“We don’t own cars, so we can’t drive to lakes and beaches and stuff,” Jesse Amaro, a home health aide, said outside the Crotona Pool in the Bronx. It was on one of last summer’s hottest days, and the line to get in stretched far down the sidewalk by early afternoon.
She surveyed the sun-beaten line of would-be bathers, their only relief a spray of mist from a hose looped around a street sign. It would take her and her small daughter an hour to get in, and then at 3 p.m., when pools close for an hour for cleaning and staff breaks, they would have to either end their swim or brave the line a second time to re-enter. Ms. Amaro, 46, decided to skip it. They headed home.
These struggles contrast with the glamorous ambitions of 1936, when the city opened its 11 largest pools. They were designed as extravagant bathing palaces for the masses, symbols of civic pride and public investment. During the New Deal, the federal government helped build these grand, elegant spaces for poor New Yorkers — mostly white back then — whose children often drowned trying to cool off in rivers.
But many New York pools, like others around the country, remained segregated. Some have claimed that Robert Moses, the powerful parks commissioner, purposely built them in the hearts of white and Black neighborhoods, not on the edges, creating de facto white and Black pools.
To deter unrest during the racial tensions of the late 1960s, the city began opening dozens of smaller pools in underserved, overheated Black and Latino neighborhoods.
Draconian policies, enacted decades ago in response to violence in the pools, continue to restrict what bathers can take onto pool decks, infusing the pools with what Ms. Amaro called “a prison-yard mentality.”