Long Beach Lost: The Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool

Our ongoing series, Long Beach Lost, was launched to examine buildings, places, and things that have either been demolished, are set to be demolished, or are in motion to possibly be demolished—or were never even in existence. This is not a preservationist series but rather a historical series that will help keep a record of our architectural, cultural, and spatial history. To keep up with previous postings, click here.

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The interior scoreboard of the former Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

The interior scoreboard of the former Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

For nearly four years, a space that was once home to Long Beach’s most tangible embrace of aquatic sports—the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool—is now home to a temporary pool and while it still hosts tons of visitors, it also filled to the deep end with a sea of controversy.

That’s putting it lightly.

The concern? Well, here’s how we summed up the problems plaguing the replacement pool: The project has the possibility of “negatively impact[ing] local wildlife, [while the Environmental Impact Report] did not take into account the impacts of sea level rise and that the project served to only benefit one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.”

The south-facing side of the now demolished Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

The south-facing side of the now demolished Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

But long before it became the site of controversy, the pool was dedicated in August of 1968 after its $3.7 million construction cost led to a building stretching for nearly 250 feet along the eastern shore of Long Beach. The pool itself was a marvel: a million gallons of water filled an all-tile, eight-lane pool that stretched for 50 meters, reaching 23 meters wide, and hitting a depth of over five meters deep. (It also hosted 2,700 spectators, had underwater television and sound equipment, and its concourse became the dream skate park of legend.)

Now demolished, this was the welcome sign for the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

Now demolished, this was the welcome sign for the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

Aesthetically, the building was a mid-century modern masterpiece acting as 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.

The interior of the former Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

The interior of the former Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

But perhaps more importantly, it’s the home of what was once dubbed the “Taj Mahal” of swimming.

It’s the place that brought Michael Phelps and Jessica Hardy to the same swimming hole. It’s the place that sent gold medalist Greg Louganis to the Olympics in Montreal following his trials at the pool in 1976 at the age of 16. 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.

The north-facing side of the now demolished Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

The north-facing side of the now demolished Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photo by Brian Addison.

It’s a place that is deeply missed amongst swimming athletes across the globe.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food to politics to urban transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 12 nominations and an additional win for Best Political Commentary. Born in Big Bear, he has lived in Long Beach since college. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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