The city of Los Angeles operates dozens of community pools each summer to help residents beat the heat. But South L.A.’s Council District 9 had been without one since 2004, when the Central Recreation Center Pool closed due to earthquake damage. In June 2016, city officials finally unveiled a new $4 million pool and bathhouse in its place. Designed by Lehrer Architects LA, the sparkling facility was an instant hit, quickly becoming a popular gathering spot for the working-class neighborhood.
As he’s done for other public projects, principal Michael B. Lehrer relied on humble, durable materials—painted concrete masonry units (CMUs), corrugated and perforated metal, and ceramic tile—to craft a dignified space on a tight budget. Bright whites and citrus greens and yellows announce the entry from the street, and a metal canopy nods to the dormers of 1920s-era houses on the block. Once inside, guests can take a dip in the 6,300-square-foot pool, or lounge and congregate on builtin bench seating that’s arranged in clubhouse-like configurations at the pool’s perimeter. The bathhouse’s extended roof canopy and a quartet of 30-foot shade towers filter sunlight and cast dynamic shadows on the water and deck. The towers, visible for several blocks and illuminated at night, have become a local landmark.
Park staff report less gang activity in the area since the pool reopened. For years, the boardedup site was such a blight on the community that when city officials solicited comments about replacing the pool, says Lehrer, some neighbors were skeptical that a pool should go there at all. Those doubts have been put to rest. “We wanted the project to be a source of pride, a place that tells the neighborhood that where they live matters,” says Lehrer. “Great design is almost a moral enterprise when you’re using public funds to accomplish it.”