14 PAGE REPORT ON THE GREAT U.S. Pool Boom
By summer's end, 87,000 Americans will own swimming pools. Here's how to build them, maintain them, keep them safe and furnish them—plus, in color, special poolside clothes designed for Sports Illustrated by Claire McCardell
Until a couple of summers ago, a swimming pool in their own backyard was a luxury few except movie stars and millionaires could indulge in. But this summer a man who lives in the Chicago suburb of Palos Park and doesn't have his own pool is a man without social grace, for 40 of the next-door Joneses have built pools there in the past two summers. In the desert valley surrounding Phoenix there are now 3,910 private swimming oases—four times as many pools as there were in 1952. And 20 new ones will be dug each month.
In Erie County, New York, where the climate, to quote a poolowner in Buffalo, is made up of "10 months of winter and two of damn hard sledding," there are suddenly 600 private pools—and, when they freeze over in winter, 600 potential skating ponds. Princeton, N.J. has 200 residential pools, including one built in the ruins of an old barn by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. At least 125 Columbus, Ohio citizens can take prebreakfast plunges in their own tanks. In short, Americans from coast to coast are enjoying the biggest splash since Repeal.
April 28, 1957
The statistics documenting the pool boom are as astonishing in their progression as a TV quiz whiz's earnings. On January 1, 1948 there were 2,500 residential swimming pools in America. On January 1, 1957, there were 57,000. Swimming Pool Age, the trade magazine of this swiftly burgeoning industry, estimates that 45,000 pools will be built this year. Two-thirds of these or about 30,000, will be of the backyard variety, at a total cost, including all equipment to maintain them, of $105 million, or an average of $3,500 per pool.
Although the boom in private pool ownership did not gather its momentum until post-World War II, the foundations for it were laid as far back as 1936, when Philip Ilsley, now president of the country's largest pool-building firm, Paddock of California, adapted the Gunite (pressure-sprayed-concrete) method of building construction to the building of pools for movie stars in Brentwood, California. The method (illustrated, with others, on the following pages) put the price of pools into a real plunge. What had been a $15,000-minimum project is now one that costs the average homeowner little more than $4,500 for a 20-by-40-foot swimming-and-diving Gunite model, or as little as $3,500 for other types. As one of the many pool builders who have cropped up to meet the requirements of the boom said the other day, you can now have one for no more than the price of a station wagon. Ilsley's method also laid the groundwork for the free-form rounded-corner, curved-wall pool; today the shape of a pool is only limited by its owner's whims and pocketbook.
Although Gunite pools—and many companies now build them—are still the most popular, representing 67% of the 33,000 pools built last year, several other newly developed methods of construction are fast growing. Esther Williams has a company with more than 700 dealers who install pools which are little more than well-engineered holes in the ground, surrounded by concrete-block walls and lined with large sheets of heavy-gauge vinyl. U.S. Steel, Tower Iron Works and Koven Steel Swimming Pools are marketing home-sized pools of welded steel, and there are similar ones of aluminum. Preformed Fiberglas pools (order Monday, swim Saturday) are delivered to the backyard in four scoop-shaped sections which only need their joints sealed. Prefabricated concrete pools are lowered into the ground in slabs by a crane. One of the newest methods, developed two years ago by a New Jersey engineer, is to pour concrete into reusable steel forms—an advantage over the costlier method of pouring concrete into wooden forms.
Also contributing to the boom is the greater ease of maintenance, taking no more than a few hours a week, made possible by new filter systems which are installed when the pool is built. Once in the ground, a 20-by-40-foot pool can cost as little as $150 a year to maintain and to keep the water—which need not be changed more than once a year—crystal clear and clean enough to meet the most rigid health department standards.
The joys of pool ownership are not unmixed. Owning one is a responsibility: the problem of safety is a very important concern (see page 51) and, as many a family has discovered, home is very likely to become more country club than home. But the pleasures of owning a pool more than compensate for any burdens, as the 57,000 American families already in the swim will happily tell you.
