Last chance for a swim? Ft Worth’s Forest Park Pool To be demolished, replaced
As word seeped out over the summer that Forest Park’s historic Olympic-length pool was slated for demolition, a wave of nostalgia engulfed swimmers who cherish memories of sunrise workouts and sunset swims; dive-in movies and poolside concerts; statewide swim meets; and a teen named Dana Vollmer, a future Olympian, who practiced four-and-a-half hours a day while wild animals roared at the zoo across the road.
Under the city’s 2022 bond proposal, the Forest Park Pool—the region’s only public, outdoor, 50-meter pool—will be replaced with a four-lane, 23-meter lap pool, a water slide, and a wading pool with a splash pad in the middle.
It won’t be the same.
Nestled in a wooded hollow below the 2800 block of Forest Park Blvd., the 4.4-acre site was heralded as a recreational oasis when the city’s first public pool opened there June 17, 1922. Mayor E.R. Cockrell’s opening-day greeting ended with the word “Go,” the signal for 250 kids in bathing suits to splash into the circular pool and race toward the center island.
Described as a “giant saucer,” the original pool was 250 feet in diameter with a beach entry that reached a depth of eight feet at the center. A platform in the middle had diving boards, a waterslide, a flagpole resembling a ship’s mast, and a fountain that sprayed water 75 feet. At night, colored lights sparkled under the spray. Attendance in the 1920s exceeded 1,000 a day. Admission fees (15 to 20 cents per person) covered maintenance costs and helped pay off banknotes for the $60,000 complex.
Park Superintendent George C. Clarke dubbed the pool the “Fort Worth Plunge” and declared it “one of the most modern and sanitary in the south.” The pool held 1.9 million gallons yet had no filtration system. To kill algae and bacteria, the maintenance staff relied on sunlight and water circulation. A three-inch stream flowed in one side of the pool and out the other. Every two weeks, a 12-inch drain was unplugged, and the empty pool scrubbed with copper sulphate “to control growth of larva and moss.” According to front-page stories in the Star-Telegram, it took eight hours to drain the pool and 24 hours to refill it. A bonus was the harvest of lost wristwatches, earrings and class rings recovered from the bottom.
The transition in 1967 to a $120,000, 50-meter pool with a chlorinated filtration system came a year before the summer Olympics in Mexico City. USA Swimming dominated at those games, leading to more demand for lap lanes at home. The city met the need with free competitive- swimming and diving programs. Forest Park hosted the Texas Age Group Swimming championships, recalled Carol Jackson Standerfer, who spent summers at Forest Park and competed on the University of Texas swim team in the 1970s.
The redesigned pool, with eight wide lanes and two diving boards, opened in an era when the city had 10 municipal pools—compared with two this summer. The public pools were at Forest Park, Kellis Park, Marine Creek Park, Meadowbrook, Sycamore, Sylvania, Lake Como, Bunche, Hillside Park, and Lincoln Park. The latter four were for Blacks only.
Until the early 1970s, Fort Worth’s swimming pools were segregated—except on Juneteenth when Forest Park opened to Black swimmers, and the staff drained the pool the following day. As city schools gradually integrated in the early 1970s, so did the pools, said Ella Burton, who coached kids at Lake Como and is an assistant at the Como Community Center. (In later years, van loads of kids from Como were welcomed at Forest Park for recreational swimming, diving lessons and drowning-prevention classes.)
The heyday of swimming in Fort Worth lasted until the 1980s when budget constraints led the city to shut most public pools. Neighborhood swimming pools, some dating from 1926, were deemed too costly to operate or update. The Lake Como Pool, constructed in 1957, closed in 1982. Twelve years later, it reopened due to a grassroots effort and fundraising from the neighborhood, said Michelle Allen, a Como volunteer who remembers her father “buying bricks” to assist with maintenance costs.
Several other pools reopened, though on borrowed time. At the end of the 2009 swim season, the city closed Como and five other pools, leaving only Forest Park to cool kids off. One year later, in August of 2010, the liner at the Forest Pool detached, forcing the pool’s abrupt closing two weeks before Labor Day.
For swimmers, the next two years brought a veritable drought.
The election of Mayor Betsy Price in 2011 gave swimmers an advocate at City Hall. The mayor, who had learned to swim at Forest Park, had the drive and the moxie to pull together a $600,000 public-private partnership that reopened the pool in 2013. “It’s probably not a money loser,” she said, “because it keeps kids off the streets.”
The TCU swim team, among others, rented the pool for morning workouts. The Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition used it as a primary training site for water safety lessons for hundreds of youngsters. Nonetheless, it was a short-term fix, for, in the words of the bond proposal, the pool’s pipes and machinery are “obsolete.”