Fleishhacker Pool, the largest swimming pool in the United States, was located right next to the San Francisco Zoo for 47 years. Its storied history includes movie stars the 1920’s and 1930’s such as Johnny Weismuller, Esther Williams and Ann Curtis. The pool — so large that lifeguards used wooden row boats to make their way across — was also used by the military for drills and exercises, and was an ideal pool to host swimming meets and races. The pool holds fond memories for many San Franciscans, who to this day can recall when they swam in this colossal pool.
Philanthropist and civic leader Herbert Fleishhacker built the world-renowned pool in 1924. Under Fleishhacker’s leadership, the Park Commission persuaded the City to purchase 30 acres of oceanside land from the Spring Valley Water Company to establish a site for the present zoo. Fleishhacker Pool opened on April 23, 1925. The pool was 1,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, the largest pool in the United States. There was a diving pool measuring 50 feet square and 14 feet deep with a tiered diving tower. The main pool had a capacity of 6 million gallons and could accommodate 10,000 swimmers. Salt water was pumped into the pool at high tide through a pipeline from the ocean and then pumped out at low tide.
Fleishhacker Pool closed in 1971. After years of deterioration and a lack of modern operational systems, the pool could not meet modern health standards. Consideration was given to refurbishing and reopening this historic landmark, but studies showed that public usage was extremely low (22,140 in 1970), the annual operating costs were high ($56,000), and there was little revenue ($6,000) to offset these costs.
The Parks Commission considered these factors along with the costs of rehabilitating the pool, building, and pipeline, and the relatively easy access to other nearby public swimming facilities. The pool lay dormant for several years until it was filled with sand and gravel to serve as an access road for maintenance trucks. In summer of 2002 it became the site of a secured parking area for visitors.