Island Park Swimming Pool in Fargo, 1939
If a person knows how to swim, then nothing says “summertime” better than plunging into the water for a refreshing dive on a sweltering-hot day. Historically, one of the best places for swimming in Fargo has been the city swimming pool on the west side of Island Park – the oldest park in town.
It is not the water that makes Island Park’s swim-pool so wondrous, for chlorinated water feels the same anywhere. Instead, the pool has significant architectural history surrounding it. On this date in 1939, Fargo’s Junior Chamber of Commerce won the “Project of the Year” award at the Junior Chamber of Commerce National Convention for promoting the construction of the municipal swimming pool.
Building a pool for Fargo had been in the planning stages for decades, but in the 1930s the time was ripe. Fargoans had been swimming in the Red River, but the muddy-colored Red held uncertain waters for bathing due to hazardous currents and dangerous swirling dead-pools, if it was not running almost-dry, as had in the 1936 drought.
Fargo secured funding from the New Deal and its WPA program, but the city also had to pitch in with a $30,000 bond issue.
Plans for a fashionable pool came from architect S. Marius Houkum, an NDSU graduate. His Braseth & Houkum architectural firm designed the building in the Streamline Moderne, or Art Moderne, style. Its curved corners and low-relief Art Deco designs bespoke high style.
The upper-level had a swimming pool big enough to hold 900 bathers, divers, and waders. There was also a lofty grandstand, with bleachers large enough to seat 800 spectators. The lower level held dressing rooms and showers. All was completed for opening day in August 1940.
The Streamline Moderne pool harmonized stylistically with the nearby Island Park Winter Sports Arena, which had been built in “Modern” style with WPA funds in 1938.
And so multitudes of Fargo people dived into Island Park’s pool for decades thereafter, until park officials eventually replaced the pool in 1978. Rather than put the pool in the exact same place, Fargo built the new facility in the where the old Winter Arena had been, leaving the Winter-Arena’s distinctive Art Moderne façade beside it.
The former pool-site became tennis courts, preserving the historic, high-style grandstand for spectators, a unique reminder of Fargo’s high-style architecture of the 1930s.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.
Sources: “JAC Health Project Wins National Award,” Bismarck Tribune, June 26, 1939, p. 3.
“New Pool To Open Saturday In Fargo,” Moorhead Daily News, August 16, 1940, p. 3.
“New Pool Site In Island Park,” Fargo Forum, February 22, 1938, p. 1.
“WPA Okays Winter Sports Building For Fargo,” Fargo Forum, October 21, 1937, p. 1.
“Let Contracts On Fargo Pool,” Fargo Forum, August 4, 1939, p. 1.
“Fargo Voters Okay Pool Bond Issue,” Fargo Forum, May 26, 1939, p. 1.
N.D. Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU Archives, “Finding Aid to the S. Marius Houkom (1891-1980) Papers, Biography,” "https://library.ndsu.edu" https://library.ndsu.edu , accessed on May 16, 2017.
Norene A. Roberts, Fargo’s Heritage (Fargo: Fargo Heritage Society, 1983), p. 21-22, 98.
Steve Martens, “Federal Relief Programs in ND, 1931-1943,” SHSND Historic Preservation Office, 2010, p. 19-20F.
City of Fargo, “Look Around Downtown, Fargo Heritage Discovery Walk; Stop 2: Island Park Pool----Island Park,” 2007, city of fargo.com, accessed on May 16, 2017.
Kris Kerzman, “Throwback Thursday: A Brief History of Pools at Island Park,” Fargo Forum, May 29, 2015, inforum.com, accessed on May 16, 2017.
Andrea Halgrimson, “As I Recall: Ice Arena Sparks Warm Memories Of Youth,” Fargo Forum, November 26, 2005, inform.com, accessed on May 16, 2017.