McCarren Pool, The Abandoned Years


"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 racial and ethnic lines. This isn't just opinion, it's fact. Just look at what happened to Yusef Hawkings when he went to 'the wrong neighborhood". And let's not forget Michael Griffith.. These were not isolated incidents - they happened due entirely to pervasive racism and crime at the time. For those of us who grew up here back then, this doesn't need to be explained. It was known by all. You could literally feel it in the looks you might get if you were White walking through Harlem, or Black walking through Forest Hills. 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.

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 the time that it was cleaned up and rebuilt (2010/11). After waiting 10 years to get in there, I have to say it that confirming my supicions about ancient graffiti in the locker rooms, and discovering the tunnels underneath the pool, all made the wait well worth it.

Mad props to Dani & ProZak for joining me on adventures into this place.

McCarren Pool 2003/2004

Wrapping up this week’s series is this set of photos from 2003 and 2004. As you can see, for some bizarre reason the NYC Parks Department wasted a lot of money and paint on priming the entire pool white, and then slapping another coat of deep red paint on the structure. It wasn’t long before […]

McCarren Interiors

Aside from the epic graffiti find, the buildings of McCarren pool supplied a huge amount of decay porn. Sadly though nearly everything in these photos is also gone – victim of the rapidly progressing gut rebuild of the pool. Basement under the arch Old refrigerator in the ruined concessions stand in the back. Basement hallway […]

McCarren Pool Graffiti 2001

Even though the buildings at McCarren pool were sealed shut, the exterior walls became a whole new canvas for the next generation of graffiti writers. This is how the pool looked in 2001.

Ninja Night around the McCarren Diving Pool Tunnel

Just for fun, here’s a quick run around the tunnel looping around the bottom of what was the diving pool. Acoustics down here are really something. The ‘Ninja’s’ tag is from the 1980s. Not sure who wrote ‘1950’ on the wall next to it but it’s a safe assumption that given it’s style and the […]

McCarren Pool Tunnel Graffiti

Deep below McCarren Pool, where only the most insane insomniac isotopic explorers dare wander, we came across still another batch of graffiti. These tags are much fewer than those of the locker room area, as these tunnels were likely pitch black in the 1980s when these guys hit this place. This post is dedicated to […]

McCarren Pool Tunnels

Unknown to most, McCarren Pool contains a tunnel system. This tunnel system is a ring that starts under the main arch entrance and runs just under the edge of the pool in a large square. The rear side opens up to what was (and will be) the pool’s filtration room.  Additionally there is a side […]

McCarren Pool 1980s Graffiti Exposed

When we first entered the former locker room areas of McCarren Pool, I was most pleased at this discovery. It is and was probably the most impressive graffiti discovery of 2010, period. While I know that is a huge, huge statement to make, you really must understand what we have here in these photos to […]