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New York’s WPA Pools, Places that Matter

astoria pool queens

This week’s heat wave is sending New Yorkers all across the city in search of relief. Seventy years ago, residents faced much the same dilemma when a punishing heat wave gripped the city in the summer of 1936. Fortunately for New Yorkers then and now, 1936 was also the year that Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses opened eleven monumental pools across the five boroughs.

That summer, LaGuardia went from borough to borough, presiding over the grand opening of each pool: four in Manhattan, one each in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, and four in Brooklyn. With each ribbon cutting, LaGuardia famously switched on the underwater lights and boomed, “Okay kids, it’s all yours!”

Built with money from the Works Progress Administration, the pools were a great feat of engineering, architectural design, and urban planning and over the years have been the setting for everything from amateur wading to Olympic competition. But the city has been true to LaGuardia’s words and to this day, the pools are free and open to the public. With a total capacity of 43,000 people, they are a place where all New Yorkers can go to catch a free swimming lesson and a glimpse of New York City’s history.