Tuesday, July 5, 2011

San Pedro: Gaffey Street Pool

Photo from Flickr
Gaffey street pool in San Pedro is tucked away on the hillside along Gaffey near 34th street.  I started going to this pool with my older brothers back in the early to mid 90s. My brothers would go every day in the summer and come home baked from the sun rays. When I got a little older I started going with them. To get into the pool area you literally had to go up some broken wooden stairs on the side of the hill? Once past the deadly stairs a short walk though overgrown grass leaded you into the decaying pool facility. 
Gaffey Pool was also the place where I first learned to swim.  My brother started showing me in the shallow area and I caught on pretty quick. He also threw me in a few times which was not that funny to me! Gaffey pool was really blue and beautiful compared to the other local pools. The funny thing was that no matter how hot the day was there was always a cold breeze where the pool was located because of the ocean nearby. I remember it cost 50 cents to go in and the attendant gave you a netted bag and a pin to put your stuff away. 
 Unfortunately they shut down the pool in 1997 because it was in dire need of repairs. It was not the end of the pool anyhow, because years later vandals would start using the pool as a graffiti yard. It became a film location as well for tv shows such as, Cold Case. 
I loved Gaffey pool when I was a kid but I also appreciated it when it was abandoned. There has been no word on restoration, I called the department of recreation to find out but no response yet. It would actually be nice if it was restored to its original status. However, I am glad that my brothers and I enjoyed the last of the pool's history.
 Here is an article on the rich history of the pool. 

SP military historians, community plunge into effort to restore pool It seems like everyone wants to save the Gaffey Street Pool. Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA) - Monday, April 24, 2000 Author: Donna Littlejohn

Longtime San Pedro residents love to reminisce about the sun-drenched summers they spent splashing in the aqua, blue-tile pool with an ocean view. 
For local military historians, the pool in Angels Gate Park represents a priceless treasure from World War II. 
But despite the pool 's many fans, bringing it back as a Los Angeles city community pool won't be easy. 
Facing up to $1 million in repairs, supporters of a movement to restore the historic pool and reopen it to the public acknowledge it's an uphill climb. 
"With its potential for public use and its historic value, this could all be neatly wound into one very cool community project," said Steve Nelson, director of the Fort MacArthur Military Museum. "Everybody who comes and looks at it says what a great idea, but there's no `sugar daddy' yet." 
The pool , drained in 1997 when repairs were deemed too costly by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, sits empty , beneath the cover of trees in the park. 
"The pool has historic significance and the community really misses using it," said Phil Orland, Harbor District supervisor for the Department of Recreation and Parks Pacific Region. "But it's very costly, and we've been waiting for some type of budget to rebuild the bathhouses. We've been waiting and waiting." 
Asbestos removal from the changing room bathhouses, and making the pool handicapped accessible complicate the prospects of rehabilitation. 
So for now, the pool remains unused -- except by vandals who chip away at its historic tiles and apparently warm themselves with bonfires at the bottom of the 10-foot deep section. 
Graffiti mars one end of the Olympic-size pool . 
An old stairway leading from Gaffey Street up to the pool recently was removed because it was unsafe. 
Toni O'Donnell, city pool manager at Banning Pool in Wilmington, began her aquatics career as a junior lifeguard at Gaffey Street Pool at 3351 S. Gaffey St. in the 1970s. 
"I've always thought that was the most beautiful pool the city has," O'Donnell said. "I love that pool . It's a pet project of mine." 
Nelson's interest in the pool is historical. While he acknowledges it could take years, he's launched a move to bring it back to its former glory. 
The former World War II Army base pool was opened on June 12, 1943, and is part of the military history of Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. 
In the 1950s, it was transferred to the city of Los Angeles, serving generations of residents as a community pool . 
"This was one of the premiere pools in Los Angeles," Nelson said. 
Slowly, he's piecing together the history of the pool that was built with funds raised from an Army road show -- "Hey, Rookie!" starring red-haired actor Sterling Holloway, who at the time was stationed at Fort MacArthur. 
Written as a morale-booster for the troops, "Hey, Rookie!" -- an army parody -- was featured in local performances at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles and the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium (April 28 and 29, 1942). 
"We had all original music," said Ralph Fetherolf, 82, of Hesperia, who played clarinet with the show's band. "There was a lot of comedy and a lot of parody, but there was some serious music, too." 
The original cast billed itself as "The Yardbird Club" and began as a mobile entertainment troupe along the West Coast. 
"Troops were stationed all along there, from Huntington Beach to Malibu, and they were not allowed to wander around," Fetherolf said. "So we went around and played shows for them and that evolved into the show they called `Hey, Rookie!' " 
After an eight-month stint playing to packed houses at the Belasco Theater and other local spots, the entertainers traveled abroad for two years, putting the show on for troops in North Africa, India and Italy where some members of the cast came under enemy fire. 
"I think we entertained more troops than any other one group during World War II," Fetherolf said, noting that audiences in North Africa sometimes swelled to 11,000. 
The road show raised $250,000, which was used to build the Gaffey Street Pool and a second pool that still serves military personnel on Fort MacArthur's lower reservation -- named Hey, Rookie Pool No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. 
If the pool is restored, Nelson would like to see the changing rooms preserved as much as possible. 
Among his ideas is recreating the "Hey, Rookie!" production as a fund-raiser. 
Through contacts with former "Hey, Rookie" band members like Fetherolf and Andrew Ilnicki, 85, of Lawndale, Nelson has managed to collect the sheet music and several programs with photographs from the show. 
Holloway, who went on to play on "The Life of Riley" television show from 1953-58 and appeared in numerous other stage, film and television productions, died in 1992 at age 87. 
While he doesn't have a script or film of the show, Nelson does have the 78rpm record albums containing all the show's musical numbers with titles like "It's Great To Be in a Uniform" and "I Met a WAC From Hackensack." 
A 16mm color movie was made of one of the performances at the Belasco Theater, Fetherolf said, but he doesn't know where it is. He said Columbia studios bought the rights to the story and believes a motion picture was eventually made. 
The play was viewed by Gens. George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower, who gave it an award. 
"People who saw the show back then loved it," Nelson said. "Would it work today? I don't know. It was a simpler time and humor wasn't as sophisticated." 
Nelson, who still has the pool 's 1943 dedication plaque at the military museum in Angels Gate Park, hopes someday it will be preserved along with other remaining structures on the old army base as a historic site for future generations. 
"A hundred years from now, if this is all still intact, what an absolute gold mine," he said. Anyone with information or memorabilia of the "Hey, Rookie!" production or of the Gaffey Street Pool during World War II can call Steve Nelson at 310-548-2631.Caption: 1, The once popular Gaffey Street Pool at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro has been dry since 1997. Restoration of the pool would cost an estimated $1 million. Steve Nelson director of the Fort MacArthur Military Museum, hopes to restore the pool to its former glory. 
I was not able to locate any photos of the pool back in the days and for sure we never owned a camera. If anybody has any memories or photos I would appreciate seeing them. 
I think I wrote this because it is really hot today!




Suzzi Doke said...

I too swam at the Gaffey Street Pool in the mid 50's to around 1961 when we moved to Lomita, CA. I loved Gaffey Street Pool.What a great time to be a kid. I hope it gets restored. It has so much history that happened there and in the surrounding area. It was part of the best times of my childhood.It was nice to find your blog about it.

Doña Junta said...

Thank you for sharing! I am sure it was so much more amazing back in those days, kids appreciated stuff like that.I would have loved to seen pix from that time. I hope they can restore it one day for the new generation.