Sunday, May 29, 2011
The Crystal Swim Club
I am remembering a time when I counted down the days until the end of the school year...when I would have what seemed like a life-time away from chalk boards, hardwood floors and school bells.
Three whole months of sleeping in and spending most of my time outside instead of cooped up in some hot classroom feeling like some teacher was out to get me every day. It did seem that way to me during my early school years and at times I think I believed that every teacher I ever had chose to become one just to screw with me.
Being expected to learn new things every day didn't make a lot of sense to me then and because I found it all very difficult to understand I was sure of it. So every year in late May I could almost smell the chlorine wafting from the waters that would soon fill two giant swimming pools at the Crystal Swimming Pool.
In the early 1960s it was customary for kids like me to save money year round for the opportunity to purchase a season membership to the Crystal, a pool in South Columbus located on the corner of Champion Avenue and Markison Avenue. I remember saving change in a jar and occasionally dumping it across my bed and counting it and the euphoria I felt knowing that when the tickets went on sale I would have enough to buy one. That was probably the first lesson my parents taught me in working and saving for what was important.
If I remember correctly the season "ticket" cost around ten dollars and a member could take along a pal who was a non member who would be allowed in for fifty cents provided that pal was a white person. (I'll get to that in a moment.)
And even though the facility has long been gone I can still recall vividly the lay of the land within its fenced off boundaries. Upon arrival following a two mile walk from our home a member would enter on the Champion Avenue side of it and show their ticket to an employee who sat at a window just inside the main entrance. Then proceeding directly to a changing room where street clothing would be placed in metal baskets and handed to a guy at a counter who would give you a coin shaped object with a number on it to track your property for retrieval at the end of the day.
After changing into swimming trunks and exiting that room you saw what we called the big pool with depths ranging from around three feet at the shallow end to nine at the deep end where there were two diving boards. One just a few feet above the water and a second high dive for bolder swimmers.
Next to that was a smaller pool that we called the new pool and was one that was only five feet deep and usually used more by older members. Near the larger pool was a snack bar that sold potato chips, sodas and candy products and beside it was a small basketball court and a slab of concrete with one wall where some played handball. And scattered around the grassy areas were several multi-colored triangular wooden objects we called dog houses.
They were perfect for sun bathers to sit on a towel on the ground with their backs against it and they served as mini retreats, like camp-sites anytime the life guards would blow the whistles to signal rest periods, usually lasting ten minutes when all swimmers were required to get out of the larger pool. Adults were allowed to remain in the smaller pool during rest periods and I remember thinking during those times as I did often that I wished I were older.
It was a time in life when the idea of ever becoming an adult and having that and other privileges seemed hundreds of years in the future. A time when being a kid was something many of us thought would never end. A time when us boys were surrounded by barely clothed females young and old who probably looked great in their bathing suits but when some of us younger ones only noticed their tan lines if a strap or a string wasn't tight.
Those of us who remember swimming at the Crystal also remember that it was a private club that operated before there were laws forbidding discrimination based on a person's race. It was a cooling spot for white people only.
However, following the civil rights movement of the mid 1960s it became illegal for businesses and private clubs to exclude people because of their race and instead of changing with the times and permitting non-whites entry into the Crystal Swim Club the owners elected to shut it down. The pools were filled with ashes and discarded debris trucked in from nearby Buckeye Steel Castings Company... like filling them with the cremated remains of a disappearing era.
For a number of years the location was operated by another organization as a private club but one without any sign of what it had been. The earth where those pools once were showed signs of discoloration from what was beneath it and the outlines of where they were was visible for several years but if one didn't know the history of the spot they probably wouldn't have known what it was.
The old chain link fence with barbed wire topping it that kept people out still stood rusting and crumbling and the concrete slabs where people used to play basketball and handball were still there, cracked and deteriorating with weeds taking over them.
But in recent years they too have disappeared and today there is no sign that any of it was ever there.
The deep end of the bigger pool where those diving boards were is now some one's backyard and the spot where the main entrance was is now some one's front door. On a recent visit there I could not help but see the irony... those homes are occupied by persons of color. Living in and probably owning the land where they were once forbidden to visit.
For a better look go back and click on the picture to enlarge it. The taller home in the center of the picture stands where the entrance to the Crystal Swim Club was. Everything shown here sits on top of what was a great deal of my childhood from about 1961 until 1965.