Sure, some 20-year-olds soaked their feet in a plastic kiddy pool once or twice while sipping at frosty Fort Points in the park on a balmy day, but more than 100 years ago a massive, concrete-lined wading pool was a permanent one Attraction.
The shallow pool was rebuilt by the city on the south side of the park. 1909, three years after the devastating 1906 earthquake, according to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department. It was $ 128 to build, exactly what a 21st century boutique swimsuit can offer.
The pool lasted at least until the late 1920s, according to Rec and Park, before being turned into a playground, which has been renovated a number of times over the decades. It was last renovated in 2012 for $ 3.5 million and is now named after the late philanthropist Helen Diller, wife of billionaire real estate developer Sanford Diller.
In the early 1900s, the surrounding mission district was dominated by Irish and German households with large nuclear families of up to six or seven children, according to Bill Issel, professor emeritus at SF State University and author of several city history books including “San Francisco: 1865- 1931. “
“A not very expensive, concrete-lined pool would be popular in the neighborhood if the city removed the shelters, some tents, and some of the ‘earthquake shelters’ that Katherine Felton built when she was ‘in charge of the earthquake relief.’ 06 Quake and Fire, “Issel wrote in an email, referring to the founder of the Associated Charities of San Francisco who helped put people who lost their homes in the earthquake into tents in local parks, including Dolores Park to relocate.
A historical picture of Dolores Park from August 11, 1917 shows a former paddling pool. The picture was taken at the inauguration of the J-Church J-Line, according to OpenSF History.
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The Dolores Park Swimming Pool was one of at least two “informal pools, freely sculpted and surrounded by cliffs,” built in the early 20th century and part of the city’s first public water recreation, according to Rec and Park. Another was rebuilt in Golden Gate Park. 1909.
After the earthquake of the 1910s and 1920s, the city’s neighborhood improvement associations sponsored all kinds of projects, including recreational projects, and they worked with the city’s chamber of commerce, unions, and city government to get things done, Issel explained.
“Today’s deadlock and the fighting between NIMBY and YIMBY would have amazed the people who completed the new town hall, the civil auditorium, etc.,” he said. “One of these voluntary associations in the Inner Mission could have been involved in the paddling pool project.”
Woody LaBounty, President and CEO of SF Heritage, said at the time that there was also a shift from viewing parks as natural havens and instead as places of restoration and self-improvement.
“Pools were built as opposed to natural forests,” he said. “People played ball and swam.”
San Francisco is in another big change in its history as it is a year-long pandemic that has shut the city down. Maybe it’s time for another pool at Dolores Park? The neighborhood might think that more bins and a different urinal would be a better investment.