Deep Eddy Pool

Deep Eddy Pool, located in Austin, Texas, is a historic man-made swimming pool. Deep Eddy is Texas’s oldest swimming pool, with a bathhouse erected by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The pool started as a swimming hole in the Colorado River, evolved into a resort in the 1920s, and is now a popular swimming pool run by the City of Austin.


Private property ownership

Deep Eddy started as a swimming hole along the Colorado River, which runs through Austin. It was named after an eddy caused by a massive limestone protrusion that originally jutted out into the river. Mary and Henry Johnson, siblings, developed the Deep Eddy Bathing Beach on the site in 1902. (which was owned by their father). The property was located outside of Austin at the time, although it was a short walk from the terminus of the city’s electric trolley car line. A zip line, a dance pavilion, and a horse-powered merry-go-round were among the facilities available in addition to boating, camping, and fishing. Before the widespread use of public parks, the Deep Eddy Bathing Beach functioned as a “privately owned leisure facility available to the public.”

A.J. Eilers and Partners purchased the company and land in 1915. Eilers then commissioned Max Brueggerman and William Maufrias to construct a concrete pool, which opened in the summer of 1916. George Rowley, an Eilers associate and former movie theater owner from San Antonio, was engaged to oversee the business; he and his family moved into the property’s caretaker’s house. A wooden bathhouse and nineteen wooden rental houses were erected to replace the campsites on the slope above the pool. The Deep Eddy Bathing Beach was “as much carnival ground as swimming pool” under Rowley’s supervision. A Ferris wheel and a 70-foot slide that led into the pool were installed. “Springboards, a flying trapeze, flying rings, horizontal bars, and a forty-foot diving tower” were among the attractions. Free silent movies were screened on a movie screen set up in the park next to the pool, and a variety of artists such as Fred Lowery, Marcia Burke the “World Champion Diving Baby,” and Jack Freith “the Human Fish” who ate food while underwater performed. Lorena and Her Diving Horse were maybe the most popular performers. Lorena, astride her horse, jumped down a specially made platform into a canvas-lined tank 30 to 50 feet below in the show, which was done every evening.

Public ownership

The land was purchased by the City of Austin for $10,000 in May 1935. A severe flood on the Colorado River less than a month after the acquisition demolished the bathhouse and other additions, and filled the pool with muck and debris. The Works Progress Administration and the city of Austin collaborated to fund the construction of a new bathhouse designed by Austin architects Dan Driscoll and Delmar Groos. The new bathhouse was a blend of Moderne and Rustic architectural styles; it was a relatively modest, L-shaped, single-story structure made of rough-hewn and locally quarried limestone. The “pagoda-like roof,” which was made up of three metal platforms of varying sizes and capped with a twenty-foot spire, only covered the reception area at the intersection of the two wings, where swimmers paid their admission fees. An octagonal wood and limestone ticket counter was in the center of this space, and over it hung a “wagon wheel, surrounded with lights, supported by chains.” The men’s and women’s dressing rooms were exposed to the outdoors and positioned on each side of the doorway. The initial designs planned for the entire structure to be roofed, but when the project ran over budget, the roofs over the dressing spaces were removed. The new bathhouse could accommodate more bathers than the private dressing rooms or cabanas it replaced since it took up less space, and this savings was “passed on to the public through decreased usage costs.” In July 1936, the pool and bathhouse were dedicated as a public park.

The city has used the site for a number of purposes over the years. While the pool remains open, the city has designated the western perimeter of the property as a park and playground named after A.J. Eilers. The Austin Natural Science Center moved into the bathhouse’s eastern half in 1962, and considerable changes were made to the structure. The patio on the building’s southern side was covered, and animal enclosures were constructed along the exterior of the eastern wall. There were educational events and exhibits of native Texas animals on display. However, the western portion of the bathhouse remained dedicated to pool activities. The building was utilized as office space after the Natural Science Center relocated to Zilker Park in the 1980s, until structural difficulties with the roof made it hazardous to use. As a result, the section of the bathhouse remained a “lost civic asset” until a restoration campaign coordinated by the Friends of Deep Eddy organization in 2002.

The city destroyed the 70-year-old, 50-foot-tall (15-meter) cottonwoods that encircled the pool in 2003 for safety reasons. Due to persistent leaks in the pool shell that had been fixed repeatedly, the City of Austin refurbished the pool in 2012. Work men replaced the pool’s bottom on both sides and fixed tiny fractures and leaks. The west end of the pool was leveled and enlarged, and a beach-style (zero-depth) entry was added. The restoration also involved expanding the pool deck, adding another pump outlet, a new wrought iron fence, and new lifeguard stands.

Deep Eddy Pool is a historic monument on the National Register of Historic Places that has inspired several works of art. Dan Driscoll recreated architectural design aspects in his construction of the Barton Springs Pool Bathhouse in 1946. Texas singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore penned the song “Deep Eddy Blues” about the pool and the adjoining bar, the Deep Eddy Cabaret.

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