Back in the days before TV, Internet and reality shows, people used to swim.
San Francisco’s Sutro Baths was one of the great swimming palaces of the early 1900s. But of all the great municipal pools of that era, very few survive.
But in the East Bay city of Point Richmond, the gleaming Richmond Municipal Natatorium is about to rise like a swimmer on a pool ladder. The "Plunge" as it's remembered by residents, has undergone a massive renovation that saw its period details and pristine waters nursed back to health.
"Back when this opened in the 20s, municipal pools were a huge thing," said architect Todd Jersey, who oversaw the renovation. "They’d have the water dancing -- that’s why the balconies are here. They’d pack the balconies and have water performance."
Richmond attorney David Vincent’s mother attended the opening of the Plunge in 1926. Vincent himself grew up swimming in the sparkling waters of the municipal pool.
"As grade-schoolers, the school bus would take us to the Plunge and you learned to swim," said Vincent.
The building survived a changing world as Richmond exploded in population during World War II. Thousands of people moved to Richmond to work in the bustling Kaiser shipyards. As different races came together in the 40s, the Plunge was said to be a place where everyone would mingle without tension. "Here, everyone understood this was a place of peace and harmony - and people got along," said Jersey.
The city condemned the building in 2001 after the walls began to buckle. The community rallied together to raise funds to restore the natatorium. Jersey and his team restored the spiraling ceiling after a dodgy 1960s remodel. He also relocated the bathrooms from mid-span to enhance the feeling of unencumbered space. Solar panels now power the lights, and the water is treated with a saline-like solution that's easier on the eyes.
But the most stunning new feature is a massive mural by Richmond artist John Wehrle that covers a far wall. Soaring cranes and trees create a scenic backdrop for a swim.
The city will celebrate the reopening of the Plunge on Saturday at 11 a.m. After speeches, the pool will open to swimmers. Vincent expects the turnout to resemble the original 1926 opening, when hundreds of people wanted to be the first in the pool, and the last one out.