Down in Miami Beach, with the sea lapping the shore a scant 20 yards away, an architect submitting sketches for a new hotel might as well leave out the kitchen as fail to provide for a blue-tinted, table-surrounded, chrome-appurtenanced, palm-shaded, underwater-lighted swimming pool. Where would the klaviatzh players, the horse players, the gin rummy players gather? Where would all the bodies go, burning there on the poolside settees like chickens in a Roto-Broil? Surely not to the beach. The ocean is obsolete.
Standing in the crashing surf off Coney or Cannes is old chapeau. The world has gone dunking in pools, pools that are not only shaped like kidneys, but also like pears, tears, fans, pianos and sick livers. A pretzel-shaped pool was commissioned in Litchfield, Connecticut. In Southampton, Long Island there is one fashioned like a cucumber. In Palm Springs, Calif., where a swimming pool really makes sense at a distance of a hundred miles from the sea, there is one that looks—well, like a swimming pool.
ROUNDED CORNERS AND LIMA BEANS
Perry Como's pool at Sands Point, L.I. ($10,000) has rounded corners at the deep end and is finished in a sweeping arc at the shallow side. Pat Weaver, president of NBC, chose one shaped like a lima bean, although in deference to everyone's esthetic senses it is referred to as reminiscent of a calla lily. E. H. Griffith, a newspaperman turned Hollywood director, has his Laguna Beach pool filled twice a day by the incoming tide. Irving Berlin relies on the gravity power of a cold Catskill stream, warming the tank with a flow heated by an oil burner. When the mountain water and the warmed water are in the pool, someone has to jump in and mix them around.
In the years between the wars, swimming pools were built for hotels, institutions and fabulous estates. They were expensive to install and difficult to maintain. When the war ended there were only 8,000 pools in the whole country. There are now about 40,000, half of them on private estates. Dade County, which encompasses Miami Beach, accounts for some 5,000, and there are more than 15,000 in Los Angeles County.
Some hotels, notably the Cavalier in Virginia Beach and the Normandie in San Juan, Puerto Rico, were so proud of their pools when they installed them some years back that they had them built into the lobby. Tipsy sailors on Caribbean duty during the war were prone to ascend to the third floor and execute swan dives into the pool below. The sport became so appealing that the pool was fenced in.
Now a pool is standard equipment for any resort hotel, and very nearly a necessity for any motel in a warm-weather area. New York's Welding Engineering Company, building 150 pools a year, finds business "very healthy." Says Chester King, its general manager, "Give me two to three weeks time and $6,000 and you're swimming."
What is causing the boom in pools and rendering the ocean obsolete is refuse at low tide, jellyfish, Portuguese men-of-war, sand in the hair, heavy traffic, improved pools and Hollywood. People seem to like to loll, eat, talk around a swimming pool. It's clean, comfortable and safe. Snarled traffic makes an hour or two of stop-and-go driving for a splash in the sea and sand in the sandwiches an unattractive notion for a summer Sunday. The development of new filtration systems makes pool maintenance a simple task. Says King, "Before filtration processes you were always cleaning and emptying. The water was very cold and by the time it warmed up it was too dirty to swim in. Swimming time was confined to the small period when the water was clean enough and warm enough." Now filtration sifts a pool's water every six hours.
THE NEW POTBELLIED STOVE
Show business, which long ago adopted the pool as a center for inspiration and congregation, made the pool desirable for everyone else. At New Hampshire's Lake Tarleton, summer mountain refuge of show folk, Red Buttons will try new material from a perch on the edge of the tile, while Bennett Cerf, Milton Berle and Abe Burrows tread water and count the boffs. Contemplating the maritime scene from his oil-heater-warmed Catskill Mountain pool not long ago, Irving Berlin was so moved by nautical notions that he wrote a number called A Sailor's Not a Sailor Till a Sailor's Been Tattooed. When business takes him to California for a long stretch, Berlin rents a house with a pool, takes up a waterside stand and waits for the ideas. Most of the picture White Christmas was developed while Berlin and Norman Krasna walked around the edge of the pool on an estate Berlin rented from Doug Fairbanks Jr. "The pool," says Berlin, "seems to be a meeting place and you don't have to be in a bathing suit either. You can be fully dressed. It's America's new potbellied stove."
DINNER IN THE WET
For Hollywood, the expanse of kidney-shaped water is also a center for entertainment. Ray Bolger's pool house contains a piano usually attended by Oscar Levant, abetted by such musical types as Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. Once out at Darryl Zanuck's Palm Springs ménage, a troupe of elegantly tailored guests that included the Reginald Gardiners, Jean Negulesco, Louis Jourdan and his wife and the Moss Harts was passing the pool when someone pushed one of Hollywood's better-known agents in the water. Not wishing to embarrass her guest, Mrs. Zanuck jumped in behind him. The Zanuck children followed suit and, to save embarrassment all around, each guest jumped in too. When the entire assemblage was thrashing about fully clothed in the pool, the butler appeared, bowed toward Mrs. Zanuck and announced: "Dinner is served."
When Hollywood is not swimming in its own pools (Liberace has one that is piano-shaped and Ann Blyth and her husband, Doc McNulty, one that is shaped like a shamrock), it is off in Sun Valley where there are two identical pools, both outdoors, screened from the winds and filled with heated water. It was originally planned to draw naturally warmed water from the many hot springs that bubble in the Idaho soil. But the residents of Ketchum, who were not at all pleased by the prospect of city folks moving into their hunting and fishing grounds, took a dim view of tapping the hot springs for such a purpose. Union Pacific's engineers built a steam plant instead and when the temperature dips to zero at Sun Valley, swimmers still bob in the pleasant 87° water.
But even Hollywood cannot match the pool of the Royal Hotel at San Remo on the Italian Riviera which features a waterside bar exclusively for underwater swimmers who must dive through a tunnel and emerge in a grotto where they are served drinks with a long-handled tray. The Concord Hotel at Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., offers an immense indoor pool with overhead sun lamps and fake palms where you can get a Miami tan while viewing the snowy Catskills through a glass wall.
A MARK ABOVE MINK
Beach and Pool and Swimming, a magazine (circ. 3,500) for pool owners and builders, estimates an ultimate pool for every village and town in the U.S. with a population of 1,500 or more. For towns, resorts and clubs, swimming pools have become standard equipment. For John Dough, one is now a mark on the success chart immediately above mink and Cadillac. A Hollywood writer named Ernest Lehman, who wrote the screen plays for Executive Suite and Sabrina, was denying allegations the other day of his meteoric rise on the Hollywood horizon. "No kidney-shaped pools," said Mr. Lehman with self-effacement, "just a pool-shaped kidney."