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From Boise

Dive into Boise's pools of the past & present

Published 10 months ago • 11 min read

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It's swimmin season, y'all. What's your favorite pool memory?

I grew up in a small town and we had one public pool. As a kid I spent nearly everyday there with my best friend Payton. I'd walk to her house in the morning, then we’d walk the 10 or so blocks to the pool when it opened at 11am, picking up other neighborhood kids along the way. We'd spend the entire day there, walking home together when the pool closed. One time a kid fell off the diving board and split his head open – that was an eventful day. And another time there was a birthday party going on and the ice cream cake got dropped on the concrete. But of all the pool memories I have, I remember the feeling of independence.

When I told my neighbor Ryan, who is about 45 years older than me, that I was writing a story about Boise pools, he immediately told me allll about going to Lowell Pool every day as a kid. He remembered the water being freezing but being completely dry by the time he walked home, and getting the “best darn burger and fries from Hamburger Corner” down the street.

So many summer memories are created at pools, and this has been true for generations. So let’s dive into the history behind some of Boise’s iconic and beloved pools.

The Natatorium

The Natatorium, aka The Nat, is perhaps Boise’s most famous pool. The original Natatorium was constructed in May of 1892 – just two years after Idaho became an official state.

Geothermal water had recently been discovered at Kelly Hot Springs near Table Rock, and a man named C.W. Moore founded the Boise Artesian Hot & Cold Water Company to harness the resource. Shortly after that, Moore hired German architect John C. Paulson to design a hot-water bathing resort on Warm Springs Avenue. (IdaHistory has a great story about Paulson’s interesting life and even more interesting death, as well as some more history & historical photos of The Nat.)

Boise's Natatorium cost $87,000 to build (today that would be over $2M) and it was one of the largest geothermal swimming pools in the world. The building featured some of the most magnificent architecture in Boise at the time. People called it “The Taj Mahal of the West.”

The Moorish style building had a three-story entrance with tall twin towers reaching 112 feet into the air. Inside there were all kinds of amenities, including a smoking room, a ladies parlor, a cafe, a saloon, tea rooms, a gym, billiard and card rooms, a balcony dance floor, and, of course, the pool, which was known as The Plunge.

The pool was quite large, spanning 125 feet by 60 feet, and filled with naturally warm water. Overhead, the pool was covered by a 40-foot arched roof held up by wooden trusses. A mezzanine encircled the pool and a waterslide extended into the water from the first balcony. At the south end, water cascaded over a 40-foot lava rock diving platform. The Nat had diving boards from five feet to 60 feet high and even had a trapeze that hung down from the roof.

The Natatorium was, in many ways, a revolutionary project. In 1892, the same year The Nat was constructed, C.W. Moore also built a house on Warm Springs Avenue and started using geothermal water to heat the home. His house was not only the first home in Boise to do so, but was the first home in the entire country to use geothermal for heat. Moore’s house still stands today at 1109 Warm Springs Ave – it’s the massive brick mansion on the corner of Warm Springs and Walnut – and it's still using geothermal for heat.

Anyway, after people experienced geothermal water at The Nat and saw that Moore was able to heat his home using the same resource, affluent families began building homes on Warm Springs Ave and using geothermal water through Moore’s company.

On July 4, 1910, Boise’s White City Amusement Park opened next door to The Natatorium. Inspired by the White City section of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, White City amusement parks started popping up across the country in the early 20th century. (For more info on the fair and time period, I highly recommend the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen. Phenomenal read if you like history.)

Boise's White City Park had a roller coaster, a joy wheel, a fun house, a shooting gallery, a mini railway, a carousel, a band stand, and a dance hall. For a nickel, you could ride the trolley from downtown Boise to the Nat and White City Park. The area became a destination. There were numerous balls, weddings, and affluent events held at The Nat, including Idaho’s Inaugural Governor’s Ball for Frank W. Hunt in 1901.

