Historical Society of

Pottawattamie County

County Seat Council Bluffs, Iowa

Summer in the Sun at Crystal Pool

Spending fun in the sun poolside is something of a rite of passage for teens.  For at least a couple of generations of Council Bluffs youth hot fun in the summertime meant Crystal Pool on Fifth Avenue at South 29th Street.

Crystal Pool was built and opened by local carpenter/general contractor John Langstrom in the summer of 1931, its 75 x 180 foot, 13,500 square foot structure holding "a half million gallons of water."  Mr. Langstrom owned the pool throughout its entire existence, with brothers George and Victor periodically assisting in operations.  Christening of the city's first pool was a big event, with a celebration organized by Creighton University's swim team that attracted "some of the best swimmers in the country" for a diving and water sports demonstration.

Lack of a municipal pool meant Crystal was home to activities that likely would have gone to the city pool had such a facility existed.  The Red Cross held their swim classes there; the pool was also the host to regular swim competitions under the direction of Matt Walsh, "the most stellar basketball player ever to graduate from Abraham Lincoln high school."  Mr. Walsh was also the chief life guard at the pool in the mid 1930s and an expert swimmer, known for his ability to swim the length of the pool completely under water.

Crystal first provided the city a much needed pool, then in 1933 "met the need of the city for a high class ballroom."  The brick facility was described as innovative with it's long enclosed veranda equipped as a lounge and smoking room.  The ballroom was built just to the west of the pool facing the "fully equipped picnic grounds;" it hosted dances every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday night featuring live bands.

By the late 1950s a push existed to create a city-owned pool.  Some considered Crystal inadequate for a community the size of Council Bluffs; by 1960 over 2000 kids a summer were taking the Red Cross' water safety program, forcing them to use the private pool of Floyd Hughes, Jr. on Kenmore Avenue as well as Crystal.  Others felt the fee of a private pool— fifty cents— was beyond the price many local youths could afford on a regular basis; public pools in other cities were charging kids just fifteen cents.  There was a public beach at Lake Manama, but local doctor Arthur Pedersen explained, "that beach is not clean and it is necessary to take a bath after swimming there in order to remove the filth picked up in the water."  

The city council was concerned about the costs of a municipal pool, citing conflicting statistics.  Most information suggested such pools operate at a loss, draining city budgets, but the few area towns with pools (Creston, Shenandoah, Red Oak and Glenwood) claimed they broke even or even produced a small profit.  

A sufficient number of citizens signed a petition to put a public pool on the ballot but voters rejected it.  Realtor Harry Crowl suggested the city purchase Crystal Pool instead, but the petition organizers said the point was to create an additional pool, not subsidize an existing one.

On the north end of town some people took matters in their own hands.  The Cabana Swimming Club was formed in 1960 with 200 families buying a membership for $150 and agreeing to dues of $25 per year.  The 40 x 60' main pool and 20 x 30' wading pool for children were built at Raymond Avenue between Gunn and Spencer Streets.

In 1964 the Council Bluffs Youth Center was created adjacent to Woodrow Wilson junior high school at North 16th Street and Avenue G.  A pool was built at that facility by developer Darrel Anderson and leased to the city for use as a municipal pool.  That same year John Langstrom died; Crystal Pool was closed and put up for sale.  Crystal Pool sat vacant; in 1969 a petition was circulated to have it demolished as a safety hazard.  A local entrepreneur talked of a plan to recondition the pool and reopen in the early 1970s but the plan was abandoned.  The pool itself has been filled in but buildings that housed Crystal Lodge and the bath house still stand today. 

A second membership pool, Green Meadows, was created in the 1970s; it still operates today.  When sufficient money for repairs couldn't be raised Cabana pool closed; the city purchased the land in 2013 and developed it for housing lots which were resold to private developers.

(Story by Richard Warner.  Dr. Warner serves on the board of directors of the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County.)