Photo: Frank da Cruz, 17 September 2019.
Located in Manhattan at Amsterdam Avenue and West 173rd Street, the
Highbridge Park Pool and Play Center
opened on July 14, 1936. It
was one of 11 monumental Parks Department pool / bathhouse / recreation
center complexes built in New York City by the WPA that year. Highbridge
featured an attractive Art Moderne brick bathhouse with a capacity of almost
five thousand. The supervising architect was Aymar Embury II
and the landscape architect was Gilmore Clarke. The Play Center was
designated a New York City landmark in 2007. The original murals by WPA
artist Charles Clarke were covered up or destroyed in the 1960s.
- NYC Parks Dept press release of
July 13, 1936:
"The new Highbridge Swimming Pool, located at 175th Street and Amsterdam
Avenue in Highbridge Park, Manhattan, will be formally dedicated and opened
to the public on Tuesday, July 14 that 8:30 P.M. Mayor LaGuardia, Park
Commissioner Robert Moses (and others) will speak. The program also
will include swimming and diving exhibitions by former swimming and diving
champions now employed by the Park Department. The Highbridge Pool is the
fifth of eleven swimming pools constructed by the Park Department with
W.P.A. funds which will be opened during the summer and will accommodate
4880 persons at a time. The area includes a swimming pool 166 feet x 228
feet with a wading pool 97 feet x 228 feet."
- Public Swimming Facilities in New York City, NYC Parks Dept press release of
July 23, 1934: Announces the plan to build 23 swimming pools, including
one on the site of Highbridge Reservoir. "The only resources at our command
for constructing these pools are relief funds. These resources are
inadequate to begin work on all of the pools at the same time. We have,
therefore, concluded to begin work immediately on the following pools:
Manhattan: Highbridge Reservoir at 173d St. & Amsterdam Ave" (and 8
more); 11 pools were built and opened in 1936.
- Soll, David,
of Water - An Environmental History of the New
York City Water Supply, Cornell University Press (2013), which goes on
to say "... The pool's grandeur derived largely from its unique setting.
Swimmers gazed out at the stately water tower hovering just outside the pool
grounds. After swimming they could amble over to the landscaped promenade
near the tower's base, from which they enjoyed stunning views of the High
Bridge and the Harlem River Valley ... The pool was carved from the
foundations of the Highbridge Reservoir, which was taken out of service ...
in the 1890s ... Virtually overnight, Highbridge became a treasured
neighborhood resource and one of the most popular pools in the city."
Play Center, Landmarks Preservation Commission, August 14, 2008, Robert
B. Tierney, Chair, Designation List 395 LP-2237: "The Highbridge Play Center
is one of a group of eleven immense outdoor swimming pools opened in the
summer of 1936 in a series of grand ceremonies presided over by Mayor
Fiorello LaGuardia and Park Commissioner Robert Moses. All of the pools
were constructed largely with funding provided by the Works Progress
Administration (WPA), one of many New Deal agencies created in the 1930s to
address the Great Depression ... The unusual prominence of the ashlar
construction [that was used for the Water Tower] is a distinguishing feature
of the Highbridge Play center design. It is utilized for long stretches of
the retaining wall extending along Amsterdam Avenue, the tall podium which
forms a monumental base for the main entryway, and for the flanking dogleg
approach stairways. Perhaps inspired by the construction materials employed
for the water tower, and possibly incorporating some preexisting ashlar wall
construction, the double stairways provide a ceremonial pathway up to the
main entrance. The curved slightly projecting portico section of the entry
is distinguished by two large fluted cast-concrete piers which, together
with the massive flanking brick piers, carry a tall concrete architrave.
The portico is offset and framed by the cubic shapes of the entry block and
courtyard rising behind it. Together with the other WPA-era park
improvements, the Highbridge Play Center complex was clearly a major
achievement of the New Deal in New York City ... The construction and
renovation of neighborhood recreation areas, such as pools and play grounds,
were some of the most ambitious and successful programs undertaken by Moses
with funds largely provided by the WPA ... Since its opening, the completed
Highbridge Play Center has been considered one of the great WPA Art Moderne
structures of the Depression era in New York. Featuring compulsory
footbaths and one of the most advanced water filtrations systems of its
time, the Highbridge Play Center was also considered the pinnacle of
- ibid., p.2: "The team of designers, landscape architects and
engineers assembled to execute the new pool complexes, in addition to
hundreds of other construction and rehabilitation projects undertaken
between 1934 and 1936 by New York's newly consolidated Parks Department, was
comprised largely of staff members and consultants who had earlier worked
for Moses at other governmental agencies, including architect Aymar
Embury II, landscape architects Gilmore D. Clarke and Allyn
R. Jennings, and civil engineers W. Earle Andrews and William H. Latham."
- ibid., p.8: "The Highbridge Pool bathhouse has undergone several
renovations starting in the 1960s. At that time, the bath pavilion was
redesigned and the original murals in the main lobby by artist Charles
Clarke were either covered up or destroyed during renovation."
- New historical marker
acknowledging the WPA installed by Parks Department in March 2022.