Building your Pool
FIRST ADMONITION: don't try to do it yourself. You'll find it cheaper in the long run to have it done by a competent contractor. As to size: for a family that takes its swimming seriously, the ideal pool should measure at least 20 by 40 feet, and if there is a one-meter diving board, minimum depth should be 8½ feet, tapering to three feet at the shallow end. Coping, ladder and filter system are virtually essentials; underwater lighting and diving boards are added pleasures. The minimum prices quoted on these pages include these items for a pool of approximately the above dimensions. Costs are, of course, higher if there are special excavating problems, in areas north of the freezing line, and if heating units are included (about $500 more). All this can be paid for on the installment plan; although it is difficult to foreclose on a hole in the ground, banks are now willing to finance pools, and one-third of them built in American backyards last year were bought on time.
One of the few private outdoor pools in New York City was built for Paul Roebling's East Side backyard. Gunite Construction Corp. hauled bags of dirt, pumped Gunite through basement, as yard is all closed in.
This, the most popular construction method, consists of pressure-spraying Gunite, a mixture of cement, sand and water, over a steel-mesh basket laid in the excavation. Gunite is stronger and less expensive than poured concrete. Minimum cost of 20-by-40-foot pool is $4,500, installation time two weeks.
Steel pools, on the market for many years, are now available in a variety of shapes for the backyard. The pool is delivered in prefabricated sections which are welded together, supported by steel frames rather than, as in most cases, by the backfill. Once put together, the steel must be sand-blasted, then covered with several coats of paint. Advantages are structural stability and ease with which light boxes, filter and drainage outlets can be installed—they are welded right into the pool wall. One of the most expensive pools for backyard use, the price ranges up from $5,500 for the 20-by-40-foot size.
This is the least expensive method of practical pool construction. The excavation is lined with tamped sand or concrete, surrounded by a concrete wall, then a tough vinyl or nylon liner is stretched, smoothed and anchored over entire surface, forming the waterproof inner surface of the pool. The advantages, in addition to price, are that the vinyl is easily installed and never needs painting. Although smaller pools of this type can be bought for $2,300, a 20-by-40-foot model with filter will cost about $3,500. Esther Williams kit of this type has a filter system, many other appurtenances, is $4,995.
Fiberglas is the newest method of pool construction, and it may well prove to be the most popular private pool of the future. The substance is noncorroding and rustproof. It is delivered to the site in prefabricated sections which are then sealed together by a special bonding agent. Warning note: be sure pool is engineered correctly into the ground. Improper installation or careless sealing of joints may result in its floating out in rainstorms or if leaks develop. Cost: 20 by 40, $4,000. Trampolin is newest backyard diving device—gives fine, easy spring to inexperienced divvers and costs about $135.
Birdair Storaway is a newly developed portable enclosure for swimming pools. It extends the pool season of its manufacturer, Walter Bird of Buffalo, by four months. The dome is of nylon and plastic, supported by air pressure from a blower powered by a 1/6-hp motor. Water is heated and sunshine warms the air. Price is about $2,300 for one large enough to cover 20-by-40-foot pool. For those who do not contemplate this investment, here are tips for winter care: all pools should be kept filled and logs be floated at pool edges to absorb expansion of ice and freezing ground. Pools can be used as ice rinks when frozen.
Filter Systems are now installed in almost every family pool, and their initial cost of about $500 is well justified in reduced operating expense and cleanliness. Once filled, the water need never be changed—until repainting becomes necessary. Ideally, all water is syphoned off through surface skimmer and bottom drain and re-filtered through system every 12 hours. Sand and gravel or diatomaceous earth are popular filter agents. Periodically, water is back-washed through filter to clean it. In addition, chlorine and anti-algae chemicals should be added and the bottom vacuumed regularly, the sides scrubbed and the leaves skimmed from the top by pool owners.
The Aqualarm is a new device designed to ease a pool-owner's nightmare of drowning children. It floats on the surface of the water and gives off a banshee shriek whenever an object of sufficient size to cause a wave falls into a pool. Obviously it's not foolproof—someone has to be within hearing distance—and certainly the best safety measure remains the education of young children, both in swimming and in the importance of using pools only when adults are present. Owners often sign pledges with neighbor children and their parents, limiting swimming to definite hours, and arrange a schedule of lifeguarding among teen-agers. Still another effective accident preventive, required by law in many areas, is a storm fence around pool areas. There are also vinyl pool covers available that can be stretched across pools when owners are away. They are strong enough to support a man, will keep out falling leaves and debris.