While the naturally hot water sparked the Nat’s creation and subsequent development in the area, it was also the cause of The Nat's demise. The hot steam from the pool eventually rotted the wooden beams overhead, causing one to collapse into the pool during a sudden windstorm in the summer of 1934. Miraculously no one was injured in the incident, but it was the end of that iteration of The Natatorium. Soon after the beam incident, the city deconstructed the entire building. Eventually the city re-opened the pool as an outdoor swimming pool and erected a large water slide and new building on the site of the original.

Today, it's known as the Natatorium Pool and Hydrotube, which is open for the 2023 summer season.


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South & Lowell Pools

South Pool and Lowell Pool are perhaps Boise’s most iconic pools these days. The twin pools were designed by engineer Wesley Bintz and built in 1953. South Pool is bright blue and located on the Bench, next to South Junior High, at 921 Shoshone Street. Lowell Pool is bright pink and located in the North End at 1601 N 28th Street.

Designer Wesley Bintz became known for his unique above ground pool design throughout the 1920s, and he ended up patenting the design in 1926. Bintz Pools were typically an oval-shaped above ground pool with the locker room and restroom areas below.

Bintz designed more than 130 pools across the country. Today there are only 17 Bintz Pools still standing and even fewer in operation. The iconic pools have quite the following – there's a Facebook group called The Wesley Bintz Pool Network with over 1,000 members.

Two Bintz Pools are right here in Boise, and both South and Lowell Pools were amongst the few in use up until 2020. The city shut down all city pools during the pandemic and our Bintz Pools have not reopened since.

In 2020, while the pools were closed, Boise Parks & Rec hired a consultant to study the condition of the pools and found them to be in “overall poor condition” and not ADA compliant. The study estimated it would cost $2.4 million per pool to get them up to code, not including any mechanical or cosmetic upgrades.

The city went on to conduct months of open houses and public input periods to gather feedback on next steps for the pools. Two scenarios were presented to the public: bring the pool up to code and meet accessibility standards, or reimagine the pool on site with the opportunity to preserve the historic Art Deco entrance. The community showed up in droves to give their input, and largely favored the first option of bringing the pools up to code while keeping the original design. But at the end of 2022 the city ultimately put all plans for the pools on hold. As BoiseDev reported, “South and Lowell pools would remain closed for the foreseeable future until price escalations, material costs and other factors driving up costs slow down. This comes after city staff estimated it could cost up to $12 million to refurbish both pools, which have structural damage after decades of use, or up to $24 million to build two entirely new pools on site.”

There is an ongoing community-led movement to restore the historic pools, called Friends of Boise Historic Pools. The group was involved in the public input periods and also worked with the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office to get both pools listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the historic recognition reinforces the importance of the pools’ history, it does not protect them from demolition.

The group behind Friends of Boise Historic Pools recognizes the need for some upgrades, especially to make the pools ADA compliant. But they also do not want the cultural and community importance of the pools to be overlooked, particularly since South and Lowell Pools have had the lowest attendance rates amongst Boise’s pools.

Laura Bainbridge, founder and VP of Friends of Boise Historic Pools, noted that while Lowell and South Pools may not be the most popular pools for the entire city, they are huge assets for the neighborhoods in which they exist. Both pools are adjacent to schools and in the past, the city worked with school counselors to give out thousands of pool passes to low-income students over the years, who would in turn access the pool almost daily throughout the summer. And it wasn’t just kids using the pools either – they were utilized by entire neighborhoods.

“Yes, your kids can take swimming lessons or join the swim team, and families can go in the evenings to cool off. But there are a lot of seniors that would swim too, at Lowell in particular which had a senior swim hour. Families in the neighborhood became friends with the lifeguards. And for the younger elementary school kids, going to the pool is such a nice stepping stone for some independence,” said Laura.

Laura also noted the sustainability aspects of the two pools. During the public input period, it was found that the vast majority of pool-goers would walk or ride to the pool rather than driving.

Kristen McCarver, Secretary & Treasurer of Friends of Boise Historic Pools, noted the parallel between parks and pools.

