Inside the Old Fleishhacker Pool House

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It was the largest pool in the world and a San Francisco icon. At 1000 feet long by 160 feet wide and holding 6.5 million gallons of filtered saltwater pumped in from the Pacific Ocean across the street, the pool was so huge that the lifeguards patrolled in rowboats.

The Fleishhacker Pool opened in 1925 and welcomed thousands of daily swimmers and hosted national swim meets with thousands of spectators. The 25 cent admission fee (15 cents for children) bought swimmers pool admission, access to the pool house’s dressing rooms and showers, as well as a bathing suit and towel for the day. Admittance also included access to the mammoth pool house’s cafeteria and childcare center.

But with the cold ocean fog frequently blanketing the pool, the novelty began to wear off as shivering pool-goers sought out warmer climates. Attendance dropped and the pool’s cost to the city climbed. In 1943, the pool found a new purpose as it served as an ideal training ground for American troops training for amphibious beach assaults. After the war, maintenance on the pool was severely underfunded by the city, and in 1971, the pool closed forever and the pool house was boarded up.

In 1999, the city turned over the pool and its accompanying ramshackle pool house to the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo filled in the huge pool with gravel and converted the space to a parking lot. But the pool house has endured. The imposing structure still stands between the Great Highway and the zoo’s parking lot. The dilapidated building is riddled with holes in its soggy roof and is covered in moss and graffiti. A fence surrounds the derelict building with warnings of arrest for trespassing.

The haunting interior of the Fleishhacker pool house is like a scene straight out of a horror movie. Graffiti decorates every inch of the crumbling walls and scraps of bedding material, syringes, and cans of spent spray paint litter the dirt-covered wobbly floors. Homeless huddle in sleeping bags behind creaky doors in the dozens of rooms throughout the huge complex. Glowing beams of light infiltrate the collapsed rooftops and broken windows into the upper levels of the poolhouse. The staircase down to the basement takes a descent into a damp, pitch-black concrete expanse where laundry machines once sterilized towels and swimsuits for happy swimmers.

The future of the old Fleishhacker pool house is in limbo as its new owners debate what to do with it. For now, it continues to stand as a haunting edifice of San Francisco’s past.

 UPDATE: On Dec 1, 2012 the Fleishhacker pool house burned to the ground. It was a sad day for San Francisco history. A month later the building’s remains were demolished and removed, except for one small facade section which was preserved as a memorial for the building and is now visible from the zoo parking lot. Investigators deemed the fire “suspicious.”

Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
My Silent Fears Have Gripped Me

Inside the old Fleishhacker Poolhouse.

Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Inside the Old Fleishhacker Poolhouse
Swipe left or right to view photos:

Historical Photos

The Fleishhacker Pool and pool house. Courtesy SF History Center, SF Public Library.

Location

  • kent sherwood

    Mr. Clover;
      You never disappoint! Beyond the incredible images you have captured I am in awe of your “eye” for beauty, form, light nuances and the dazzling impact on one’s eyes and mind when you capture all that. In my most humble opinion you have mastered the art of photography. The historical juxtapositioning of the raw, gruesome innards of this famous SF site as it is today against what it was at one time in its elegance only adds to the impact.
    If your pictures of the F Pool were a cinema you would have an Oscar and Palme d’Or. Congratulations!  

    s/  Kent Sherwood    

  • Markus Kraemling

    Hi Shwan,
    I am fascinated by your pics and this location. Do you think it is save to go there alone?
    Thx

  • You probably wouldn’t have a problem going alone. To get in you need to descend down from the roof into one of the restrooms and a fall might not be something you’d want to deal with alone, so at least have a phone. You may run into a few homeless people and graffiti taggers, but I usually find them harmless in these types of places.

  • Mike

    Very interesting. Remember being in that building to change into bathing suit and shower in the fifties.

  • Cindy

    Your experiences are reminiscent of my mid-seventies explorations of the bunkers near and around Fort Cronkhite. That Stygian blackness, the sharp tang of urine, ghostly uneven forms of debris. Even after twenty minutes of dark adaptation, it was impossible to discern any graffiti. If only I had known a little of what photography I know now, I might have at least some record of those haunted spaces.

    But nothing could have approached your artistry. You draw us in to this surreal place with selective coloring, softenings, blurbs of light and focus. What you display here is that hidden fascination with abandonment (in all senses of the term) that many of us succumb to but rarely find expression for.

    Thank you! for including us on your journey.

  • Deejaymarkust75

    this is so great man …thnx for letting me see inside this bit of history.mark/england

  • Linda Lipps Cervon

    My dad took me to swim there once in around 1955 (when I was 7) and he made a big deal about it being the largest swimming pool. Since we were on vacation we didn’t have bathing suits with us and what I remember most was having to RENT a suit and wear one that some other child had worn. Brrrrr…