In this photo, ground is being excavated in 1923 for a new swimming pool — called a “plunge” — at Brookside Park to replace the original.
In 1912 the City of Pasadena purchased 30 acres of land known as Sheep Corral Springs for the development of a park in the Arroyo Seco. For many years sheep had grazed in that area.
While the park was being planned and constructed, it was known as Arroyo Springs Park.
Then in 1914 Mrs. Everett Wellington Brooks, the wife of a local investment banker, donated $3,000 to build a municipal swimming pool on a portion of the land. The park was dedicated in her honor (hence “Brookside”) and the plunge was added later that same year.
Here’s a photo of the plunge, shot in 1917:
And this from 1938:
On Monday morning of this week, I was in the company of a few other local female bloggers*, all seated at the same table at the YWCA Women for Racial Justice breakfast.
As the keynote speaker, Dr. Joy DeGruy, explained, “Healing must occur on multiple levels because the injury occurred on multiple levels. We begin by simply telling the truth.”
Many Pasadenans know the uncomfortable racial history of the Brookside plunge, but for those who don’t, I offer this brief description.
It was a different time in Pasadena and throughout the nation, and segregation was common.
Soon after the plunge was completed, city officials announced that it would be “set aside Wednesday afternoons and evenings for the use of the Negro population of Pasadena.”
By 1930 use of the pool by people of color — by now including residents of Hispanic and Asian descent — was limited to one weekday from 2 to 5 p.m. The weekly event was dubbed “International Day.” No white people were permitted to swim on that day. The pool was drained and cleaned at the end of each International Day and by the following morning there was fresh water in it.
From the book “Memoirs of Toshi Ito”:
My homeroom class decided to have a graduation swim party and picnic at Brookside Park in Pasadena. Parents of our classmates and our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Hanna Yoeman, drove us to Brookside Park. We had a wonderful picnic lunch and played some games to pass the time because it was not good for you to go in the water right after eating a meal. We all lined up to pay the plunge fee and rent a towel. When Motomu Nagasako, a Japanese American, got up to the window to pay he was told Orientals were not allowed to use the plunge. There were five Japanese Americans in my homeroom class. He had the embarrassing task to tell us we were excluded. We all glumly sat on the lawn watching the others frolicking in the swimming poool and wishing the afternoon would end and we could all go home. It was my first encounter with being excluded.
On June 17, 1939, with the support of the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP, six African American men, who continually had no right to use the plunge except for the weekly International Day, filed a lawsuit against the Pasadena Board of City Directors, the city manager and the superientendent of Pasadena parks.
Part of their legal argument was that they were tax-paying Pasadena property owners who therefore had helped fund the construction and maintenance of the plunge and should have had the right to use it on the same days as white residents.
On Jan. 3, 1940, the court ruled in favor of the City of Pasadena. The NAACP immediately appealed and won the case, after which the city petitioned the California Supreme Court. The court denied the petition.
This was great news for people of color in Pasadena, but the timing was poor. World War II was in full swing, and emergency housing for soldiers returning from European battlefields was constructed at Brookside Park. The pool was closed and exclusive use of the showers and restrooms was given to the veterans.
In February 1947, after the war was over and the housing shortage had ended, the Board of Pasadena City Directors authorized $10,000 for rehabilitation of the plunge.
The pool reopened to the public on June 7, 1947 and — 33 years after the original plunge opened — was finally accessible to all swimmers in Pasadena, regardless of their race.
In 1989 the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center opened on the site, funded with $4.5 million from the City of Pasadena and $2 million in private donations.
From water aerobics and recreational swimming to water polo and diving teams, the RBAC is open to all and is a very popular with swimmers of all ages. If you’re interested in swimming, diving, water polo, water aerobics, warm-pool therapy, swimming lessons, competition and more, check out the RBAC next time you’re in the neighborhood. It’s at the far southwest end of Brookside Park at 360 N. Arroyo Blvd.