By Thomas K. Pendergast
After being closed for about three years for a $15 million renovation, the Angelo J. Rossi Pool opened up again for the public, just in time to cool swimmers off from an unseasonably hot February day.
With temperatures 15-20 degrees above normal for this time of year in the Bay Area, according to the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department welcomed the public back for a free day playing in the water of what is now a much more modern facility.
Located at the northwest corner of Rossi Park, at the intersection of Arguello Boulevard and Anza Street, the new building includes upgrades to its plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, improved air quality and heating, a new roof, and a remodel of its lobby and locker rooms to meet current ADA standards, according to Rec. and Park. Also included are a new pool deck, pool shell lining and equipment, new building windows, paint and structural seismic upgrades.
In the surrounding park, the baseball backstop and cage have been refurbished and the tennis courts have been resurfaced and outfitted with new equipment. New landscaping and irrigation were also part of the improvements.
“We are thrilled to finally have Rossi Pool opened and it’s better than ever,” Rec. and Park Spokesperson Tamara Aparton said. “And we’re so glad that the community can use their beloved pool again. It’s a neighborhood gem that generations of people in San Francisco have grown up with and we’re glad to have it back.”
One of the most distinctive features of the modernized facility is a new 8-foot by 48-foot mural by local artist Owen Smith on the north wall overlooking the pool, featuring a variety of sea creatures and human swimmers.
“It’s supposed to evoke the joy and freedom of swimming and all of the plants and animals you see in there are native to the San Francisco Bay,” Aparton said.
Danny Ogawa of Rec. and Park said the old pool used the traditional “fill and drain” system to supply the 100-foot-long and 40-foot-wide pool with water that would later be drained into the sewage system.
“The new pool is re-circulated water,” Ogawa said. “So it will save water instead of waste it.”
As they did with the old pool, the George Washington High School swim team will use the new pool for practice, as will the non-profit Rossi Manta Rays Swim Team.
“During this unusually hot time in February in San Francisco, it’s a really nice respite from the heat to come in here and have some shade; there’s not a lot of shade in Rossi Park,” Adam Karageorge said, while standing next to the pool holding his little niece Aiko Pemberton. “So, this is a really good place to take a break and then head back out and enjoy it.
“It’s a nice way to venture back out into the world, into our community, for us to gather together again and be in a place that is fun and a wonderful place for recreation,” he said. “We come to Rossi Park every day. And now we have this extra element that we’ve been waiting for, which is just icing on the cake. It’s wonderful and the mural is perfect.”
“It’s beautiful. We’ve been waiting two years, three years now. We walk past every day,” Kimiye Karageorge said, while holding their 14-month-old son James. “It is so perfect for this area. It’s fun and vibrant and the kids were just so into it.”
Jose Rivero was just starting to give his son Mateo Rivero-Mosqueda swimming lessons when the pool shut down and then the pandemic hit.
“Unfortunately, he went through a phase where he was scared of the water, so we’re really happy it’s open again,” Rivero said. “Because he loves to swim, but water in a bath has been a battle for him.
“The feeling that I get about maybe turning the corner on the pandemic is really exciting.”
Six-year-old Nicole Rinchin said she has been to the Sava Pool before, but this is her first time at Rossi Pool.
“So, the pool is very great and it’s super cool. And it’s very fun,” she said.
The pool is named after former SF Mayor Angelo J. Rossi, who was critical to creating Rossi Park.
His granddaughter Rose Marie Cleese now lives in the Outer Richmond District, where she talked about his legacy.
The land had previously been a cemetery, but was part of the relocation effort to move the bodies to Colma. Rossi was on the Playground Commission at the time and saw an opportunity.
“He was very much into Golden Gate Park and then – when that land became available, it was built through WPA funds – which he was very instrumental in getting to the City. He was a dog with a bone,” Cleese said.
“My grandfather fought tooth-and-nail to get as much funding here as possible. He went to Washington many times. And so, he had all this funding and so they built the park and they named it after him. And they named the street behind it after him, Rossi Avenue.
“I think there wouldn’t be a Rossi Pool if there wasn’t a Rossi Park and there wouldn’t be a Rossi Park if it hadn’t been for my grandfather,” Cleese said.
Rossi died in 1948, eight years before construction of the pool began.
But Rossi has a more famous legacy. As mayor of San Francisco between 1931 and 1943, he was viewed as the arch-nemesis of the labor movement at the time, a foe of its leader Harry Bridges and the dock workers on strike.
His granddaughter said he’s been vilified unfairly by that history.
“The labor movement in this City is really good about documenting their history. And a lot of the history in this City is through that lens,” Cleese said. “And the truth is somewhere in the middle. There are lots of shades of gray.
“There were two communist newspapers in San Francisco in the 1930s. So, I have all their clippings also …. The idea was to promote communism if they could get control of the ports of the United States; if they could control those through unions,” she said.
“My grandfather was very afraid of communism…. The idea was to get the ports unsettled and then the communists might be able to get into positions of power. They have the minutes of the San Francisco chapter and they all used anonymous names instead of their own names.”
Bridges’ pseudonym was Rossi.
She also shared a personal story about the time she got kicked out of the pool named after her grandfather.
“This is kind of funny that I got kicked out of a pool named after my grandfather,” she said. “I can’t remember the circumstances. It was very innocuous. I was a teenager.”