You Must Remember This: Opting for a community pool in Newport

By NANCY GARDNER

When I was little I thought a swimming pool was about the neatest thing imaginable. I learned to swim in the bay, body surf in the ocean.  I was in salt water every summer day, so that was the ho hum norm, but a swimming pool? This thing with clear, WARM water? What a treat – and what a rarity. This was before the city began to expand its physical footprint, so it was still mostly 30-foot lots – hard to squeeze a pool and a house onto a lot that size. The only individual I remember with a pool of his very own in those early years was Alex Oser who had bought a couple of adjoining lots on Lido Isle so he had room for one. The Bay Club had a nice pool, but it was a private club so we only got to visit once in a while. As for public pools, there were none. This scarcity made pools even more special. On a family jaunt to Salt Lake City when asked if I wanted to swim in the Great Salt Lake – a potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience – or the municipal pool, I didn’t have to think once about it. Pool, please, and that was true in any of our travels. If a pool was involved I was all in.

The existence of a pool made going to Harbor High that much more special. The fact that it was only a few feet deep? It was a pool.  What did it matter? I was so enthusiastic I went out for the swim team and represented the Tars in the sidestroke. Why we included the sidestroke as an event I have no idea. Why I was swimming it? I was told my freestyle was too ugly. So what exactly does FREEstyle mean? Never mind.

My love affair with pools continued in college where I swam for both UCLA and USC. Lest anyone think, “Oh, wow, a college swimmer,” in those pre-Title IX days, there was no real swim program for women, so if you showed up you made the team. After college, I maintained my love affair with pools. I continued to swim through various moves, and I anticipated continuing to swim once we came back to Newport, but there was a problem. There was and is no municipal pool. Public access has had to be negotiated at one of the high school pools, where it has to be crammed in around all the student programs. The hours are limited and not that convenient.  Currently, for example, you can swim from 6-9 p.m. at CdM High. Six o’clock is the time to have a glass of wine, not dive in and do laps, at least in my mind, and in the late Evelyn Hart’s mind as well. She felt it was absurd that residents of a community like Newport Beach had to beg for a little swim time from the school district. Our residents deserved a community pool, she insisted, and she pushed for one for years. Now if you knew Evelyn, you knew never to bet against her.  She was ever-so charming – and ever-so relentless which allowed her to accomplish a great many things, but the pool? One of her rare failures.

However, I bet she’s smiling right now. Mayor Pro Tem Stapleton is picking up the banner, proposing that we build a 50-meter by 25-yard community pool, along with smaller pools for instruction and children. Location was always one of Evelyn’s hurdles, but Joe may have solved it, proposing the swim complex be built at Lower Castaways. As for financing, he proposes the public/private model which has been successful with the Junior Lifeguard headquarters and the library lecture hall.

Lower Castaways has seen a number of proposals over the years, none of which have gained traction. Will this one be different? Can Joe succeed where Evelyn failed? Well, Evelyn was never one to quit, and I don’t think a simple thing like departing this earth would change her mind about the pool. I can see her up there, smiling her irresistible smile as she makes “just a small request” of the big guy, and with a guardian angel like that how can Joe not succeed?

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Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, long-time resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.


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