Places that Matter

Thomas Jefferson Park and Pool

click on image for slideshow
NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation - Spencer Tucker
NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation - Spencer Tucker
City Lore
City Lore
NYC Parks Photo Archive - Max Ulrich
WPA-era public pool that has seen some eras of racial strife
Place Details »

Place Matters Profile

The Thomas Jefferson Pool, one of eleven giant pools opened in city neighborhoods in the 1930s that changed New York’s summer landscape forever, is a popular summer destination for swimmers, dippers, and waders. Opened in 1936, and with few renovations since, the pool maintains its historic place in the community as a summer escape from New York City’s humid, grimy summers without the racial strife that plagued the pool and the community not so many years ago.

A product of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the eleven pools, implemented by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and his Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, were a government-sponsored effort to alleviate bad health conditions and allow for safe recreation in working class neighborhoods. Combined, the new pools could accommodate more than 43,000 bathers at once. Except for McCarren Pool in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, the other ten pools remain open today. Moses, a devoted swimmer himself funded the pools at $1 million apiece from WPA monies provided by the federal government to create desperately-needed jobs and stimulate the economy in the midst of the Great Depression.

The second of the new pools to open, Jefferson Park's pool -- 270 feet long by 125 feet wide -- accommodated 2,600 people at a time. Two large fountains emerged from either end of the swimming area, and the separate diving pool featured seven diving boards -- one of them a high board. In the 1990s the Parks Department decided the diving pool was dangerous and has since transformed it into a wading pool.