Photos by Brian Addison. Full gallery below.
When the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool was dedicated on August 15, 1968, it was Long Beach’s most exuberant embrace of aquatic sports since it had first ran the Men’s Olympic Swim Trials in 1932 at the Colorado Lagoon. Come 15 days later, the Olympic preliminary trials began.
This is why many locals and non-locals alike gathered today to say au revoir to the famed building—deemed unsafe due to structural concerns nearly two years ago, leading to a closure and the opening of a temporary pool—as it will soon be replaced by a contemporary, $103.1M swimming facility following a healthy dose of arguments from both preservationists and revisionists.
The $3.7M Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool stretches for 240 feet along the coast of Long Beach, just east of the Belmont Pier. Housed in a facility that used to sit some 2,700 spectators, the pool itself was a marvel at the time it opened: one million gallons filled an all-tile, 8-lane pool that stretched 50 meters long, nearly 23 meters wide, and hit a depth of over 5 meters deep.
It was even equipped with underwater television and sound equipment while boasting of then-extraordinary electronic scoring and timing apparatuses.
After the trials, 200,000 locals used the facility every year (not included are the countless skaters, since barred given the fencing perimeter put up once the building was deemed unsafe, who used the concrete benches as their playground).
Aesthetically, the building was an ode to the Modern-Greco design, with white pillars typical of Greek architecture mixed with the clean, straight-line style of mid-century modern design. One of its most admirable aspects was how it catered to spectators: if you were to sit on the northern set of bleachers, you were not just provided a spectacular view of the athletes but a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean thanks to the massive glass walls that anchor both the southern and northern sides of the building.
It went on to host the Olympic trials once more in 1976 and acted as a training site for the 1984 Olympics, in addition to a number of NCAA Championships, Pac 10 and Big West Championships, CIF Southern California High School Championships, Speedo Championship Series meets and the annual Southern California “Q” meet.
It’s the place where three-time Gold medalist Aaron Peirsol won his senior-year CIF championship. It’s the place where gold medalist Jason Lezak set records at the Big West Championships.
One of the pools most recent events, the Toyota Southern California Grand Prix of Swimming, was held in both 2007 and 2008. When you look at the roster now, one would notice Michael Phelps, just beginning to gain a dedicated fan base at the time. However, it was five-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin for whom the event holds the most value: she broke the US record—the very one she held—in the 200-yard freestyle.