Sept. 14, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
The defunct diving pool in Astoria Park is back in the spotlight again.
In 2014 the Parks department announced that it would fill in the diving pool and create a performance space, but a local Astoria resident has started a petition to restore the diving pool to its former glory.
Kathleen Springer, raised in Astoria right near the pool, has put out an emotional plea to the city to halt the plans of filling in the diving pool and restore it, sharing photos of the pool in its prime, when it was used for the Olympic Trials in 1936 and 1964.
The Parks Department, however, maintains that the space will serve a much greater population for a much larger portion of the year if it is turned in to a public plaza.
“Parks is moving forward with the plan to create a plaza in place of the diving pool, which will give New Yorkers of all abilities increased access to this space within the park for a longer amount of time, and provide the community with a location to host events and programs,” said Meghan Lalor, a Parks Department spokesperson.
The diving pool was closed in the 1980s for liability and safety reasons, Lalor explained, and has sat dormant since.
In 2010, The Parks Department commissioned a master plan for the site “to assist in guiding design decisions in the future, and also to investigate restoration and adaptive reuse possibilities.”
The study of the diving pool concluded that “to reactivate the diving pool, a new water circulation pumps, water filtration, water treatment, and water distribution systems are required,” in addition to extensive structural repairs to the pool basin and the dive tower.
Using that information, Parks decided to proceed with the idea of creating an amphitheater where the old diving pool is now, though when bids for the project came back well over the budgeted $4.7 million in 2015, the department decided instead to fill in the pool and create a plaza area. Regardless of the use of the space, the plan includes the restoration of the historic 32-foot high dive tower to maintain and recognize the historical importance of the space.
Springer, however, said that the diving pool and its history are too important to pave over. She said she herself learned to dive in the pool, and has memories of riding over to the park on the handlebars of her mother’s bike to watch the opening gala for the 1964 Olympic Trials.
“The Art Deco style, the porcelain ceramics, the space has so much originality and is like stepping back in to time,” she said.
She added that she has collected a ballpark estimate of 500 to 600 signatures on her petition so far, often by standing outside the pool and asking those using it if they would prefer to have a performance space or restore the diving pool.
“I haven’t even gotten started,” she said, explaining that she has already contacted Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilman Costa Constantinides, Community Board 1, several Parks Department representatives, and anyone else she believes could make a difference to her cause.
The pool complex in Astoria Park opened in 1936 on the day of the first Olympic Trials held there, and was designed by legendary city planner Robert Moses.
Springer said that the diving pool is the “crown jewel” of Moses’ legacy, and the most “magnificent” pool he ever designed.
“It’s outrageous and we mourn every time we walk past the diving pool and see it empty, it’s an ache in our hearts,” she said.
But Old Astoria Neighborhood Association member Diane Kantzoglou who did not attend the community board meeting offered a different perspective on the matter.
“There are thousands of people that could be benefiting from the entertainment and cultural value of the space as a plaza, and basically the few people that would be using it as a pool,” she said.
Kantzoglou also said that OANA has gathered many letters from performers and community members in favor of the idea of a performance venue and plaza, citing reasons from cost to scope of use.
Lalor said that as of now the Parks Department plans to move forward with the plaza, in part due to the time, effort and money that has already gone in to the project, and also because it would benefit a greater number of people.
She said that a revised design for the plaza will be released this fall, and the project will likely move in to the procurement stage next spring.