West Seattle Memories Part 3: West Seattle Pools

  • By Alyssa Burrows
  • Posted 8/22/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3494
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This file contains recollections of swimming in West Seattle at the Lincoln Park pool and at the Alki Natatorium. Gertrude Stevens recounts how she learned to swim, Ada Hallberg talks about swimming in the bay versus the pools, and Bob Hallberg actually lived in the Natatorium caretaker's apartment as a young man. JonLee Joseph conducted these interviews in 1999 for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society.

Learning to Swim by Gertrude Stevens

"We had the pool at Lincoln Park which was nothing more than a mud hole. We had lesson in, if the tide was in, because otherwise we didn't have any water in the shallow end. So being beginners, we had to have some water. We would get our patches after we would pass "dog paddle." When we would take our lesson, we would all line up on the edge of the water and be out a little over knee deep and put our hands down on the ground and let our feet float out and kick like mad which made it muddier than ever. You couldn't see you hands, you didn't know where they were. But I learned to "dog paddle" and keep afloat and that was about it.

"I took a few lessons at the Luna Park pool after I learned to dog paddle at Lincoln Park. The instructor said, 'Now all of you that know how to swim, come over here and line up.' I figured I knew how to swim, I had the badge that said 'dog paddle,' so I went out there. We had to get in a line and march out on the diving board. I don't know what we did with our hands, but we jumped in feet first.

"It was the deep end of the pool and it was so black and deep. I was just cringing, but I did whatever I was told. We were learning the 'Kangaroo Dive.' I don't know how it pertains to a kangaroo, but I do know that's what it was called. He didn't tell us to kick to come up, so I just came up like a poker and about that time someone else jumped in and landed on my head. Down I went again. I came up eventually and I'm here.

"I absolutely had no love for that end of the pool."

Swimming in Elliott Bay by Ada Hallberg

"I used to go to the Alki Natatorium because my sister worked there. My mother didn't like me to swim there because polio was still rampant when I was a youngster, and one of the places that you got that was swimming pools.

"Besides, I was taught to swim in the bay. I liked the Sound. There were wonderful lifeguards down there. They taught us to swim; they taught us to do lifesaving; and they were really nice young men who were working their way through college. There was always a lifeguard in a boat and one in the tower. A lot of my friends and I used to swim all day long in the summer."

Living at the Natatorium by Bob Hallberg

Everybody in Alki was half provoked at the Parks Department for letting the Natatorium run down. The Park Department made some sort of excuse -- 'Well, we can't afford a caretaker.' My father was an officer in the Community Club and he said, 'You can rent the apartment. That way you'll make some income and you will have caretakers.' In order to keep the citizens placated, the city said, 'Well, if you find a good citizen.' My dad stepped up and said, 'I'd be glad to move in there.'

"The rent was right, it was $32 a month, same as we were paying up the street. For an apartment today to live out over the water, it would cost two or three thousand dollars. It wasn't so bad when we moved in, but a few years later, the windows started getting broken and it fell into disrepair and the city just wouldn't spend any more money on it.

"It could have been a grand facility. The apartment had the most garish bathroom you could conceive of. It was a purple tiled bathroom, lavenders, purples, plums, whatever you can think of. My mother despaired of ever finding curtains or anything else to make it a little less gaudy. It had two good sized bedrooms. The bedroom that my brother and I slept in was quite large -- at least 20 x 30 feet. Then there was this great big living room. It was 30 feet long with a spectacular view window wrapped all around this. You just sat there with the water lapping underneath.

"As a matter of fact, it wasn't the most comfortable place to stay in the winter because logs would get in there underneath the piling and bang back and forth against those pilings. My dad was a small man, not really an outdoor man, so my brother and I would be awakened and we would be encouraged to go down and push those logs out. It's a good thing we were never crushed under there. I don't know how we did it.

"I can remember getting up in the dark of night, maybe midnight or maybe one or two in the morning, if the tide was in there and there was a big log just rolling up against the pilings. The logs would work themselves in between the pilings and it would take a lot of pushing to work them out and send them on their way down the beach.

"Then we'd go back in where mom had hot cocoa to warm us up because it was cold."

To go to Part 4, click "Next Feature"


JonLee Joseph Interview of Gertrude Stevens, Ada Hallberg, and Bob Hallberg, 1999. Oral History project conducted by the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. Transcript excerpts of these interviews were used in two Memory Book projects: West Seattle Memories: Alki (Seattle: Southwest Seattle Historical Society, 1999) and Memories of Southwest Seattle Businesses (Seattle: Southwest Seattle Historical Society, 1999); Excerpts are also available on a video produced by Valerie Vazza, BJ Bullert, and Sadis and Vaughn. All can be seen at the Log House Museum, 3003 61st Avenue SW, Seattle, WA 98116. See Log House Museum in HistoryLink Museum Library, (www.historylink.org).

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