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FIRST LOOK AT A NEW POOL
This," said Esther Williams as she emerged from the azure waters of her latest Esther Williams Swimming Pool, "is the biggest thing that has ever happened in home pools. It is also," the dazzling president of the International Swimming Pool Corporation added, "the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me." Her words will very likely soon be echoed by nameless thousands for whom a backyard swimming pool is still an improbable dream, for the Penthouse Pool shown on the preceding pages, pilot model for the newest and most unusual addition to International's line of 24 different types of home and commercial swimming pools, could become as familiar a part of American family living as the second car. "We're planning to sell the 16-by-20-foot Penthouse Pool for under $3,000," Esther says. "At that price there's no reason why there shouldn't be a pool in every backyard big enough to hold one."
The Penthouse indeed appears to offer more for the money than any pool now on the market. Its low price is possible because of the pool's unique construction—the Penthouse is built above, rather than in, the ground, eliminating costly excavation problems. Moreover, the basic pool structure is California redwood, a radical departure and, according to Esther, a considerable improvement over the traditional poured concrete. Besides being less expensive than concrete, redwood withstands weather and water indefinitely, needs no special finish and, most important, can be prefabricated on an assembly-line basis.
The redwood structure also forms its own fence around the pool, with locking doors to keep out stray animals and stray people. Beneath the enclosed decking is more than 500 square feet of storage space, enough to handle the lawn mowers and deck chairs of practically the whole neighborhood. Of even greater interest, should an owner move and want to take his pool with him, the whole assembly can be dismantled and reassembled in a couple of days. By the same token, as the family grows, the standard-size Penthouse Pool can be enlarged from 16 by 20 feet to 16 by 32 feet simply by adding redwood panels to the original structure.
To Esther and to International, the new Penthouse Pool, which goes on the market this week, represents the gold medal at the end of a three-year swim to the top of one of the nation's fastest-growing industries (SI, April 29, 1957). A decade ago there were only an estimated 2,500 private swimming pools in the entire country, and most of these were in the backyards of millionaires and movie stars. Today this figure has grown to 87,500, and Esther Williams has built a large share of them, primarily in the backyards of average homes.
"And we've really only started," Esther says. "Although the average family no longer thinks of all swimming pools in terms of the very rich, until now a quality pool was still an expensive proposition. Aside from the cost of cement and steel, most pool companies had to buy materials from dozens of different manufacturers.
"With all these middlemen," Esther adds, "a good pool had to cost money for the builder to make any profit himself. As far as we were concerned, there was only one logical way around this—standardize swimming pools and then mass-produce all the parts ourselves."
At International's factories in Puerto Rico and New Jersey, pool parts are manufactured on an assembly-line basis, and every Esther Williams pool, regardless of where it is located, is installed to standard International specifications.
"We'll build you any shape pool you want," Esther says, borrowing a phrase from old Henry Ford, "as long as it's rectangular. This is the shape we've found most efficient and most practical to install, and it's the only kind we will install. We get lots of requests for other kinds. Jayne Mansfield wanted one in the shape of Mickey Hargitay's muscles and Liberace wanted a piano-shaped pool. They're fine, but we don't build them. Our goal at International has been the highest-quality pool at the lowest price—and this means standardization. We think the Penthouse is the answer."
At International's price, the Penthouse is certainly an amazing bargain; but then, International's president is an amazing woman. To most people, Esther Williams is primarily a beautiful face and a beautiful body—so beautiful, in fact, that the American public has paid some $86 million over the past 17 years to ogle her on movie screens. But added to her rather impressive 38-25-35 physical dimensions is an equally impressive mind. At the same time Esther was building an enviable bankroll for her studio she was also building one for herself in a dozen outside ventures, from a screen-door factory to a filling station. Her biggest and latest venture, International Swimming Pools, is a combination of her Hollywood role as an aquabeauty and her outside business experience.