The George Robert White pool -- now known as the -- opened for business in the summer of 1949. The pools and bath-house were built with money from the George Robert White Fund.
George Robert White (1847-1922), a philanthropist and a resident of Boston, worked as a boy for the Weeks and Potter Drug Company, a company best known for its Cuticura antibacterial soap. Over time White became president and owner of the firm.
Over the course of his life White amassed a fortune. During his lifetime he gave to a number of charitable organizations, and after his death his will bequeathed an endowment of $5 million to the City of Boston. White’s will specified that the fund was to be used only for "creating public beauty and utility" for Boston’s inhabitants. The pools, built in Doherty Park, where there once was a wide lawn, filled the gap for a swimming hole in the Charlestown neighborhood.
In 1948 a contract to build the pool for $450,000 was awarded and the two fenced-in pools -- a long lap pool and a diving pool with its treacherous yet thrilling high diving board -- opened in the summer of 1949. Almost immediately, swimming teams were formed.
Swim Teams and Races
For more than 10 years, several swim meets were held at the pool every August. Boys and Girls CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) swim meets attracted teams from all over the city, while the annual Boston Parks Department swim competition was one of the highlights of the summer.
As part of the Charlestown teams, I practiced with my team mates every morning of the summer. We met up at the pool at 9 a.m. to swim laps, practice and refine our strokes and receive the invaluable attention, coaching and leadership of Frank Vita. He and his brother Dick Vita were part of the George Robert White Pool. While Dick seemed more "office bound," Frank was always out on the pool deck, willing to be a force for good in our lives.
Workouts were strenuous. Vita tried to prepare us for actual competitions coming up in August by having us take our mark and then he would fire a starter pistol. He would call out the stroke, fire the pistol and we were off.
At one of these practices I didn’t hear him call the stroke and was still on deck while everyone else was in the water and a quarter of the way up the pool. When he yelled "breast stroke" again, I dove in, swam with everything I had -- and won the sprint!
Frank said "Helen, now we know -- that’s your stroke," and from then on, that’s how I competed. Breaststroke is still my favorite way to swim. "Frog’s arms and legs" can save your shoulders from the strain of swimming overhand.
It seems the whole neighborhood came out for the meets. They were held at night. The long lap pool had amazing submerged lights lining its walls, fabulous globes that seemed to shoot shimmers back and forth across the water. Night time at the pool had such a tropical feel for me. The meets were exciting, festive and it was very satisfying to win a trophy or two.
In front of the bath house there was a dais and trophies and medals were awarded for first, second and third place. Peggy Donohue, Sissy Suprey and Peggy Harrington were a few members of the team. Spectators sat on the stone bleachers, cheered us on and screamed when we won.
The High Diver
Sixty-two years later, the lap pool still retains much of its integrity. It’s still a fabulous "almost Olympic length" pool and provides as great a workout as it ever did. The diving pool no longer has diving boards, although two low pedestals remain. In the middle of two low diving boards there used to be a 16-foot high diving board.
We often silently watched as Domingo de Jesus, in his red Speedo, slowly climbed the diving board's ladder, then inched out to the edge of the spring board, and tested the spring with tiny, tension-filled jumps up and down. He then positioned his toes to the edge of the board, while his heels hung over the rim. He closed his eyes, and waited, with the deepest concentration, for the perfect moment to execute the dive.
You could laugh all you wanted at de Jesus’ preening, but at the moment of the dive, when his body flew into mid air and then his fingers touched his toes in the first phase of the reverse jack knife, before his full body extended into a perfect backward swan dive -- all you could be was amazed.
The pool is still amazing and continues to be the place to cool off in the summer heat.
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Information for this article was compiled from various research sources, including Christian Science Monitor September 1, 1948; various Boston Globe Archives between the years 1949 and 1965; and various web-sites, including www.cityofboston.gov/ and www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Robert_White#George_Robert_White_Fund