Vallone Dives Into Pool Project
City Councilmember Peter F. Vallone Jr. has started discussions with the city Department of Parks and Recreation to renovate the dilapidated diving pool in Astoria Park, discussing several options for the unused space.
The diving pool, adjacent to the regular swimming pool, which hosts thousands of visitors each summer, has a 32-foot elevated platform, built to conform to Olympic standards. It was closed in 1981 after trespassing incidents and has lain dormant for decades due to safety concerns. It has been allowed to fall into disrepair and the bottom now resembles a rancid bog.
"We should no longer allow such a oncevibrant space to remain as stagnant as a dirty puddle. This pool has great potential," Vallone said. "The notion that this pool should be left to rot simply does not hold any water."
Vallone has proposed turning the area into a summer parks concert venue which could be used by local arts and community groups. The diving pool could serve as the foundation for a band shell or stage, Vallone believes, and the surrounding grounds could provide ample seating for concertgoers. Community members have been clamoring for a performance space in Astoria Park, and this idea would allow such a venue without removing any existing parkland. A similar project was undertaken in McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn with much success.
Vallone wrote a letter to the Parks Department and spoke with Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe about possible uses for the diving pool, including turning it into a concert space. Benepe was receptive to the idea, although he preferred a proposal to refurbish the facility and reopen it as a diving pool once again. Benepe hopes eventually to reopen at least one diving pool in each borough.
The two agreed to maintain discussions about possible uses for the pool space and to develop a plan for its future, which will entail finding funding for the project from various public and private sources.
"I used this pool when I was a kid, and I want my kids and their kids to be able to use it as well, whether for swimming, diving or listening to great music," Vallone said. "As space in this city grows tighter, we need to come up with creative solutions to provide recreational space, and this diving pool could once again be a great asset to our community."
The Astoria Park swimming complex is one of the largest and most popular swimming facilities in the country. Both main pool and diving pool meet Olympic standards, and there's a wading pool for smaller children as well. The main pool, the largest in New York City, measures 330 by 165 feet and was designed to accommodate 3,000 swimmers.
Robert Moses, the city's first parks commissioner and an avid swimmer himself, recognized the importance of aquatic recreation and launched a campaign to open 11 new pools throughout the city during the summer of 1936. The labor and construction came from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), whose administrator, Harry Hopkins, described the pool in Queens as, "The finest in the world". Astoria Pool was a model for the other 10 pools. It has been said that Moses intended it to be the grandest of the new pools because it had the best view of the Triborough Bridge, which was completed in the same year.
Perhaps the most exciting events in the history of Astoria Pool were the Olympic Trials for the United States Swim and Diving Teams. The pool's grand opening was July 4, 1936, and it was on this day that the finals of the Olympic swim tryouts began. The contest returned to Astoria in 1964. The two fountains located on the east end of the pool served as Olympic torches which burned throughout the events in 1936 and 1964.