Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County
County Seat Council Bluffs, Iowa
.2 Swimming at Manawa
Spending some time in the water has long been a good way to occupy a Midwestern summer afternoon. Over the years Council Bluffs has had a number of beaches and pools at which to carry out that plan.
Lake Manawa has had swimming at several locations around the lake since the opening of Manhattan Beach in 1886. In 1938 a public beach was built on the north shore near the peninsula that was fairly popular, but not universally accepted. As local doctor Arthur Pedersen put it, “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.” Swimming was relocated to the south shore in the 1990s.
Lake Manawa State Park offered swimming at a beach on the north shore from 1938 until the 1990s.
In 1895, ice dealers A.G. & E.J. Gilbert were allowed to establish an eight-acre pond for ice cutting on the south side of Lakeview Park. Referred to as “Gilbert’s Lake” or “Gilbert’s Pond,” water was piped from nearby springs. In 1920, the Park Board erected a bathhouse along its north bank. Sand was brought in to create a beach and to provide better footing over the lake’s mud bottom. A fence was constructed around the pond and an admission fee charged. The usual dark heavy woolen bathing suits of the day could be rented in the bathhouse. The lake was closed to swimming 1935 due to the impurity of the water.
The Y.M.C.A. brought the option of indoor swimming to Council Bluffs in the early part of the 20th Century, but the pool was small and open to males only until 1930; photo from 1925.
Gilbert’s Lake offered swimming at Big Lake Park in the early part of the 20th Century. The lake remains today but with no swimming.
The Y.M.C.A. on First Avenue opened in 1909 but swimming opportunities were limited; the indoor pool was small and restricted to males only until 1930.
For at least a couple of generations the summertime hot spot was 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 13,500 square foot structure holding “a half million gallons of water.” 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.
By the late 1950s pressure mounted 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.
Elks Country Club installed a pool in 1956 but it was for the use of their members only.
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. Other membership pools followed; Town and Country in the 1960s and Green Meadows in the 1970s. Cabana pool has since closed; the city purchased the land in 2013 and developed it for housing lots which were resold to private developers.
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.
The city added a second public pool in 1976. It was named for former mayor Joseph Katelman who had donated land adjacent to Sunset Park for the pool. The city has recently added a water playground to Fairmount Park as well.
A new Y.M.C.A. pool was built on Fourth Street in the mid-1970s.
Crystal Pool “met the need of the city for a high class ballroom” in 1933. 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.
Manhattan Beach was located about where today's public swimming area is at Lake Manawa.
(Story by Richard Warner. Dr. Warner serves on the board of directors of the Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County.)