“You have small parks, you have medium sized parks, you have big parks, and they all serve different people. That's the same thing with pools,” said Kristen. “These pools in particular are very much community-oriented, versus something like The Nat, which I would compare to Camel's Back Park, which draws a lot more people in comparison to a smaller neighborhood park, like Elm Grove Park. They serve a different demographic.”

Livability, safe neighborhoods, and access to outdoor recreation and amenities are amongst the reasons why people love living in Boise. The group behind Friends of Boise Historic Pools see the pools as a neighborhood and city amenity that aligns with that idyllic Boise lifestyle.

“What attracts people to Boise is tat livability. I always call it the biggest little city. It's the sense of community and safety, it's where everybody knows everybody,” said Kristen. “I think these pools are a testament to that, and a testament to preserving that for future generations.”

It's still unclear what will happen to South and Lowell Pools. All plans are on hold until 2025, when costs can be reassessed.

In the meantime, Friends of Boise Historic Pools are continuing to keep the conversation going. They are actually hosting an event tonight, on Tuesday, June 13, from 5-7pm at Boise City Hall to “celebrate the 70th birthday of Lowell and South Pools, and joyfully remind City Council how much we miss these community icons!” You can find more info on the event here.

A list of Treasure Valley pools

Here's a quick list of pools & splash pads around the valley:

The Natatorium and Hydrotube

  • Location: 1811 E. Warm Springs Ave, Boise East End
  • Features: Pool, diving boards, wading pool for children 6 and under, Hydrotube slide, concessions stand.
  • Hours, admission & more info here
  • Also, there used to be "Dog Day" here, where dogs can come swim at the end of summer. If it is happening this year, I'll let you know.

Ivywild Pool

  • Location: 2250 S. Leadville Avenue, Southeast Boise
  • Features: Pool, 2 drop-off slides, a pretzel slide, wading pool for kids 6 and under, snack bar
  • Hours, admission & more info here

Borah Pool

Location: 801 S Aurora Drive, Boise Bench

Features: 2 diving boards, basketball hoop, small slide in shallow end for kids 6 and under, lots of deck space for lounging

Hours, admission & more info here

Fairmont Pool

Location: 7929 W Northview Street, Boise

Features: Inflatable slide on Tuesday & Thursdays, basketball hoop, large shallow end, lots of deck space, grassy area

Hours, admission & more info here

Boise City Aquatics Center

Location: West Family YMCA, 5959 N Discovery Place, Boise

Features: Indoor pool that is open to the public and YMCA members, there's multiple programs and lessons offered.

Hours, admission & more info here

Meridian Pool

Location: 213 E Franklin Rd, Meridian

Features: Big pool and kiddie pool both heated to 86 degrees, ADA accessible, 2 diving boards, 3 slides.

Hours, admission & more info here

Lakeview Water Park

Location: 1304 7th St N, Nampa

Features: beach entry, water spray features, and a two-story slide

Hours, admission & more info here

Lincoln Pool

Location: 508 Davis Ave, Nampa

Features: On-deck spray toys, diving board, slide, small kids pool

Hours, admission & more info here

Roaring Springs

Location: 400 W Overland Rd, Meridian

Features: More than 20 attractions for all ages, including thrill rides, slides, wave pool, lazy river, small kids area, concessions, lots of deck space for lounging. And they have new rides & spces this year!

Hours, admission & more info here

There are some additional pools that require a membership, like Boise Rac & Swim, Hillcrest Country Club, etc.

Also here is a list of Splash Pads & Fountains in Boise and my friend Natalie with Hello Meridian has a great list of splash pads across the valley.

What's your favorite place to take your family swimming? And what's your favorite memory of Lowell and South Pools?

Thanks for reading & happy swimming!

With love from Boise,

Marissa

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From Boise

by Marissa Lovell

A weekly newsletter & podcast about what's going on in Boise, Idaho. Every week we share stories about people, places, history, and happenings in Boise.

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