60-year-old St. Petersburg pool touted as landmark
ST. PETERSBURG -
Ron Sylver remembers swimming off rocks as a boy in an area south of The Pier formerly known as the South Mole.
It was the only place black children were allowed to swim.
“It wasn't very clean, it wasn't well-kept and it was segregated,” said Sylver.
“One of my dear friends was killed diving from the rocks.”
On a hot Saturday afternoon, black and white children dived into the clear, clean water at Jenny Hall Pool in south St. Petersburg's Wildwood neighborhood.
The pool was built in 1954 only because Hall, a white retiree from the Midwest, pressured St. Petersburg City Council members and offered $25,000 of her own money to see it built in what then was a segregated neighborhood.
The community on Saturday celebrated another small political victory: saving the pool from closure by naming it a local historic landmark.
Community leaders, though, say preserving the pool is only the first step. The next will be to press the city to upgrade Jenny Hall Pool to put it on par with public pools in more affluent parts of town.
“If you are going to fight to make this a historical landmark, you have to fight for it to be upgraded to make it what it was before they wanted to tear it down,” said Minson Rubin, a community historian who watched the pool being built as a child.
Mayor Bill Foster acknowledged keeping the pool open was not on his agenda when he took office. Looking at costs to run the facility against attendance numbers, he wanted to shut it down.
“I remember thinking that pools are holes in the ground and that if numbers didn't work, you could fill the holes in the ground,” Foster said at Saturday's dedication ceremony.
“The tough lesson that I learned is pools are more than that to neighborhoods; pools are more than that to communities, especially this one.”
A frequent critic of Foster, city Councilman Wengay Newton, said it took a concerted effort by the community teaming with St. Petersburg Preservation to keep the pool open.
Attendance had declined at the pool as the city raised fees for public facilities, which made it unaffordable for many children in the surrounding neighborhood, he said.
The neighborhood association raised money to create a fund for families who couldn't afford it to get 10 free swims each summer.
Last year the pool was named a historic landmark, meaning the city must hold public hearings if it wants to change the facility or tear it down.
An event held in the summer to celebrate the new designation got rained out, so another ceremony was scheduled for this weekend.
Emily Elyn of St. Petersburg Preservation said buildings such as the rectangular block pool house might appear ordinary, but they have significant historical importance.
“If we don't find a way to recognize them and preserve them, they will be forgotten and the lessons of our past will be forgotten,” she said.
Newton said one of those lessons is that community members must push the city to improve neighborhood facilities such as this one.
While the pool was busy Saturday afternoon with splashing kids, Newton says it needs serious upgrades, pointing to cracks and patches on the concrete and mildew on beach chairs.
“I challenge you to go look at other pools and see if you've got chairs like that and people sitting on them,” he said after the dedication.
“I appreciate what's been done. It's a good start,” he said. “But there's a lot more that needs to be done.”