Posted Oct. 21, 2012
By BOLTON LANCASTER
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — In the sweltering heat of summertime in Miami, there is no shortage of demand for places that allow people to cool off. The sandy beaches that line the coast are always popular amongst residents and visitors, but they get crowded quickly as tourists mill about looking for an open spot on the beach or stores that they can go into to purchase a cheap trinket to remember their trip.
For people looking for a unique experience who want to avoid the rush, they should look no further than the Venetian Pool tucked away in suburban Coral Gables.
As people first enter the pool, they immediately understand that this is not a typical outdoor swimming pool. This is not the pool with the bright blue floor on the bottom, kids screaming and chasing each other, people packed into the small walkways around the outside of the pool, and the distinct smell of chlorine wafting throughout the vicinity.
The first covered area that visitors to the Venetian Pool pass through has a small fountain as well as black and white photographs on the wall. The pictures illustrate a range of events that have occurred at the pool during the past 90 years, from beauty contests in the 1920s to famous swimmer and “Tarzan” actor Johnny Weismuller taking a dip in the water.
“In the 1920s, it was a big attraction because they would create shows here,” said Carolina Vester, supervisor of the Venetian Pool.
According to Vester, there would be diving shows off the tall rock that still sits at the edge of the pool. The location served as much more than just a place to swim.
The main part of the pool boasts two different waterfalls, caves and grottos that people can swim into, and coral rock formations surrounding the edges.
There is an expansive amount of space to lie by the pool, including an area with sand that allows people to have the feeling of being at the beach while avoiding the rush of downtown areas and expensive parking garages. The water appears a little greener than most swimming pools, but that is simply due to the color of the bottom of the pool.
Aside from the scenery and architecture, one of the major factors that sets the Venetian Pool apart from other outdoor pools is that it is a “fill and drain” pool, as it is drained every day during the spring and summer and every other day during the winter and fall. While swimming pools today are no longer allowed to use this type of cleansing, the Venetian Pool is a special exception.
“We actually dump the entire 820,000 gallons of water and then just fill it up from the Biscayne Aquifer, so it’s always clean water,” Vester said. “We don’t have to maintain the same standards as other pools because any other pool you go to, that water sits there forever. They never drain it. Maybe once a year, but it’s always the same water, just chemically altered and chemically treated.”
While the pool originally would throw out 820,000 gallons of water per day, managers started pumping the water back down into the aquifer in 1985 in order to conserve water. Now, as the water is drained, it goes back underground where the coral rocks naturally filter it. The pool can then go on to reuse that water in the aquifer.
“We’re not wasting the water — it always gets recycled,” Vester said.
Perhaps one of the Venetian Pool’s biggest claims to fame is that it is included in the National Register of Historic Places, being the only swimming pool to have such a designation. This has led to it being one of the more popular attractions for visitors in the Coral Gables area.
“We have a lot of tourists, a lot of foreigners, a lot of people from up north, and people from Canada,” Vester said. “People from everywhere come down to see this place because it’s so well known.”
However, the pool does not just serve visitors from out of town.
“We moved here 14 years ago and part of the attraction was having this as a neighborhood pool,” said Gordon Howard, a resident of Coral Gables who was at the pool celebrating his son’s 10th birthday. “It’s large, and the ambiance is very comfortable and relaxing.”
The pool has a rich history that stretches back to the early 1900s. George Merrick, the planner and builder of Coral Gables, considered the area part of his “Grand Plan” in turning the city into what he hoped would become a utopia in South Florida.
Construction began in 1923 as they started developing what was formerly a coral rock quarry, using some of the rock in the surrounding designs of the pool. The “Venetian Casino,” as it was originally known, opened up in 1924 and has served as a community center ever since.
“A lot of the women who teach swimming lessons have been here forever,” said Aisha Hassan, who has served as a lifeguard at the pool for the last four summers. “They took their kids and their grandkids, so it’s pretty close-knit.”
Hassan herself used to take swimming lessons at the pool and followed in her brother’s footsteps in becoming a lifeguard there.
“It’s a generational kind of thing,” Howard said. “I think the people that enjoy it now will enjoy it with their children later. It’s that kind of legacy.”
IF YOU GO
- The Venetian Pool is located at 2701 de Soto Boulevard., Coral Gables, a suburb of Miami. To get there from U.S. 1, turn west onto Granada Boulevard and continue driving for approximately two miles before turning right at the roundabout onto de Soto Boulevard. It will be immediately on the right.
- The pool’s hours of operation vary depending on the season, but for most of the year (early April to late October) it is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It is closed on Mondays.
- The cost for Coral Gables residents is $5.25 for ages 13 and over and $4.15 for children under 13. The cost for non-residents is $11.50 for ages 13 and over and $6.60 for children under 13.
- A concession stand at the pool serves food such as sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs from about $3 to $5. Drinks are also available for about $2.
- All children who are admitted into the pool must be at least three years old and 38 inches tall.
- There are about 16 free parking spaces located outside the pool for visitors to use.
- The Venetian Pool can be found online at http://www.coralgables.com/index.aspx? page=167.
- The pool staff can be contacted at 305-460-5306.