3. Public Pools

In the New York Times obituary, Robert Moses was called a “fine athlete.” He was a member of the swimming team at Yale and even served as the team manager. Caro writes in The Power Broker that the school newspaper doesn’t have a record of Moses winning any competitions but “he was known as a hard worker in practice and a fierce competitor in meets, and he could be counted on for second- or third-place points in either the fifty-yard or the hundred-yard crawl.”

Moses was known to get in after work swim, as recounted by Caro in The Power Broker. Moses would swim anywhere he could — public pools, private pools, and in the ocean. He’d take dips in the tough ocean currents even into his sixties and seventies — out-swimming his younger associates. The opening scenes of Motherless Brooklyn show Moses Randolph finishing a swim at the Asser Levy Public Bath, closed off for his personal use. Another key negotiation scene takes place inside a pool.

Given Moses’ lifelong love for swimming, his zeal for creating public pools is not surprising and remains one of his great legacies. In the 1930s and ’40s, the Department of Parks in New York City was given jurisdiction over city bathhouses and the agency “harnessed Works Progress Administration labor to develop a series of outdoor pools for the city,” describes the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation today. In 1936, eleven pools were opened by Robert Moses, Parks Commissioner, and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. In total, Moses oversaw the construction and opening of 23 public pools and bathhouses. Some of the WPA-era pools and accompanying buildings are city landmarks today.