residents recall Crystal Beach
as Madisons social hub
Park officials undecided on pools
(April 2001) Madison, In Hot
summer days, snow cones, large dill pickles, swimming
lessons and girls at the beach these are just some
of the images that come to mind when recalling the Golden
Age of the Crystal Beach Swimming Pool and Recreation
Many considered it to have once been the
social hub of Madison. Since its inception in 1937, Crystal
Beach has become a landmark that area residents have grown
to cherish as more than just a place to swim. Now the
Madison Parks Department must decide the future of the
pool. It held a public forum in March to gather input
from the community.
Options include renovating the current pool or building
another one, either on the present site or the hilltop
near the Rucker Sports Complex. The parks department had
outside consultants assess the situation, and parks director
Dave Munier said nothing has been decided yet.
Today, such discussions under way to either repair or
replace the aging pool have not only sparked debate but
also memories among the many who have grown up around
Crystal Beach was born as a project of the New Deals
Works Progress Administration, which had the objective
of improving public facilities while providing jobs for
people after the Great Depression. Its existence as a
public pool was at a time when pools were scarce. This
was even the case 20 years after it opened in the 1950s.
No one else had pools. If there was anyone, I dont
know who, said Harold Lakeman, who started working
at the pool in 1956 before later becoming parks director.
It is not like today where you see two or three
pools in the neighborhood.
Madison native Mary Louise Eisenhardt remembers going
to the pool in her junior high years when it first opened.
Everyone was there. If you werent there, you
were kind of left out.
Though the style and shape of the pool at Vaughn Drive
and Broadway has remained the same, many recall certain
features that no longer exist. For example, the name Crystal
Beach had literal meaning, since sand used to line the
borders of the pool. Showers stood on the edges of the
pool for swimmers to rinse the sand off themselves before
diving in the chlorine-filled pool. The sand was removed
in 1955 because of sanitary reasons outlined by the Health
Five diving boards of varying heights were set in pyramid
formation, while water slides lined the east and west
ends of the pool. The slides were removed in the fifties
and the diving boards in the seventies because the nine-foot
depth of the pool was not regulation for the height of
the boards. Just last month, park officials were notified
by insurance company officials that the only remaining
low diving board must be removed because of such depth
In the early days, the large upstairs room of the bath
house was once used as a skating rink and dance hall.
Exact dates on the presence of the hall and rink are not
known, but as Lakeman recalled, I do remember going
with my mother in the late 1940s to get my sister from
the skating rink.
The closing of the skating rink, though, did not close
the upstairs space. The Boys Club moved there in 1953.
In 1957, John Paul became not only the Boys Club director
but also the director of Parks and Playgrounds, and the
club used the upstairs until 1968. Pauls widow,
Sue, still resides in Madison and recalled his generosity
to the local children who wanted to swim.
Any kid who wanted the opportunity to go swimming
at Crystal Beach could, she recalled. If you
could pick up sticks or clean up an area, you could get
into the pool.
A season pass to the pool would run $7.50 under normal
The pool started out as a recreational entity but soon
grew into an educational one as well. Swimming lessons
became a permanent fixture in 1953. Eisenhardt spent almost
40 years coordinating swimming lessons with the assistance
of high school students. The lessons would take place
in the morning, and many of the young children taking
lessons would stay to swim recreationally in the afternoon.
Eisenhardt recalled some evening classes that took place
for adults in the areas of life-saving and instructing.
The swimming lesson sessions would end at the close of
the summer with an evening presentation by those taking
Anything the child could do, we would work around
a theme, like a circus theme, Eisenhardt said. Wed
have probably 500 to 600 people down there watching.
The pool also provided many people who still reside in
Madison with jobs. Bob Kirkpatrick, now an optometrist,
took his first job at Crystal Beach in 1966 as a lifeguard
before graduating to pool manager.
Back in those days, Crystal Beach wasnt just
a city pool, it was a social gathering place, said
Kirkpatrick. People not only went there to swim
but to catch up on local issues. We had a mixture of all
sorts of people. It was nothing to have 1,500 swimmers
a day there.
Kirkpatrick recalled the bench on which all the doctors
wives sat daily to converse. All the swimmers knew
it was their bench. They came every day without missing
He also recalled the fringe benefits of being a Crystal
Beach lifeguard. Back in those days, the authority
of the lifeguard was absolute, the highest law.
The lifeguards would run the show at the pool, making
misbehaving swimmers sit on the low wall against the bath
house and calling 10-minute breaks for all swimmers every
hour on the hour. It was during these breaks that swimmers
were supposed to rest and could get food from the concession
You had to have a dill pickle every day, raved
Connie Combs of the popular treat that became a regular
staple there. Combs, now executive vice president of the
Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, worked at the pool as
a basket girl. Those who worked in the basket room would
provide swimmers with a basket for their clothes. After
the swimmers had changed into their swimwear, they would
give their baskets to those working the basket room. They
would in turn get a number to exchange for their basket.
A swimmer would also wear a leather triangle tag, which
allowed them to go in the nine-foot deep water. That
was status. That made you bigger than life, said
You literally grew up with that pool because the
older you got, the deeper you could go, recalled
Pam Moon, a local business owner who used to be a swim
A fond memory of many swimmers were the evening hours.
The porthole lights underneath the water allowed nighttime
It was almost tropical with the petunias in flower
pots and the smell of the summer air, recalled Linda
MacLeod, a local caterer who spent many of her teenage
days at the pool.
Such luxuries as electricity, though, could not withstand
the pools age. The shakiness of the wiring and leakage
in the pool led to the removal of the underwater illumination.
Crystal Beach also withstood two floods: one in 1964,
the other in 1997.
I remember when the flood came up, recalled
Paul of the 1964 tragedy. John and I had to get
down to the club early but couldnt get in on Vaughn
Drive. We had to go in through the side on Broadway in
order to save some picnic tables.
Despite such events, though, one surviving constant exists
in the continuing friendship of those who grew up together
at Crystal Beach.
All the employees of that pool bonded like family,
said Kirkpatrick, who to this day keeps in contact with
those with whom he lifeguarded, even though some live
out of town.
We became really close friends because we lifeguarded
several summers together, said Karen Burkhalter,
who lifeguarded with Kirkpatrick and now is a Spanish
teacher in Douglasville, Ga. Three years ago when Burkhalter
was visiting Madison, she ran into someone who remembered
her as a lifeguard 25 years before.
Burkhalters two sisters, Sally and Margo, also worked
as lifeguards there.
We were there every day when we were kids,
recalled Combs. My mom and dad said they started
going to the pool when they were 7 or 8 years old.
Combs father served as a lifeguard and worked in
the skating rink upstairs in the late 1940s.
It was the focal point of life in Madison during
the summer, said Moon. You didnt have
organized sports for kids. We did our own thing.
You just dont see pools like it, said
MacLeod, who has lived in many places besides Madison
and returned. All over the world you see square
pools. What amazes me is it was built by the W.P.A. at
a time without any money, and it had style and still does.
Now thats class!
We had people coming from everywhere, said
Eisenhardt. They came from Versailles, Scottsburg,
across the river in Kentucky. There werent too many
other recreational places. In the summer, thats
where you were.