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Taking the Plunge: The Dumbarton Oaks Swimming Pool

Posted On June 15, 2017 | 11:02 am | by Dumbarton Oaks Archives | Permalink

Seamlessly fitting into the elegant style of the gardens, the swimming pool at Dumbarton Oaks offers fellows and staff an aquatic paradise. Incorporated into the designs for the estate as early as 1922, the rectangular swimming pool (now measuring 26 by 64 feet) has undergone significant renovation over time to meet emerging needs and to comply with continually updated regulations. Beloved by the Dumbarton Oaks community, the swimming pool is kept in excellent condition by the grounds staff who endeavor to keep the pool suitable for both public view and private use.

The pool today is notably different from its original construction and reflects changes in safety regulations over the past decades. Originally eight feet deep, the 85,000-gallon pool was required to have a lifeguard on duty at all times when in use. Instead of paying for a lifeguard indefinitely, the pool was partially filled in to a maximum depth of five feet.

Dumbarton Oaks swimming pool restoration, 1995
Dumbarton Oaks Swimming Pool restoration, 1995.

Transporting concrete to the pool proved to be a difficult task. It was impossible to bring a cement truck alongside the pool because of its location in the gardens. Instead, long pipes had to be run through the Orangery and brought down over the loggia—a massive undertaking. Moreover, a fence had to be installed in consideration for public safety.

Unforeseen challenges to the maintenance of the swimming pool enclosure required modifications to the structure. For example, the Italian marble around the pool proved susceptible to water damage, resulting in the periodic placement of wooden boards over the magnificent stone in order to reduce its exposure to the elements. Another problem arose after the pool filter was removed to reduce operational costs. Without the device, the pool steadily deteriorated and cleaning the bottom and sides of the pool became a burdensome chore. Before long—much to the delight of the staff—the filter was reinstated.

Willows overhanging the Dumbarton Oaks swimming pool
Willows overhanging the Dumbarton Oaks Swimming Pool.

Even nearby trees presented hurdles to the operation and appeal of the pool. Willows surrounding the pool had to be removed because of the tedious work they created for the grounds staff, who were responsible for cleaning up leaves they shed into the pool, which clogged the drain.

Find more drawings and historic images of the Dumbarton Oaks swimming pool in the Garden Archives, and view a before-and-after interactive in the Garden Perspectives online exhibit.