McCarren Pool Retrospective

June 8th, 2010 by

“While the outside of this location provides some vivid visual input, we are convinced that the real treasury of this location remains undiscovered – and that is breaking into the locker rooms and or filtration rooms. They are likely exactly as they were when sealed, providing a potentially rare time capsule.”

I wrote those words in the spring of 2001. At the time I had no idea how long it would take for those words to be proven 500% true.

Located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, McCarren Pool has a rich history. Named after a state senator, It was designed by Aymar Embury II, and is apparently 3 times the size of your average Olympic sized pool.  It opened in 1936.

After many decades of normal usage the pool was closed at the end of the summer season, labor day 1983. The NY Times picks up the story from here:

Flash forward to 1984: Some of McCarren Park’s neighbors barricaded the entrance to the pool, which had been shut down the previous summer. Employees of the city’s Parks Department preparing to restore the pool were turned away by a small group of local residents, who told city contractors to leave the pool in its crumbling state, recalled Julius Spiegel, the Brooklyn parks commissioner since 1981. Their complaint was that young people from other neighborhoods had been hanging out at the pool and destroying the place.

There were many allegations that the people of Greenpoint wanted the pool shut down due purely to racism. Tom Gilbert, writing for The Brooklyn Paper, refutes this idea in a two part article posted here and here. Personally, having grown up in NYC during that time span, I’m not sure I agree with Tom. Neighborhoods were a lot more territorial back then, very much based on race. This isn’t just opinion, it’s fact. Yusef Hawkings. Howard Beach 1986.. Crown Heights riots. These were not isolated incidents – they happened due entirely to pervasive racism and crime at the time. A white chick wouldn’t be caught dead walking down Kent ave in the 1980s. These days that’s not the case at all. To say that there was no racism involved in the closure of McCarren Pool ignores what the times were like back then.

Time marched onward though. And McCarren Pool sat abandoned for years. It became home to homeless polish squatters, drug abusers and degenerates. The exterior walls of the buildings were coated top to bottom in layers of graffiti. It became the sort of abandoned place one could walk right into on a Saturday afternoon and do whatever you pleased.

I enjoyed going there a few times, though with its buildings rather well sealed (with the exception of the lifeguard house at the southeast corner, which was home to the homeless), and a plethora of other abandoned spaces to choose from, it became generally ignored by urban explorers.

Wisps of life began to appear in the ’00’s. Clear Channel got the rights to hold outdoor concerts at the pool. The Beastie Boys played their first Brooklyn concert here in 2007. In 2008, Sonic Youth played the last concert to be held at this venue.

Just a few months later it was announced that these pool parties would be moved to the former BEDT Terminal property along the williamsburg waterfont.

But what was to become of the pool? In late 2009 work finally began to recreate the pool as a year round recreational facility.

It was this work that finally unsealed the ‘rare time capsule’ of McCarren Pool, allowing me to go back and document everything that was left behind between the time the pool was shut down and the time it was sealed up until present day. I hope you enjoy this series of posts this week. After waiting 10 years to get in there, I have to say it was well worth it.

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  • About The Author

    Bad Guy Joe

    Bad Guy Joe
    Bad Guy Joe knows more about the NYC underground than anyone else on or below the surface of this planet. He has spent nearly 30 years sneaking into NYC's more forbidden locations. When not underground, he's probably bitching about politicians or building something digital. 
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