Thomas Jefferson Park

Thomas Jefferson Pool

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

For outdoor pool details, including hours and rules, please visit our Free Outdoor Pools page.

What was here before?

This park in which this pool is located was planned and named by the Board of Aldermen in 1894, though the land for it was not purchased until 1897. The park opened on October 7, 1905 to provide organized play to the children of "Little Italy," as the crowded tenement district in East Harlem was then known.

How did this site become a pool?

The summer of 1936, deep in the Great Depression, broke local heat records. Thomas Jefferson Pool was one of eleven immense outdoor public pools the Parks Department opened that summer. The heroically scaled pools project was financed by the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), as part of a massive effort to alleviate adverse health conditions and provide safe recreation in predominantly working-class communities.

The pools were not just huge but also examples of state-of-the-art engineering and fine design. Each pool had separate swimming, diving and wading areas, perimeter bleachers, and bathhouses whose locker rooms served as gyms during non-summer months. Led by architect Aymar Embury II and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, the planning team produced a series of distinct complexes, each one sensitive to its site and topography. Massive filtration systems, heating units, and even underwater lighting provided a more controlled bathing experience than the often treacherous and polluted waterways in which the City’s masses had traditionally swum. The palette of pools building materials was mainly inexpensive brick, concrete and cast stone, but the styles ranged from Romanesque Revival to Art Deco.

East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Pool, measuring 246 feet by 100 feet, was designed by architect Stanley C. Brogren to accommodate 1,450 bathers at a time, providing protected bathing as an alternative to the adjacent East River. Its opening dedication on June 27, 1936 was cause for community celebration. Reportedly 10,000 people attended the ceremony commending what was described as "the last word in engineering, hygiene and construction." In 1992, the former diving pool was converted to a wading pool. In 2007, the pool and play center were designated an official New York City landmark.

Who is this pool named for?

The pool and park are named for Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) who had a profound influence on the formation of the American legal and political system. Though Jefferson himself owned several hundred enslaved people on his Virginia estate, Monticello, in 1776 he was enlisted as the principal author to draft the Declaration of Independence. He went on to serve as governor of Virginia (1779-81), minister to France (1785-89), and Secretary of State under Washington (1790-93). He was elected Vice President in 1796 and then served two terms as President from 1801-1809. Aside from his political influence, Jefferson’s legacy includes creating the decimal monetary system and founding and designing the University of Virginia.

Directions to Thomas Jefferson Park

Was this information helpful?