The Richmond Plunge—one of the East Bay’s historic indoor
swimming facilities—was formally reopened Saturday, August
14, 2010 with speeches by dignitaries and community leaders
and eager enthusiasm from a large crowd that had come both
to celebrate and to swim.
“This is a great day, a great event," Richmond City Manager
Bill Lindsay told the crowd.
“This is amazing," said Elinor Strauss, one of the volunteer
leaders of the Richmond Plunge Trust that worked for several
years to raise public and private funds for the complete
renovation of the building. “I want to start off with having
all of you congratulate yourselves,” she told the crowd.
“You guys were terrific, and this is what you get for it.”
The stately eighty-four year-old Plunge stands in Point
Richmond, on a level plot of land at the base of a ridge,
adjacent to automobile and train tunnels that lead out to
Brickyard Landing and the Richmond shoreline.
It had fallen into disrepair by the 1980s and needed major
upgrades including a seismic retrofit. The building was shuttered
in 2001, while both municipal leaders and community members
worked to find funds to repair and reopen it.
The Richmond Plunge Trust was formed as a focus for fundraising
and restoration planning and ultimately attracted hundreds
of donors and supporters.
Money was painstakingly secured from private gifts, from
government grants, and from special causes such as a $75,000
“Partners in Preservation” grant from American Express that
was awarded after a public beauty contest, with Plunge supporters
voting on-line. The renovation cost some $7.5 million.
Well over 500 people (by my estimate) crowded the newly
re-landscaped grounds in front of the building and the adjacent
sidewalks to hear several speakers praise the renovation
project before the building was reopened.
It was an eclectic crowd, racially and ethnically diverse,
and ranging in age from one senior who had been at the Plunge
on its opening day in 1926 to little kids with swimsuits
and towels, impatiently awaiting the completion of the speeches
and the opportunity to get inside and swim.
Strauss praised Lindsay’s involvement and support. “We got
a city manager who really ‘got’ swimming. Not many of them
The Plunge Trust Board “was tenacious, scrappy, opinionated,
and always faithful to the cause,” Strauss said.
Lindsay also congratulated the Richmond City Council for
support of the project.
“Where there’s a significant civic project such as this,
there’s a lot of political decision making and political
courage that goes into it”, he said. “You really do have
to have that political courage, political leadership. And
Richmond does have that on its City Council.”
“We’ve waited so long for this big day, and what a day it
is!” Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said, calling the Plunge
“this well loved, grand place.” “This is a magical place.
So many dreams have come true at the Plunge.”
She presented a proclamation to honor Ellie Strauss and
her husband Bob Strauss, whom she called “the key people
behind this project.”
Other councilmembers spoke. One noted that her grandmother
was at the Plunge on opening day in 1926, and she, in turn,
was now present with her grandchild at the re-opening.
“We’ll continue to make Richmond a model for the Bay Area
and the world,” said Councilmember Nathaniel Bates. “Bless
you, and let’s go for a swim!”
“It’s a symbol of what Richmond is when everyone helps”,
said Councilmember Ludmyrna Lopez. “We can, yes we can, that’s
our new model in Richmond. If our heart and our time isn’t
in it, we can’t make anything happen.”
“This is an example of a perfect public/private partnership…I
hope it is one that can be copied many times,” said Trust
leader and former Richmond Mayor Rosemary Corbin.
“This building has contributions in it from people far and
wide…Never give up,” she concluded.
“It’s a legacy project,” Berkeley-based project architect
Todd Jersey told the crowd during the dedication. “The systems
are designed to last 50 years.”
“This is the healthiest and greenest pool in the country,”
he added. The water is cleaned by ultraviolet light, rather
than chlorine. A solar heating system warms the water, and
photovoltaic panels on the roof produce electricity. “About
50% of our power generation is from solar technology.”
“This is a fresh air pool”, he added, noting there are 200
operable windows, rather than a mechanical system, to dehumidify
and circulate air. Efficient space heaters strategically
positioned above the pool edges will warm the zones where
people stand, rather than trying to raise the temperature
of the entire interior.
