I went to Washington, D.C. this past week for a swimming pool conference. When I was in one of my meetings, the conversation turned to the history of swimming pools at the White House. More about that pool next week. But the conversation reminded me of a vacation that my family and I took when my kids were younger.
I never thought that I would do it. I had often laughed about it when other people talked about it. A few years ago my wife, my two young sons, and I found ourselves with 4 hours to kill in Memphis, Tennessee. My wife suggested that we visit Graceland—the home of Elvis Presley. In a weak moment, I cratered. I agreed to go under one condition—no one would ever find out.
As we arrived at Graceland, I was still humored by the whole idea that I was even there. I had never been much of a fan of Elvis, but it didn’t take long for me to become an Elvis fan. I was fascinated with his estate and what he had done. I was intrigued by his hobbies, his loyalty to his friends, his attention to detail, his commitment to his music—I could go on and on. But I spent most of my time at his pool (go figure!). As pathetic as it might sound, I try to visit pools when I am out of town—resort pools, historical pools, etc. Usually the pools that I visit are pools that I have heard or read about and are spectacular in one way or another.
But the pool at Graceland was not spectacular in any way, in fact, Elvis’s pool was a fairly simple pool by today’s standards—a kidney shaped concrete pool with white plaster and the old-style concrete pool coping. They had recently installed a modern necessity—an automatic pool cleaner (a Polaris). If this pool was a normal pool, why should I spend so much time looking at it? When my wife laughingly caught me taking photographs of the pool, I began to wonder why I was so fascinated by the pool. I have always been interested in what came before me. Having been born in 1962, I often wonder what life was like pre-1962, especially as it relates to construction and swimming pools. Was Elvis one of the first stars to have a swimming pool? What made “stars” want a swimming pool?
I was made aware that Elvis was not one of the first. Estates with swimming pools and tennis courts were as much a part of the Hollywood image as were fancy cars and flashy clothes. Hollywood has been fascinated with swimming pools every since there was a Hollywood. What set swimming pools apart from the other trappings of extreme wealth was the unique opportunity a pool provided for flaunting the stars’ wealth and sex appeal in a single photograph. In doing some research, it was amazing to see all of the pool photographs that were pre-Elvis – Ronald Reagan as a young actor, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, James Cagney, Cary Grant, Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis, Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Robert Wagner, Sophia Loren, Clint Eastwood, and the list goes on.
Although Elvis cannot be credited with the popularity of the swimming pool, his predecessors in the entertainment industry had quite an impact on the swimming pool industry.
P.S. If you ever get the chance to visit Memphis, take the time to visit Graceland. Just don’t tell anybody who told you about it.