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Did you know San Francisco once had the biggest outdoor pool in the world?

Written by
Ana Kamin

When you think of San Francisco, you don’t necessarily think of outdoor pool time. But what if we told you that the City by the Bay was once home to the world's largest outdoor pool? A pool so big that lifeguards used rowboats to patrol the center. Crazy, right?

Before you rush out hoping to catch a snap for the 'Gram, the pool was filled in 30 years ago to make space for the San Francisco Zoo parking lot. Here's what the modern-day San Franciscan missed out on. 

It all started with Herbert Fleishhacker, a banker, philanthropist and park commissioner, who had the idea to build the world's largest swim tank. It took only three years to build the 1,000-foot-long and 150-foot-wide public pool, as well as an adjacent bathhouse and surrounding park, making it THE recreational destination for San Franciscans in the 1930s. Despite the summer fog and the fact that water was pumped in straight from the freezing Pacific Ocean, the pool had already hosted more than 60,000 swimmers by its two-month anniversary. People flocked to the Fleishhacker Pool, swam in the salty waters, jumped from the diving boards and strolled the park grounds. Even Olympic trials and other national swimming and diving competitions were held at the pool. On any given day, 10,000 swimmers could splash around in the 6-million-gallon pond. The times were good...until they weren’t anymore.

In the 1950s, the rising car industry gave Bay Area residents the possibility to escape to warmer weather and the pool started to see fewer visitors. It kept itself afloat and in business until 1971 when a storm damaged the main water pipeline. Renovation costs were too high and didn’t get approved by the City. Thus began the end of the Fleishhacker Pool.

In 1981, the SF Zoo, which had become the major attraction on the west side of San Francisco, bulldozed what was left of the pool and filled it with debris. In 2002, it officially became a parking lot. Today, the only reminder of the glorious days is the not-so-glorious bathhouse. While we imagine that the Fleishhacker Pool would have made a great backdrop for modern-day Instagram, all we have are these analog images to remember it by. 

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