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St. Louis' largest outdoor public pool reopens and highlights diversity

Beating the heat
File photo | Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Marquette Park Pool Opens

Outdoor pools have become a politically charged subject in the wake of a white police officer’s treatment of black teens in McKinney, Texas. This weekend, the city of St. Louis' largest outdoor public pool reopened after being closed for over a year.  In a year marked by racial tension throughout the city, many people in attendance at the Marquette Park pool characterized the event as a step in the right direction.

Gravois Park resident Eric "Prospect" White, 30
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Gravois Park resident Eric "Prospect" White, 30

“This is how it’s supposed to be.  I’m looking at black babies in the water, I’m looking at white babies in the water. I’m looking at the entire community in the water,” said Eric White, 30, known locally as Prospect. “Yeah, the thing in Texas is going on but we’re in St. Louis. Going forward we’re actually doing it right, like currently.”

According to the Parks Division, the pool was closed last year when a pipe broke in the pool's pump room.  The pool is one of three outdoor public pools in St. Louis that are free of charge to the public. Community members expressed frustration at the pool’s closure over a year ago because of the lack of amenities in the neighborhood. White, who works with kids through the arts program Cherokee Street Reach, said the pool is integral to the community.

“These are struggling people for the most part. These are people who are being pushed to the side and ignored for the most part,” he said. “So something as simple as this can show acknowledgement to a community or neighborhood that is in dire need of it.”

The pool’s opening was a campaign point for the recently elected alderwoman for the 20th Ward, Cara Spencer.  She says there was little planning to reopen the pool after its closing a little over a year ago.

“It was a real challenge last summer. A lot of people were really, really disappointed because there’s not a lot to do around here in the summer,” she said.

Spencer worked with the Parks Department and Mayor Francis Slay’s office to ensure the pool would be fixed and opened after she was elected. Pool repairs were paid for primarily through the 20th Ward budget funds and a matching program organized by the city through the Parks Division.  She said the pool opening was in no way affected by the recent discussion regarding race and culture in the media.

Blank Generation play facing Marquette Pool
Credit Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio
Blank Generation play facing Marquette Pool

The opening featured music by local musicians Blank Generation, Sleepy Kitty and Black James.  Sleepy Kitty musician Evan Sult, 41, said the pool is a resource for bringing together the community. 

“We’ve seen it as a way to bridge the new elements of Cherokee and the neighborhood with the traditional elements of the neighborhood, and there’s no better place as a literal watering hole, than a pool for everybody to get to know each other,” said Sult, who also runs Eleven Magazine.

Area nonprofit Southside Forever provided free food and drinks and helped organize volunteers for the pool’s opening.  Nonprofit CFO Vance Joseph Ivory Sr., 60, said he knew the neighborhood during times of segregation and that the pool has been a progressive space. 

“This here pool has always figured in as a meeting place for integration,” he said “This has been one of the main vehicles for us to bring diversity back to south St. Louis.”

Where’s your local outdoor pool?

Marquette Park (south St. Louis) – Outdoor 

Chambers Park (near Midtown) – Outdoor

Fairgrounds Park (north St. Louis) – Outdoor

Parks have free admission. Required items: swim suits, towels and soap.  

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