Jersey named and praised a long list of project workers,
subcontractors, and suppliers—including Berkeley’s Sun Light
and Power—who had participated in the renovation. Some made
in-kind labor and materials donations to the project totaling
half a million dollars.
“The project does really sell itself,”Jersey said. “After
people were introduced to it, it was just a natural.”
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin re-emphasized the green
theme. “This is a green tribute to our sustainable direction
in Richmond,” she said, to applause from the crowd. “We’re
becoming #1 in the Bay Area as a green city.”
She also praised historic preservation. “It’s such a great,
great tribune to Richmond and the people of Richmond. That’s
what we’re here to celebrate today.”
City Manager Lindsay also repeatedly returned to historic
preservation as a positive theme in his remarks. He quoted
one expert:“At its best, preservation engages the past in
a conversation with the present over a mutual concern for
“Preservationists are the only people in the world who are
invariably confirmed in their wisdom after the fact,” he
added, quoting John Kenneth Galbraith.
Assemblymember Nancy Skinner also spoke, commending what
she called “such an expression of incredible community, public
sector, private sector partnership.” She said “when I was
in college I learned how to flip a kayak in this Plunge and
have missed it ever since.”
A proclamation from State Senator Loni Hancock was read,
noting the importance of the restoration project as “a commitment
to bring together families and communities for generations
The event began with bagpipes, and Eliza O’Malley led the
crowd in singing “Oh when the swimmers go plunging in…” re-written
by Plunge booster David Vincent to the tune of “Oh, when
After the ceremony was finished, the crowd poured into the
building. There was a viewing period when visitors could
wander through all parts of the building, including the locker
rooms with recycled glass shower stalls, and custom-made
Then the pool area was cleared for the beginning of the
first official swim period, while those not swimming could
watch from the balcony.
June Albonico made the first dive into the pool. She taught
swimming there for more than four decades. A painting of
her, in blue one-piece swimsuit, was included in the mural
at the end of the pool room.
Others quickly plunged in, from toddlers with their parents
in the shallow end to teenagers splashing about mid-way,
and adult lap swimmers quartering the deep end. Within ½
of hour of the swim start there were nearly 100 people in
the pool itself and a line out the door of those waiting
The Plunge—officially the Richmond Municipal Natatorium—opened
in 1926. For decades swimmers came from all over the east
side of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties—and even across
the Bay, from Marin—to use the grand indoor pool.
Some swimming facilities in the Bay Area were bigger—particularly
the privately-built, Victorian era, Sutro Baths in San Francisco—and
other indoor municipal pools still survive, including the
Hayward Plunge (opened in 1936), but the Richmond Plunge
is a special survivor from an era when cities across the
country invested heavily in public recreational facilities
and programs, particularly for children.
The Plunge stands at the edge of Point Richmond’s small
business district, behind a columned neoclassical façade
decorated with small, gilded, seahorses.
The two-story north front of the building contains the main
entrance and check in area, locker and shower rooms, with
the spacious pool area beyond. The pool extends 160 feet
and is 60 feet wide, replacing a different pool arrangement
with separate children’s swimming areas. A popular water
spouting “mushroom” that once stood in one of the children’s
pools was relocated and installed outside the building as
White-painted metal trusses and a vaulted wooden roof topped
by a light monitor span the enormous pool. The interior—aside
from the water—reminded me of the large multipurpose piers
at Fort Mason in San Francisco.
A “U” shaped mezzanine gallery rings three sides of the
pool and provides a spectator area.
At the far, south, end the wall is covered with a huge mural
by John Wehrle of the Richmond shoreline along the Bay, complete
with lawns, ponds, and egrets.
The Plunge is operated by the Richmond Recreation Department.
It offers recreational swimming, lap swimming, and swimming
and water fitness classes, as well as instruction in canoe
and kayak handling.
Non-Richmond residents can swim for $6 / adult, $4 / child.
--For more information, see:
Save the Richmond Plunge Trust website: http://www.richmondplunge.org/
Richmond Recreation aquatics program website: http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=421
Todd Jersey Architecture: http://www.toddjerseyarchitecture.com/
John Wehrle, muralist: http://www.troutinhand.com/
And an article by
Richard Brenneman about the struggle to renovate the Plunge
in the March 28, 2006 Planet.