When my parents bought their house in the summer of 1965 it came with a ten foot deep in-ground swimming pool. They didn't realize it at the time, but it was just a hole in which to throw money. For the first decade it was lovely, in a way. The back yard had a view of the Olympic mountains before the downhill neighbors planted fast growing, tall trees which eventually shaded the pool in the afternoon. It's hard to see in the photo above, but along the skyline is the Olympic Mountain Range in the distance.
Even in the winter is was beautiful. The problem with an outdoor pool in in Seattle, though, is that it is too cold to enjoy it for all but a couple weeks of the year. First there was a gas heater, but the pool temperature barely got to 65 degrees in the summer, and it cost a small fortune to run. In the early 1980's my mom (now alone after my dad left in 1975) decided to install a solar system, pumping water up to the roof of the house, where it circulated through a network of black rubber coils, warmed by the sun, then returned to the pool. Some days in July and August the pool temperature would reach the 70s. That system had to be repaired and replaced constantly, since Raccoons and rodents would get on the roof and chew through it, springing leaks.
My grandfather and father working on the pool pump, 1973
The non-working pump, 40 years later.
The bathhouse, with working toilet, built by my father in 1970. Yeah, that's me, peeking inside.
The bathhouse, with broken toilet and inhabited by rodents and bats, in 2013.
Outdoor swimming pools were a rarity in Seattle because we have just two seasons here: the rainy season, and August. Even August can be a chiller, with temps in the 60s and days of cold rain. When the sun came out so did the neighbors. Above is a rare occurance of people in the pool in late June. That's me, 13 months old, with the yellow shirt and diaper, in my mother's arms. In March of 1972, when my mother was 7 months pregnant with my brother, and the water temperature was in the low 40's, she was in the back garden with me when I ran too close to the edge of the pool, tripped, and fell in. I sank ten feet to the bottom. Thankfully my mom didn't go into premature labor when she dove in to the frigid water to retrieve me. She wrote in my baby book that she had to pay $10.00 to get her watch repaired due to water damage, and that an hour after plucking me from the bottom of the pool she'd dropped me off at a babysitter and was downtown for a Coast Guard luncheon.
A fence was installed around the pool not long after my falling in. Perhaps because of the near-drowning I was a reluctant swimmer, and my mom took me to several different private club and city pools over the years in an effort to get me swimming lessons that I would participate in. Finally an instructor offered me a reward of grape licorice to get in the water, and then with that bribe, I eventually learned to swim.
My favorite time in the pool was late at night when we'd turn on the single light inside the pool and it would illuminate the water with a ghostly greenish-yellow glow. Bats would circle overhead, and I would float on my back and watch them swoop down and catch moths inches from my face. I tried to dare myself not to flinch, but I always did.
Here is a shot of me in 1981, with my brother running the hose on a slide that we had hauled home from a house a few blocks away that was decommissioning their above ground pool. We got about 15 years use out of it, before it deteriorated to the point that it became too dangerous to use.
As kids, my brother and I spent a lot of time cleaning, chlorinating, and maintaining the pool. My mom did, too. It was a big job, 12 months of the year, in exchange for two or three weeks of swimming in the summer. Several springs we had ducks arrive and set up a nest before we noticed, and then we had ducklings in the pool. What a mess they made! My least favorite chore, besides scraping algae off the inner pool walls with a brush, was retrieving dead animals from the bottom. Each time I fished out a rodent or squirrel, I thought, "that could have been me when I was little." Almost was.
Winter was a battle to keep the water circulating and the pipes from freezing. One year it got so cold, for so long, that nearby lakes froze so solidly that people were out walking on them (a rarity in the Seattle area). Several times a day we had to go down to the pool and break the ice near the intake and outflow, and check the pump. Some years it was a losing battle, and the pipes froze, creating costly repairs.
We did all the maintenance, cleaning, and chlorinating ourselves, until my brother and I left home and my mom's arthritis began, then she hired a pool company to take over, unfortunately at great expense.
Here is Little K jumping in the pool in 2006. Even though almost no one used the pool anymore, my mom continued to pay thousands of dollars a year to a pool maintenance service to maintain it, so it would look good when she decided to sell the house. Once you let a pool go, it is even more costly to get it going again.
About 20 years ago my mom stopped maintaining the yard. My brother and I (the resident labor) had left home and she certainly couldn't do as she got older. The house and pool are built into a very steep hillside. She couldn't afford to maintain both the pool and the yard, so she chose the pool. Things got overgrown quickly, leaving the pool in shade much of the day.
The past few years we only went in the pool once or twice a summer. The water was in the 60s, at most, even on the hottest of days. These photos are of the last swim: August 9th, 2013. Only the girls were brave enough to go into the cold water.
The pool hadn't been chlorinated or cleaned for a month, the pump was broken and no longer circulating water, and algae was beginning to grow.
By October the pool became brackish and dark. My mom looked into decommissioning the pool by either filling it in, or breaking it up and re-landscaping, but the cost estimates went into the tens of thousands of dollars, given the hilly location (no vehicle access), and of course the insane cost of everything in Seattle.
It took almost a month for it to arrive after being custom ordered, but by December the pool was covered with a rigid cover, stretched taut and bolted into the concrete. It was strong enough that it could be walked on, but most importantly, no one would fall in and drown.
I will never see the inside of that pool again. It will remain covered, awaiting the new owner of the property, who will likely be a developer that will tear down my childhood home and build two or three houses under the city's new urban infill, higher density zoning. Already in one block of the street I grew up on, 5 houses have been torn down, and 9 new ones have been built in their place.