Nestled in the lush tree-lined neighborhood near Olmos Basin Park is a swimming pool that has cooled generations during San Antonio’s sultry summers.
As a youngster in the late 1950s, Rick Shaw remembers swimming in the pool and then playing baseball at the nearby diamonds. After moving back to the area in 1989, he decided to bring his children for a swim but soon found out the pool was closed and in need of significant repairs. The sight saddened him. A piece of his childhood was struggling to stay in operation because the City of Alamo Heights, which then operated the decades-old pool, could not afford the required touch-ups.
“I just thought it was a shame having this great facility [close],” he said. “I thought, ‘It just needs a little attention.’”
The Alamo Heights Swimming Pool, known simply in the neighborhood as the Heights Pool, turned 70 last year, but this year Shaw is observing a significant milestone of his own. About 30 years ago, Shaw became the proprietor of the pool business, likely saving it from being shuttered for good.
After its yearlong break, the pool reopened in the summer of 1990, its decades-old paint job redone and its infrastructure upgraded. The reopening of the pool may not have surpassed the fanfare from the original Opening Splash Day on July 15, 1948, when there were diving competitions, swimming races, clowns, and water pageantry, but it was an important one for future pool-goers like Trey Guinn, whose children are now growing up at the Heights pool.
A San Antonio native, Guinn discovered the pool only after moving back to the city in 2013. He spent years swimming in Austin’s historic pools and swimming holes, including the oldest manmade swimming facility in Texas: Deep Eddy Pool. The spring-fed pool in West Austin was built during the Great Depression, about 12 years before the Alamo Heights pool.
Now his go-to spot for work meetings and stay-at-home vacations, the pool has a nostalgic charm reminiscent of Deep Eddy, Guinn said. But more than that, the Heights pool is a community gathering place – a place that can wash one’s worldly worries away, he said. When he schedules meetings now he doesn’t bother making it in his smartphone calendar. Rather, the University of the Incarnate Word professor and his meeting companion agree just to meet the next time they’re at the pool.
Guinn, who lives just minutes away from the pool, said he has never met his neighbors. Neighbors not interacting with each other is a problem in today’s society, he said. But Shaw and his staff at the pool have revived that classic sense of community.
“Rick has preserved what it means to be neighborly, and he doesn’t even seek credit for it,” he said. “That’s what’s really cool.”
Rather than charge for daily admission, the Heights pool customers pay for a summer pass, granting access to pass-holders for the entire five-month swimming season. Asked how many pass-holders the pool has, Shaw only responded, coyly, with “a bunch.” The pass-holders don’t just live in Alamo Heights and the surrounding suburban neighborhoods. Shaw said they come from places as far-flung as Boerne and Lytle.
The Heights pool has traditionally drawn visitors from distant parts of the county.
Steve Kosub, still a regular visitor to the pool some 60 years after first swimming in it as a child, remembers his mother driving him and his sisters from their home near Woodlawn Lake and then making a stop at San Pedro Public Library in the afternoon to pick up some summer reads.
“It was just a great community institution for all of us,” said Kosub, who became a pass-holder in the 1990s when he moved to the Alamo Heights area. His children would then spend hours on end at the pool, later taking jobs as lifeguards during their high school summers.
Three generations were at the pool this week as Kosub’s daughter, Catherine Marshall, was in town visiting from Houston with her 5-year-old grandson.
“[Going to the pool] is a great thing to do with him, and it’s another generation to enjoy it,” Kosub said.
Children ages 4 to 18 take part in the Alamo Heights Pool Sharks, a summer recreational swim team that has become an annual rite of passage for San Antonio’s suburban kids. The program has swelled from about 60 children to now 300, Shaw said.
Also offered at the pool are swim lessons. Private and semi-private lessons take place every weekday at the pool and cost anywhere from $20 to $35 for a 30-minute session. Non-pass-holders are welcome to take lessons there.
“People come from all over San Antonio to take their kids to lessons,” said Elizabeth Garrett, who brings her two daughters to the pool every day. The instructors, she said, have been teaching at the pool for years. “We keep in touch with them all throughout the year. They’ve just become part of our lives, which is cool.”
Managing the pool is a labor of love for Shaw, said those who have frequented it for years. The Alamo Heights resident now in his 60s said it’s gratifying to have witnessed the joy the pool brings to the many who have splashed about in it.
“Just like the memories I have as a kid from a jillion years ago, these memories are being built up right now,” he said. “I just feel fortunate that we drove by that day [in 1989] and I came back to check it out.”