Around the Pool
Pools by their nature beget accessories. Out of the water, the swimmer wants to rest on a terrace. Chairs and tables inevitably appear, and then the pool becomes the center of a picnic site, with food and drink and things for fixing them. The outdoor furniture boom is almost as impressive as the pool boom. Fashions change for outdoors just as indoors, and this summer there is an international flavor to poolside fittings. Variety of color and materials has greatly increased. Plastics do not show the impact of wet bathing suits; anodized aluminums sparkle in weatherproof colors, and steel and wrought-iron frames are now rust-and corrosionproof. Here, grouped before an aluminum-framed Bermuda screen house (upper right), is a sampling of items for gentle poolside living (reading clockwise from lower left): DEMOUNTABLE ARMCHAIR AND OTTOMAN (lower left) made in Denmark, which can be stored in stacks. Two-tone poplin sling is shrinkproof and weatherproof (chair, $39; ottoman, $20; imported by George Tanier). The DUCK BUCKET CHAIR has a wrought-iron frame which automatically adjusts from upright to reclining position ($11, Frank & Son). The COVERED-WAGON COOKING UNIT has electrically operated spit, accessory outlet and electric charcoal-igniter ($249 east of Rocky Mountains, $259 west, George Henry Co.). The HERRINGBONE SCREEN is made of stick rattan ($84, Mayhew). It shields an Osetsu Dai DINING TABLE AND STOOLS, with wrought-iron frames and woven rattan-peel tops (table, $65 east of Rockies, $60 west; stool, $12.50 and $11; Tropi-Cal). On the low table a WHITE POTTERY SAMOVAR with electric warming unit is ready for coffee or soup ($36, Carole Stupell). The BUDDHA CHAIR of golden rattan fits on wrought-iron frame ($20, Tropi-Cal); the ADJUSTABLE PARASOL fastened to its side is imported from Italy ($12, Penthouse Gallery). The PEACOCK CHAIR of rattan core and peel can be had in natural or colors ($55, Mayhew). The SPANISH CASSEROLE CART of wicker is tray-compartmented for everything needed for a table setting ($340 without accessories, Carole Stupell). The BERMUDA SCREENHOUSE with aluminum frame and screen panels can be assembled with a screwdriver ($425 with canvas canopy, Durall Products). Striped side curtains make it a cabana. Inside the house, RATTAN LAZY-BOWL CHAIR cradled on gold-anodized aluminum frame slides from chair to chaise position on nylon bearings ($55, Troy Sunshade Co.). The SUN SLED with canvas laced on redwood frame moves about on casters ($35, John Hancock Co.). The PLASTIC CORD CHAIR AND OTTOMAN have enameled tubular frames guaranteed against rust and corrosion ($27 for chair, $12 for ottoman, O. Ames Co.), and ROLLING SIDE CHAIR of wrought iron has padded seat upholstered in muslin ($31.50, Gallo Ironworks).
Dry-offs for the Poolside
The convivial hours enjoyed around a backyard swimming pool call for a new type of clothing. Here is an informality that calls for something a little more planned than an old bathrobe but not so planned as the silks and linens worn at a country club. Californians, who have a 10-year head start in the art of living with pools, have developed terry cloth as a pool-side performer. Swimsuit manufacturers on the Coast come up each year with a new crop of terry dry-off suits for the whole family. Easterners are now taking a page from this book. Amateur Golfer Vin Draddy (SI, April 22) heads a men's sportswear firm in New York, had his firm make up pullover shirts in luxurious Martex toweling for use in his new pool house in Rye, now markets them. Even I. Miller has got its feet wet with a bathing sandal soled with the nonslip hemp used to cover diving boards (lower left). Here, photographed at Phoenix pools, is a sampling of terry-cloth comfort.
PACKED SAND BASE
2 INCHES TAMPED SAND
WELDED A FRAME
10-INCH SAND BED