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Taking a swim at the Hamilton Fish Pool on the Lower East Side during the pandemic summer

Lap swimmers from all over the city find their way to Hamilton Fish Pool. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

BY TEQUILA MINSKY

There are still a few more days of summer to enjoy the Parks Department public pools, which are scheduled to close on Labor Day. Approximately three pools per borough opened at the end of July. 

The beautiful Olympic-sized, 50-meter Hamilton Fish Pool on the east end of Houston Street at Pitt Street draws neighbors from the Lower East Side and East Village as well as swimmers from the Village, Upper West and Upper East Sides.  

The head of the lifeguards dutifully watches while teens play in the water and lap swimmers cross the pool.

Lifeguards oversee the relatively quiet Hamilton Fish Pool on the Lower East Side. After a very cloudy morning, the sun finally came out. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

“This is the only downtown Parks Department pool in Manhattan that opened this summer,” he notes. 

What’s also special about this pool? In years past, Hamilton Fish Pool — built during the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project — hosts a five-borough swim competition. 

During this summer-that-hardly-was because of COVID-19, outdoor group activities and festivals were cancelled. The pools’ opening joyfully embraced the season and offered kids a needed chance to have hot weather fun. Hamilton Fish Pool is particularly family friendly with a very large two-foot deep children’s pool and plenty of plastic lounges for sunning. At noon, most summer days, a bag lunch was also served. 

Frustrated lap swimmers, stymied by the closing of indoor pools, found their way to these Parks’ pools.

Hamilton Fish Pool, an aquatic oasis on the Lower East Side.

Brenda Colling, a regular summer swimmer at McCarren and Metropolitan pools in Brooklyn voices misery when summer came without swimming options.  She discovered Hamilton Fish Pool and how easy the commute from Williamsburg is and she found her cohorts swimming laps there, too.

Finally able to put in an 18-lap one-mile swim every morning starting at 11 a.m. and beaming, she simply says,  “It’s transformative!” 

In the pool, one never knows who you might run into.

Master Swimmer, educator and author Dr. Jane Katz poses outside Hamilton Fish Pool, she’s been swimming in for decades.
(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Educator, author and competitive swimmer Dr. Jane Katz waves to fellow swimmers she knows. Dr. Katz grew up on the Lower East Side and learned to swim in this pool.  

During her multi-decade career in swimming and fitness, she has taught swimming to all ages as well as to teachers who teach swimming and has authored many books on the subject.  Her book written 40 years ago, Swimming for Total Fitness is still available and selling. 

Dr. Katz points to a corner in the pool facilities building explaining how her first job and for many summers, she worked in the First Aid room at the pool. 

A Master Swimmer who earned the 2019 fastest free-style one-mile swim in her age 75-80 category (18 minutes, 42 seconds), Dr. Katz is another daily swimmer. Among her many achievements, she introduced synchronized swimming to the Olympics, participating in the Olympic Synchronized Swimming Performance Team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. 

“It took 20 years before it became an actual Olympic sport,” she says. 

One morning last week, Tim Johnson timed Dr. Katz during a “virtual” Masters meet/competition in the category that she won last year. Lower East Side resident Ellen Blum swam alongside her for exercise and training. 

“She’s my mentor,” Blum explains, noting that Dr. Katz introduced her to long distance swimming.  

Dr. Katz and Ellen Blum after a mile swim in Hamilton Fish. “She’s my mentor,” says Blum who learned long-distance swimming from Dr. Katz.
(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

As summer winds down, there are a few more days of outdoor swimming (just bring a lock, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed between 3-4 p.m. for cleaning) and then devotees will be searching for and hoping for more pools to open. 

Parks does not report a timetable for reopening indoor recreation centers. 

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