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March 29, 2020 - 12:47pm

Sunny days in simpler times: 'Everybody in the pool!'

posted by Billie Owens in Greta Patterson Hansen, batavia, history, news, New Pool, Swimarama.

This article is from the book "Back in the Day, Snapshots of Local History, The Way I See It," by Anne Marie Starowitz, 2017. Reprinted with permission from the author. 

Growing up in the ‘60s in Batavia would be considered very uneventful to today’s young people. The parks program was very popular and the highlight was the parks parade. Main Street was closed down for an afternoon to let all of the different parks parade their floats down Main Street. Young people played outside, made up their own games, and walked or rode their bikes.

In the winter the tennis courts were converted to an ice rink. In the summer the tennis courts would be used for evening dances. There was nothing like dancing under the stars on the tarmac of a tennis count.

The highlight of the summer of 1962 was the opening of the “New Pool.” How the pool became a reality was not important to the young people of Batavia. All they knew was the new pool meant happy days ahead. Young people would wait anxiously in line for the doors to open holding onto their 25 cents and waiting to get a key for a locker. No one ever noticed a plaque on the wall with the name Greta Patterson.

Greta Patterson was the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Guy Patterson of 41 Ellicott Ave. When Greta was two years old she began learning to swim. She loved to swim and did not have a fear of water. Some of her first lessons were in Branton’s pool on River Street. Mrs. Branton and her daughter Sibyl were her first swimming teachers. She also swam at the indoor pool of the New York State for the Blind School, YMCA, and Conesus Lake. She continued to swim during all of her school years.

Greta graduated in June 1955 from Batavia High School. Five days after her graduation she made swimming history. She swam fifteen miles from Angola, NY, to Crystal Beach, Ontario, in thirteen hours. As she exited the cold water of Lake Erie she was treated as a heroine. The day after her historical swim she was welcomed on the steps of Batavia City Hall by Mayor Herman Gabriel and was serenaded by St. Joseph’s Drum Corps. The radio station WBTA broadcast the event. In the same year her picture was in the November issue of Seventeen Magazine.

Her swimming achievement inspired the building of a city pool that would be completed seven years later. Members of the Kiwanis Club decided to launch a fund to build a swimming pool somewhere in the city. Several local social clubs joined the effort under the chairmanship of Robert DeLong. He was to head a fund-raising committee.

The first event was a public entertainment program that would be called a Swimarama. The event took place at the Batavia Downs and a Buffalo talent scout provided an all-star cast of entertainers. On August 8, 1955, 9,000 people sat in the stands at the Downs to watch the opening ceremonies. Leading the parade around the track was Greta Petterson riding in a sulky drawn by a racehorse. The entertainers followed in convertibles. The music of St. Joseph’s Drum Corps and the Brockport-Batavia Cavalier Drum Corps filled the air. There were singers, dancers, and impersonators. The event raised $6,000 for the new pool fund. The contributions were slowly coming in. In 1958 William Henry became the new chairman of the pool committee and he established a door-to-door drive hoping that every family would donate one dollar to the new pool fund. Finally, they were very close to their goal of $80,000.

In 1959 the building contract was awarded to Ed Leising to excavate a choice piece of land in MacArthur Park. The pool would measure 60 feet by 100 ft. and would accommodate 100 swimmers.

The pool opened July 9, 1962. People from the summer recreation program were trained to be lifeguards. The pool was never given an official name but the Kiwanis Club did place a plaque on the wall at the main entrance acknowledging Greta Patterson’s part in the creation of the pool. The pool will be forever called the “New Pool” for those young people that made the pool the highlight of that summer and many summers to come.

In 1991 the pool needed major repairs. Due to the high cost for repairs, the pool was closed and was filled with dirt and made into basketball courts. In 1997 the bathhouse was remodeled and made into the Batavia Youth Center. It was decided to ask Greta if she would accept the honor of having the new Youth Bureau dedicated to her. Greta Patterson Hansen was honored.

Greta’s history has come full circle from being Batavia’s famous swimmer, inspiring the community to create a community pool, to coming home and having the Batavia Youth Center dedicated in her name. Today the Batavia Youth Bureau is housed at 114 Liberty Street in St. Anthony’s former school.

Picture below and at top courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz. Photo of the painting of Greta Patterson as a little girl, courtesy of the Holland Land Office Museum. The book "Back in the Day, Snapshots of Local History, The Way I See It," is available at the museum.

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