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WPA: Atwater Plunge

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Swimming

Opening Day at Atwater Plunge 

May 7, 1962

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Sports Swimming Opening Day at Atwater Plunge May 7, 1962 Archive Merced Sun-Star

ATWATER -- Carol Gray learned to swim at the Atwater Plunge. She also met her husband there. Probably. Wait a second.

She moves the phone and yells to her love of 43 years, Ken.

Probably, he yells back.

"I used to like to watch my husband swim. I didn't know him at the time," the 65-year-old says.

The Plunge, a WPA project approved for construction in early May of 1936, figured prominently in the lives of Atwater residents who grew up mid-20th century. It opened on June 11, 1938, letting adults swim for 25 cents -- children for 10 cents.

"That was in the days kids could walk by themselves and do things. If an adult was down there (at the Plunge) they would correct you. I feel it was the best time to grow up was during my era," Gray, 65, said.

The Plunge was a massive, laned swimming pool buffered by two buildings -- a changing room for girls and another for boys.

Jay Baldwin, 68, of Merced grew up in Atwater and remembers going to the pool with his brothers in the late 1940s and early '50s when he was in grade school. He didn't find his love there.

"Oh, hell, we didn't even think of them (girls) then. We just wanted to get wet and wash around in the water," he said.

He remembers the day his brother fell asleep in the sun for hours. Lifeguards approached the boy, woke him and told him not to move. They then picked him up and carried him face down across the street to Bloss Memorial Hospital where nurses could treat the two giant blisters that had formed on the backs of his knees.

"It was just a place to hang," Baldwin said fondly.

Originally operated by the city, the Plunge was turned over to a private business in 1958. It's unclear exactly when it closed. Many people remember it being bulldozed.

Manuel Bairos, 76, a 36-year city employee and former parks superintendent, said the Plunge was demolished because the pool was leaking and city officials at the time didn't care to repair it.

"Whoever made the decision to tear it out didn't really look at the whole situation.

That's what happened with our pool, it went to the dump," Bairos said.

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