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14 PAGE REPORT ON THE GREAT U.S. Pool Boom
By summer's end, 87,000 Americans will own swimming pools. Here's how to build them, maintain them, keep them safe and furnish them—plus, in color, special poolside clothes designed for Sports Illustrated by Claire McCardell
Until a couple of summers ago, a swimming pool in their own backyard was a luxury few except movie stars and millionaires could indulge in. But this summer a man who lives in the Chicago suburb of Palos Park and doesn't have his own pool is a man without social grace, for 40 of the next-door Joneses have built pools there in the past two summers. In the desert valley surrounding Phoenix there are now 3,910 private swimming oases—four times as many pools as there were in 1952. And 20 new ones will be dug each month.
In Erie County, New York, where the climate, to quote a poolowner in Buffalo, is made up of "10 months of winter and two of damn hard sledding," there are suddenly 600 private pools—and, when they freeze over in winter, 600 potential skating ponds. Princeton, N.J. has 200 residential pools, including one built in the ruins of an old barn by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. At least 125 Columbus, Ohio citizens can take prebreakfast plunges in their own tanks. In short, Americans from coast to coast are enjoying the biggest splash since Repeal.
The statistics documenting the pool boom are as astonishing in their progression as a TV quiz whiz's earnings. On January 1, 1948 there were 2,500 residential swimming pools in America. On January 1, 1957, there were 57,000. Swimming Pool Age, the trade magazine of this swiftly burgeoning industry, estimates that 45,000 pools will be built this year. Two-thirds of these or about 30,000, will be of the backyard variety, at a total cost, including all equipment to maintain them, of $105 million, or an average of $3,500 per pool.
Although the boom in private pool ownership did not gather its momentum until post-World War II, the foundations for it were laid as far back as 1936, when Philip Ilsley, now president of the country's largest pool-building firm, Paddock of California, adapted the Gunite (pressure-sprayed-concrete) method of building construction to the building of pools for movie stars in Brentwood, California. The method (illustrated, with others, on the following pages) put the price of pools into a real plunge. What had been a $15,000-minimum project is now one that costs the average homeowner little more than $4,500 for a 20-by-40-foot swimming-and-diving Gunite model, or as little as $3,500 for other types. As one of the many pool builders who have cropped up to meet the requirements of the boom said the other day, you can now have one for no more than the price of a station wagon. Ilsley's method also laid the groundwork for the free-form rounded-corner, curved-wall pool; today the shape of a pool is only limited by its owner's whims and pocketbook.
Although Gunite pools—and many companies now build them—are still the most popular, representing 67% of the 33,000 pools built last year, several other newly developed methods of construction are fast growing. Esther Williams has a company with more than 700 dealers who install pools which are little more than well-engineered holes in the ground, surrounded by concrete-block walls and lined with large sheets of heavy-gauge vinyl. U.S. Steel, Tower Iron Works and Koven Steel Swimming Pools are marketing home-sized pools of welded steel, and there are similar ones of aluminum. Preformed Fiberglas pools (order Monday, swim Saturday) are delivered to the backyard in four scoop-shaped sections which only need their joints sealed. Prefabricated concrete pools are lowered into the ground in slabs by a crane. One of the newest methods, developed two years ago by a New Jersey engineer, is to pour concrete into reusable steel forms—an advantage over the costlier method of pouring concrete into wooden forms.
Also contributing to the boom is the greater ease of maintenance, taking no more than a few hours a week, made possible by new filter systems which are installed when the pool is built. Once in the ground, a 20-by-40-foot pool can cost as little as $150 a year to maintain and to keep the water—which need not be changed more than once a year—crystal clear and clean enough to meet the most rigid health department standards.
The joys of pool ownership are not unmixed. Owning one is a responsibility: the problem of safety is a very important concern (see page 51) and, as many a family has discovered, home is very likely to become more country club than home. But the pleasures of owning a pool more than compensate for any burdens, as the 57,000 American families already in the swim will happily tell you.
Building your Pool