A public swimming pool is being highlighted as a wealthy Southern California community confronts its racist past.
The pool in question is the Brookside Plunge, a municipal swimming pool that operated from the early 1900s through the 1980s in Pasadena, California.
The week after the pool opened on July 4, 1914, city officials declared that the pool would be racially segregated, setting aside “Wednesday afternoons and evenings for the use of the Negro population of Pasadena,' according to historical documents. When members of the African-American community initially protested the segregation by presenting the city council with a petition, they were dismissed. In 1915, when they again asked for an end to the segregation at the city’s only public swimming pool, the city council banned African-American use of the pool completely, a ban that lasted the next 14 years.
African Americans were not the only ethnic group excluded from the pool. In 1930, the city abandoned the ban and returned to segregation, opening the pool to people of color — which also included Asian and Mexican Americans — on Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for “International Day.” Whites were not permitted to swim during those hours.
Baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who grew up in Pasadena, mentions the pool in his autobiography.
' Pasadena regarded us as intruders,” he wrote. “My brothers and I were in many a fight that started with a racial slur on the very street we lived on. We saw movies from segregated balconies, swam in the municipal pool only on Tuesdays, and were permitted in the YMCA on only one night a week. Restaurant doors were slammed in our faces. In certain respects, Pasadenans were less understanding than Southerners and even more openly hostile.'
Author Toshi Ito, the mother of Pasadena resident Judge Lance Ito (who presided over the O.J. Simpson trial), also mentions the pool in her memoir.
'My homeroom class decided to have a graduation swim party and picnic at Brookside Park in Pasadena,” she wrote. “Parents of our classmates and our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Hanna Yoeman, drove us to Brookside Park. We had a wonderful picnic lunch and played some games to pass the time because it was not good for you to go in the water right after eating a meal.
We all lined up to pay the plunge fee and rent a towel. When Motomu Nagasako, a Japanese American, got up to the window to pay, he was told Orientals were not allowed to use the plunge. There were five Japanese Americans in my homeroom class. He had the embarrassing task to tell us we were excluded. We all glumly sat on the lawn watching the others frolicking in the swimming pool and wishing the afternoon would end and we could all go home. It was my first encounter with being excluded.'
When, in 1941, after a lawsuit brought by six African Americans, courts decided to end the segregation. The city opted instead to close the plunge completely rather than comply. The pool remained closed until 1947.
Days after the lawsuit was filed, backlash among Whites resulted in a group of White residents to form an organization, The Pasadena Improvement Association, that would become notorious for implementing racial segregation citywide.
This organization, directed by City
Brookside Plunge Pool, Pasadena, California. Photo Credit: Calisphere. Council Member and Mayor Albert I. Stewart and the law firm Hahn and Hahn partner Herbert Hahn, existed to provide a legal basis for racial segregation in Pasadena by amending property deeds such that non-White people could not inhabit whole portions of the city.
One such document says in part, 'that no portion or part of said lots or parcels of land shall be used or occupied by, or permitted to be used or occupied by, any person not of the White or Caucasian race. That no person shall live upon said property at any time whose blood is not entirely that of the Caucasian race…” Additional members of The Pasadena Improvement Association included bankers who had the ability to refuse loans to non-Whites, further enforcing the city’s segregation.
Their campaign was such an apparent success that by 1955, an African-American child attempting to access the plunge pool was denied entry on the basis that she could not possibly be a resident of Pasadena because the city had no Black residents. 12/30/22, 4:37 PM 13.png On August 2, 1955, a White resident of Los Angeles brought his two daughters and their friend, a young Black girl by the name of Susan McClain, to The Brookside Plunge. McClain was denied entry to the public swimming facility due to the pool’s regulation limiting entry to residents of South Pasadena only. Employees of the plunge explained that they knew McClain was not a South Pasadena resident because, “at that time there apparently were no Negroes residing within the city.”
The pool, as well as Pasadena’s history with its minority residents, came to the fore during the November 2022 election as the city grappled with a proposal to implement rent control.
During the proposal’s public comment period, an anonymous Pasadena resident gave City Council members this history lesson of the city’s relationship with race relations.
“Pasadena should acknowledge its history of denying home ownership to ethnic groups and adopt a rent stabilization measure,” the writer concluded.
The proposal to implement rent control passed with 54 percent of the vote.