Monday, June 17, 2024

Long Beach Lost: The mid-mod masterpiece that was the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool

Share

My ongoing series, Long Beach Lost, was launched to examine buildings—like the former Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, spaces, and cultural happenings that have have largely been erased, including the forgotten tales attached to existing places and things. This is not a preservationist series but rather a historical series that will help keep a record of our architectural, cultural, and spatial history.

Editor’s note: This series first appeared on Longbeachize in 2017 and 2018; some articles have been republished, updated, and/or altered.

Want to read previous Long Beach Lost articles? Click here for the full archive.


I was the last person to photograph the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool before it was demolished in late 2014, since sharing and then resharing the images every few years to remind old school residents and newbies alike of its elegance, beauty, and what it meant for the aquatics not just locally but nationally.

In honor of the decade that officially passed since its demolition, I have decided to include an array of photos I’ve never shared publicly before along with those that many have seen.

Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool
The details, lines, and curves of the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool were prime examples of mid-century modern aesthetics. Photos by Brian Addison.

What was the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool—and why was it so important architecturally and culturally for aquatics?

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.

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.

Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool
The tiling details of the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photos by Brian Addison.

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 that used the concrete benches as their playground).

Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool
The Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool as seen shortly before demolition in 2014. Photos by Brian Addison.

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.

Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool
Signage for the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool had become massively deteriorated by the time of demolition. Photos by Brian Addison.

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.

The aesthetics of the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool

Noted Long Beach architects Francis Heusel and Frank Homolka—along with local engineers Bole and Wilson—designed the complex after plans were approved in January of 1967.

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.

Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool
The Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Photos by Brian Addison.

What is the future of the site of the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool—weren’t they supposed to, well, build another pool?

While the City had originally planned on a massive, $119M revamp of the site, come October of 2023, the Council opted to go for a much more scaled back version that would cost $74.2M.

- Advertisement -
This original proposal for the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool that is no longer being considered. Rendering courtesy of the City of Long Beach.

City Manager Tom Modica said at the time that the $119M version of the pool (which included some $50M in bonds via tidelands funds) was complicated by a state law that may restrict the city’s oil production by “creating large buffer zones where drilling is banned around schools, parks and hospitals,” according to a report from the Long Beach Post.

A rendering of a pool on a beachfront.
The 2023 proposal for the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool site, said to cost $74.2M. Rendering courtesy of the City of Long Beach.

City officials unveiled the most recent version of the pool project—as seen below—to the public in June of 2023 and is to include zip lines, play areas, and multiple sections that cater to the different needs of the community.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

10 COMMENTS

  1. This brings back so many memories
    My children took swim lessons there with Greta Anderson
    It was sad to see it go.

  2. The reason it was torn down was because the City did not manage the maintenance and it became cheaper to tear down than fix. The public was duped into believing a new pool would be coming soon. The “temporary” pool is way too permanent.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Subscribe to The Insider

Get weekly updates on Long Beach's evolving culture, urban development, and food scene. Become a Longbeachize Insider today

By clicking "Subscribe," you agree to receive weekly newsletters from Longbeachize and accept our Privacy Policy posted on our website.

Read more

Popular Tags

More From Long Beach