By Raanan Geberer
The recent reopening of Greenpoint’s renovated McCarren Park Pool, together with the photos of happy swimmers amid the backdrop of the 1930s-era bathhouse, brought something to mind.
When I started working for the Eagle (then the Bulletin) in the mid-1990s, the McCarren Park Pool had already been closed for more than 10 years. The rumor was that it had never reopened after routine maintenance because some Greenpoint and Williamsburg residents didn’t want kids from Bedford-Stuyvesant coming up there.
Occasionally, we would hear from a particular local resident, an artist, who wanted it reopened and volunteered to paint a mural on the outside with mermaids, fish and other sea creatures. Eventually, the community board began to consider the idea, but they wanted a different plan, one that would combine a half-sized pool with other athletic uses, such as a basketball court and a weight room.
The artist didn’t like this idea — she still wanted an Olympic-sized pool. However, the community decided on the smaller pool and athletic facility, but to no avail. While the money was in the budget, it somehow was never appropriated. This happened for several years in a row.
Eventually, the community board talked about covering up the pool’s surface with a temporary lawn and green space that could be removed if the city ever decided to appropriate the money.
It was then that I concluded that the idea of rebuilding the McCarren Park Pool was nonsense, that these people were just tilting at windmills, and the that pool would just continue to deteriorate until there was some sort of accident, at which time it would be demolished. The fact that, about six years ago, the pool site began to be used for rock concerts, to me, just put an official stamp on its doom.
So I was pleasantly surprised last month when I got the news about the pool reopening. Apparently, someone must have been out there advocating for its renovation all this time. Here you have an important lesson — if you keep advocating for a civic project and never stop, there’s a chance that your project will succeed, even if it takes 30 years.
Two other examples of this come to mind, although they’re both from Manhattan. When the city decided to tear down the Third Avenue El in Manhattan in the 1950s, it had already announced plans for a Second Avenue Subway. Indeed, bonds had already been issued for the subway, and everybody assumed it would be ready by the time the el went down. But the Transit Authority (now MTA New York City Transit) decided to use the funds to repair existing stations, buy new subway cars and do track work.
Fast forward to 1972, when, after years of planning, Mayor John Lindsay and his colleagues broke ground for a new Second Avenue Subway project. During the next few years, several sections were built, including one in the East Village and another in East Harlem. But the work came to an end when the city almost went bankrupt in 1975.
But now, work on the Second Avenue Subway is yet again under way. Someone must have been advocating for it all these years.
Here’s a third project, one a friend of mine was personally involved in. In the 1960s, the city tore down a municipal gym and pool in Chelsea to make room for a post office. It promised a new pool, and indeed, one was almost finished until, in 1975, work stopped because of the very same fiscal crisis.
For the next 30 years, the new building, half-finished indoor pool and all, was used as a Parks Department storage facility. My friend, however, persevered. He wrote letters, met with public officials, submitted resolution after resolution at the political club we both belong to. Today, the Chelsea Recreation Center is a reality. (My friend is a little bitter because he assumed the city would give him a job there, but that’s another story.)
So if you’re really serious about a civic project, you’ve got to hang in there. It may seem hopeless, but you never know when things may change. A new administration may come in, the economy of the city may improve, private funds may become available, any number of things could happen.
The Eagle has been running several articles about the Brooklyn War Memorial, which is currently closed to the public. But who’s to say that in a few years, the War Memorial will be, at long last, an active museum that pays tribute to the country’s service members? Indeed, there seems to be some movement in that direction already.
To sum up: Civic activists, hang in there! Your day will come — even if it’s later rather than sooner.
Raanan Geberer is managing editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.