Popular Richmond Plunge pool reopens after nine-year closure
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 08/10/2010 05:06:00 PM PDT
Updated: 08/11/2010 10:11:45 AM PDT
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Workers busily tend to the finishing touches at the renovated "Plunge" swimming pool in...
The big day has come -- finally, after nine long years.
Richmond's historic Plunge pool reopens Saturday after a hard-fought battle to raise funds and save it from permanent closure and the wrecking ball.
"It's been a long haul," said resident David Vincent, who raised funds for the pool.
Crews were busy Monday and Tuesday putting the final touches on the $7.5 million renovation before Saturday's celebration starts at 11 a.m. Artists tiled the mushroom fountain that once sat in the pool's shallow end but now stands in the Plunge's front yard. A lift hoisted giants letters for the "Municipal Natatorium" sign onto the roof. Workers installed grates that circle the pool. Architect Todd Jersey directed staff members while painting doors in coveralls.
Outside, local residents stopped to survey the progress and swap stories about how they learned to swim or roll a kayak here -- conversation after conversation that underscores the mark the Plunge has left on the community.
Formally known as the Richmond Municipal Natatorium, the Plunge opened in 1926 and is the oldest indoor pool of its kind in the Bay Area.
In its prime, its warm waters drew thousands from around the region and even big names in swimming.
Mary McMullen, 90, was 6 years old when the Plunge opened. She remembers a bus ferrying Grant Elementary School students to the Plunge. It was where she learned to swim and later learned lifesaving skills.
"In my 70s, I went out there as many as three or four days a week. A lot of people who were much more impaired than I were able to exercise there, people who couldn't be on their feet," said McMullen, who is a member of the Save the Richmond Plunge Trust. "It serves all ages and abilities of people. It's a nurturing place."
But the building faltered over time, succumbing to age, earthquakes and humidity. City officials made some repairs, but deferred others. By 2001, with the building deteriorating, cracks visible and mechanical and plumbing systems failing, the city declared the Plunge unsafe and shut the doors.
Talk of demolishing the building had surfaced before, including in 1975, said Vincent, whose father spearheaded a committee to save the Plunge then. The notion of razing it emerged again in the wake of the closure.
Residents jumped to the pool's defense. Trust members hunted for grants and collected donations large and small to finance the costly business of renovating a historic building.
"This wasn't all done with people who had money," McMullen said, recalling a $2 donation from someone who had little to spare. "It was people who couldn't afford to give us a dollar as well as people who made larger contributions. It was a real community effort."
A hodgepodge of city funds, grants and donations kicked off rehabilitation in the summer of 2008.
Today, the Plunge still incorporates the past. The windowed belvedere that was removed during an earlier roof repair is back. A replica of the electric "Municipal Natatorium" sign will beckon visitors from afar again. The second-story viewing decks are restored.
The pool also looks to the future. The water is treated with ultraviolet technology instead of chlorine. Solar panels on the roof heat the pool. More than 100 operable windows provide ventilation.
A new mural on the rear wall by John Wehrle greets visitors and Arlin Robins' mosaic art decorates the entrance to the restrooms.
"The Plunge is a necessary service to every segment of the community: all neighborhoods, all ages, able and disabled, and those who want physical fitness as well as those who want fun," said Rosemary Corbin, a trust member.
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.
Richmond Plunge Reopens
· What: Reopening of the Richmond Plunge
· When: Ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday. Free public swimming at 1, 3 and 5 p.m.
· Where: East Richmond Ave and Garrard Boulevard in Point Richmond
· More information: Save the Plunge Trust is continuing to collect donations to support the pool. Information about the trust is available at www.richmondplunge.org.