The Betsy Head Play Center is one of a group of eleven immense outdoor swimming pools opened in the summer of 1936 in a series of grand ceremonies presided over by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Park Commissioner Robert Moses. All of the pools were constructed largely with funding provided by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The complexes generally employed low-cost building materials, principally brick and cast concrete, and often utilized the streamlined and curvilinear forms of the popular 1930s Art Moderne style. Each had separate swimming, diving and wading pools, and a large bath house with locker room sections which doubled as gymnasiums in non-swimming months.
Established in 1914, Betsy Head Park in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn was the city’s first recreation facility designed to include a public outdoor swimming pool and bath house. The pool was replaced in 1936 by the much larger existing swimming and diving pools. The 1914 bath house, a substantial twin-gabled building, was originally retained, but, following a fire in 1937, was replaced by the present bath house exceptionally designed by John Matthews Hatton and completed in 1939.
The Betsy Head bath house’s sleek geometric forms stripped of most ornament has been recognized as “perhaps the most inventive and most overtly Modernist structure of this type.” The bath house is distinguished by the extensive use of recessed glass-block walls for the locker room portions of the bath house, making the structure translucent in these sections to a surprising degree. Equally striking is the rooftop observation gallery with its parabolic arches which support a broad, flat roof.
*Excerpt from the Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report
STATUS Designated Individual Landmark
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