WJON In Depth: The Golden Era Of The St. Cloud Municipal Pool [VIDEO]
ST. CLOUD - The Eastman Park/Lake George area in St. Cloud is probably best known for weekly Summertime By George concerts now, but for years it was the place to go to cool off on a hot summer day.
It brought people to the community. People stayed in hotels over the weekend for the swimming events.
For 55 years the St. Cloud Municipal pool was the crown jewel of that neighborhood. It was officially dedicated during a two hour show on July 1st, 1947. The pool and bathhouse cost the city $170,000 to build, which in today’s dollars would equal about $1.8 million. The city bragged that it was the state’s first outdoor Olympic-sized pool. Admission to get in: .10 cents for kids, .25 cents for adults.
This place was so packed. There was one day we actually had lifeguards under water with masks on, kind of observing the swimmers from below to make sure everything was okay because there was so many people in the pool.
Troy Fritz describes himself as a second generation Municipal Pool goer. He says his parents also spent a lot of time at the pool when they were young. Fritz loved the pool so much he was a lifeguard there throughout both his high school and college days. He says the lifeguards became a part of the culture of the neighborhood.
We also had parents that would adopt us. We were here with their kids all day long, so they would bring us food, just tubs of corn on the cob, and sandwiches, and other things. They took care of us, because we were taking care of their kids.
City council member Dave Masters is also a life-long resident of St. Cloud, and he was a lifeguard at the pool back in the early 80’s. He says, when the city auctioned-off some of the contents of the bathhouse, he just had to have a piece of its history.
When you would come to the pool, you would pay your .25 cents to get in and you would get a pin and a basket. You would put your clothes in there, and they would put that on the rack and you would put the pin on your swim shorts.
The city was forced to make the decision to close the popular pool in 2002, due to a chlorine gas leak. And then, in 2004, the city council voted to demolish the pool. However, the bathhouse remained boarded-up.
Park and Rec Director Scott Zlotnik was selected to oversee the renovation project into we now know as the “Lake George Municipal Complex”, which was completed in 2006. The community facility is open to the public weekdays. Plus, they have rooms available to rent for meetings. The featured room is the sunroom, which used to be the concession stand area.
This structure used to be a picnic area. What we did is enclose this particular area, and the rest is all original.
While the facility today is beautiful, Masters says the kids today missed out on a special time.
As my kids were growing up they had a little bit of a taste of this when they were very young, but they missed out on a lot and I'm saddened by that.
Hints of the old bathhouse remain, like the original weathervane – look closely and you see the images of a swimmer and a diver.
While the large pool is just a memory now, kids still come to the area to get wet. A splash pad now stands right where the pool used to be.
Back inside the building, Zlotnik says there one mystery that he just hasn’t been able to solve. They found six paintings on plywood, sketched from old Myron Hall photographs, and they haven’t been able to find out who did the work.
Meanwhile, across town, on the city’s northside, the future of swimming in St. Cloud is being built. Construction is underway on a new $27 million St. Cloud Area YMCA Community and Aquatics Center. It’s being built on Northway Drive, next to the Whitney Recreation. It’s scheduled to be open in May.