ran track. A lot of people don’t know that I love swimming.

I tell everybody, “Get the fear out you.” A lot of people that we have swim lessons with, they say, “I’m scared!” You know. I just try to get the fear out of them. That’s the biggest thing with my swim lessons. Get the fear out. I’m here to teach you, as much as possible.

When I heard a couple years back that the mayor wanted to shut the pools down, I disliked that. I was like, wow. Me growing up – when I was growing up, that was our fun in the summertime, swimming. I want the pools to open. I wish they opened all year-round. (We have some – but there’s only a few.) I like the fact that all the public pools are open. Everybody should go out and at least get a swim in the summertime.”

J. Finnegan (69th and Grovers)

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I had no concept of how far Southwest Philadelphia extended until I swam at James Finnegan Pool. Or, tried to swim at James Finnegan Pool. It took three attempts to actually get in the water. The first time I tried, the pool had accidentally drained the night before and was refilling. The second time, a child had vomited in the water, so the staff was shocking it (the water, not the child) with chlorine.

A blue island in the middle of a green one, Finnegan’s a large pool, with painted lane lines, a spacious deck and stairs in two of its corners. Straddling the border of Elmwood and Eastwick, it just edges out Barry to be the city’s southernmost pool. Consulting a map indicates that it is not, in fact, at the edge of the universe, though it feels that way when I ride my bike there. It’s where a street (Grovers Avenue) would be, if two of that street’s five blocks were not subsumed by the 17.6 acres of parkland surrounding the pool. The park cuts off or makes dead-ends of about 12 other streets too, so there is no way to drive the perimeter of Finnegan Playground, though you are welcome to drive to it.

Comedian and sports radio personality Big Daddy Graham wrote about Finnegan in 2010:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Famous book, famous movie. Had I written that book based on my surroundings it would have been called A Swimming Pool Opens in Southwest Philly. That’s how important that day was to every grubby child who ever ran away from a cop because someone had just opened a fire hydrant. While no day tops Christmas morning to a kid, the opening of the public swimming pool sure came damn close.

Graham continues with stories of boys’ and girls’ swims and the “basket room” where you could leave your stuff under watchful eyes (let’s bring those back!). It’s worth a read. He wraps up:

Now I live in a “development” in Jersey where about a third of the homes have pools. My kids are older now and our pool is rarely used. Truth be told, if you added the hours up that my neighbors pools were in full swing, theirs wouldn’t amount to much time usage, either. It’s sad and embarrassing, to tell you the truth. If there was a way to give my pool away to some neighborhood that would use it and treasure it, I would. I really would.

So listen, even if you don’t live in the city anymore, sign a check the next time the cities pools are in danger, write a check. Even if it’s five measly bucks, it all adds up. It’s that important to a kid that the pool is there. Walk a block, climb a fence, cut through the alley, and DAG! There it is in all its blue glory.

(There used to be another swath of blue glory in deepest Southwest, Island Road Pool, at 2227 Island Avenue. But Island Road didn’t make it through the 2004 budget cuts, that rec center is now the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School, and these days Finnegan’s it for miles in every direction.)

Finnegan opened in 1956 and over the years has reflected its neighborhood’s economic hardship and racial unrestRodger Caldwell, a 40-year veteran City lifeguard, tells of being dispatched there in the mid-1990s to help work through Black-white tensions that were playing out in the water. Over three decades earlier, Father Paul Washington and journalist and community leader Charles Sutton organized a series of planned swims to integrate Finnegan, which – while always public and in theory open to all – had in practice operated as a whites-only facility. In an August 1960 piece for the Philadelphia Tribune, Sutton and Washington wrote:

The first plannedFinnegan.1960 swim was held on Thursday, August the fourth. The group included ten neighborhood Negro boys, ranging from nine to sixteen. Two Negro adults, one a clergyman, and two white adults one a clergyman, also went swimming with the boys. Another white clergyman was present.

The Negro and white children swam and played happily and naturally together for the first hour. Then trouble developed. An observer on the scene later pointed out that a woman had arrived and began inciting trouble.

She walked over to a group of about ten white teenage boys who were about to enter the pool and exclaimed angrily about the Negroes using the pool.

These boys and others they had incited, about fifty in all, began splashing and booing and chanting, “we hate niggers.”

The demonstration, however, was short-lived. It appeared to us that many of those who were called into the demonstration did not have their hearts in it.

There was no further trouble, though some people did taunt us when we left.

Since then there have been three more planned swims. Aside from some grumbling by a few white adults, there have been no more unpleasant incidents.

The hope of the group is that soon the Negro boys of the neighborhood will stroll over to Finnegan or ride over on their bikes whenever they get the impulse, as boys do everywhere.

No one in our group considers this a “victory.” There still indeed may be trouble. But we believe any trouble can be contained. We believe that most of the people in the community are on the side of decency.

Finnegan Pool is right in the middle of its rec center grounds, south of Dicks Avenue, north of Lindbergh Boulevard, and bounded by 68th and 70th Streets. The most direct access is to cut though the playground from 69th Street.

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Finnegan Pool refilling, 2013.