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.