2016-08-31 / Editorials

Save Astoria Park’s Historic Diving Pool

BY KATHLEEN K. SPRINGER

Hundreds of Astoria residents are petitioning to save and restore the historic, Art Deco style diving pool in Astoria Park, for the purpose of diving as it was was used for decades by generations of Astoria residents and other New Yorkers. It has a historic legacy as it was used during the 1936, 1952 and 1964 Summer Olympic trials which led to the synchronized platform diving athletes and springboard diving athletes selected in Astoria Pool to compete in the Olympics Games in Berlin, Helsinki, and Tokyo; winning gold, silver and bronze medals for the USA and sweeping the diving competitions.

Film star Johnny Weismuller, an Olympic champion used the diving boards to practice his high diving for his famed Tarzan movies. Yankees legend and Astoria resident Whitey Ford also used the diving and swimming pools, as did other famous personalities who were Astoria residents. In Rio this year, sadly the USA fell behind to China, winning only one silver medal for the men’s diving team.

Although the diving platform was landmarked in 2006, the pool was not. A group of well-meaning individuals submitted plans to cement up the swimming pool permanently to be used as an amphitheater to the dismay of hundreds of long-time residents and visitors to Astoria pool who strongly object to the proposed transformation.

We want the diving pool to be restored and used for diving, and not to be forever corrupted or re-purposed. Why should parents have to take the subway into Manhattan or Bayside to affordably have their children learn to dive in the only three remaining public diving pools when we have the best diving pool in the state right here in Astoria Park? The regular diving boards could be used daily and could be used for scuba diving certifications and training. The more experienced divers could use the high diving for competitions and performances, as it was meant to be an aquatic theater. We have many outdoor performance spaces throughout the boroughs but very few diving pools.

Destroying this beautiful pool and spending millions of tax dollars to do so for an even shorter seasonal outdoor theater is ridiculous and criminal when in fact it is a swimming theater.

The diving pool was popular and thrived up until about 1980 when, due to budget cuts across the city, Astoria diving pool and many of the diving pools were sacrificed.

On this 80th anniversary of the pool’s opening in 1936, many newcomers and local politicians who do not know the historical significance of the crowing jewel of Robert Moses’ legacy (an avid swimming and diving enthusiast himself, Moses envisioned New Yorkers would have the opportunity to use the diving facilities and become Olympians) will be treated to historic vintage photos of the diving and swimming facilities which are resurfacing and being submitted to the Greater Astoria Historical Society on Broadway, and will soon be on display. These photos should be framed and hanging in the park station and pavilions in Astoria Park.

As children growing up in the Marine Terrace Garden apartments, many of us would not have been able to afford private lessons, nor have the means to travel outside the area to learn how to dive or ever have an opportunity to be Olympic champions if it weren’t for the Astoria Park Pools with breathtaking views of the East River and RFK Triborough and Hell Gate Bridges connecting the entire city.

Obviously Mayor Bloomberg felt the benefits outweighed the liabilities when he initially chose Astoria Pools when bidding, as the site for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The original funding came from the President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal and Public Works Program, built in the same Art Deco period as the Empire State Building and Chrysler building after the Depression, creating jobs and recreational space for our use and enjoyment.

In light of the $30 million that Mayor de Blasio so generously gave to Astoria Park as one of the five anchor parks, let us use the money for a rebirth and not a funeral of a pool, especially as the New York Daily News reported that attendance is up in all the pools, especially Astoria pool (m.nydailynews.com/newyork/attendance-city-pools-beaches-year-article-1.235901).

For all those who support this effort to save the diving pool, please sign the petition at www.change.org/p/mitchel-silver-restore-the-historic-diving-pool-in-asto... 1936-52-64-olympic-trials. It is also imperative that you contact your City Councilman, Borough President, Mayor and attend the community meetings deciding how to spend this money in the park, or contact me at 917-686- 5299 or on Facebook at Save and Restore Astoria’s Historic Diving Pool....

...The two covered dining platforms on either side of the food concession have giant Olympic torches which spout out 25-foot streams of water into the air and are still working! This community is the bearer of the torches that light up this magnificent swimming theater and we should pass the torches on to future generations, enabling Astoria to enter on the world’s stage and compete in the Olympic Games because of this diving pool. It will be the crime of the century if it is not saved and restored.

As the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis stated when she joined with others to save Grand Central Station from the wrecking ball, “…is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud moments, until there is nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short-term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters…”

We’ve all heard that it’s too late, or that it has to happen, that it’s inevitable. But I don’t think that’s true. Because I think if there is a great effort, even if it’s the 11th hour, then we can succeed.

For pictures related to this Op-ed see page 22.

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