Rehabbing a Landmark

Madison, Ind.’s Crystal Beach Pavilion
to get a much-needed facelift

Stellar Designation to fund
$1.25 million renovation project

(August 2019)
Read previous Don Ward columns!

Don Ward

If you grew up in the Madison, Ind., or Trimble County, Ky., areas, it’s likely you spent a lot of summers of your youth at Crystal Beach swimming pool in Madison. The city-operated pool has been a mainstay in the community since its construction in 1938 as one of the Works Progress Administration projects that followed the great Depression.
I was one of those kids who learned to swim as a toddler, advancing from station to station around the edge of the pool to practice such tasks as holding my breath under water, paddling, kicking my feet and treading water. The culmination of the series of swimming lessons required you to jump into the nine-foot-deep end of the frigid water and swim the length of the deep end area and back. It was horrifying!

Photo by Don Ward

Crystal Beach swimming complex in downtown Madison, Ind., has been a Madison summer tradition since 1938.

Later as a pre-teen, I remember leaping off the low diving board and eventually braving the climb up and onto the high dive for a cannon ball or screw driver splash below. I remember the big flower pots positioned all around the kidney-shaped pool. I remember being able to walk down into the dark basement to peer out the port hole windows into the deep end to see my friends swimming by and giving me a funny wave.
I remember the lifeguards blowing their whistles at least once each hour, forcing everyone out of the water for a mandatory 15-minute break. That’s when we would head over to the little snack bar for a cherry, orange or grape popsicle or ice cream sandwich – my favorite. The hot dogs were not bad, either!
My mother, who will be 80 years old this month, says she recalls spending many summer days there as a teenager with her friends, sitting on the then-sandy Crystal Beach. Yes, that’s right, sand! When initially built, Crystal Beach really was a beach of sand surrounding the pool. 
Over the years, Crystal Beach changed in appearance, but the screams and laughs of children can still be heard today on those hot, summer days in Madison. The sand has long been replaced by grass. The diving boards were removed for safety reasons (as if they were unsafe before). In 2006 a new pool liner was installed, and the following year a large slide was installed on the west side of the pool.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Schell

The upstairs room at Crystal Beach offers many potential uses, including a restaurant or cafe, and meeting space for groups to rent, says the city’s Nicole Schell.

David Stucker, Madison Parks Director for the past nine years, said, “Crystal Beach is very popular with our local citizens and even people from nearby communities. It doesn’t make any money because the cost to maintain and operate it is pretty expensive.
But it is so important to our community.”
Stucker said opening day this year on Memorial Day “brought the biggest crowd that I can remember – probably 500-700 people. But after the Regatta and the Fair (in early July), attendance sort of falls off until we close it in August. Still, 200-300 people a day in late summer is pretty good attendance.”
Crystal Beach includes a stone pavilion that features a large upstairs room with restrooms that over the years has been used for a number of things – a roller skating rink, dance hall and meeting space for the boys club.
But today, the upstairs is closed to the public because it is unsafe and in need of repairs. It is also inaccessible to those with disabilities. The port hole windows in the basement looking out into the deep end are no longer there, although the holes are. But even so, drainage problems in the basement make that area also off limits to the public.
But all of that is about to change.
Thanks to Madison’s recent designation as a Stellar community, money will soon become available to conduct an extensive upgrade to Crystal Beach. Plans include repairing the drainage issue and upgrading the upstairs into a handicap accessible, usable meeting and event space, according to Nicole Schell, the city’s historic preservation officer and who also was an instrumental part of the Madison’s Stellar team.
Installing an elevator to make the building ADA accessible will comprise a bulk of the cost. Currently, there are two outdoor staircases to the upper level, but one is not safe, Schell said. The plan also includes redesigning and improving the bathhouses inside the pavilion. Schell said city officials may even consider adding a restaurant or café in the upper level.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Schell

The upstairs room at Crystal Beach offers many potential uses, including a restaurant or cafe, and meeting space for groups to rent, says the city’s Nicole Schell.

The initial design and concept budget of $98,758 was approved in late July by the Board of Works and awarded to Taylor Seifker Williams Design Group and CWC Lattitudes architects, with construction to begin next year at the end of the summer season, Schell said. The entire project is targeted to cost $1.25 million, and it is hoped that it will be completed before the start of the 2021 season.
“In October, we hope to have the plans and get community input before moving ahead,” Schell said. “I think when it’s done, it will be great to have a renovated structure with a view of the river that can be used for rentals and other public activities.”
The Works Progress Administration began in the first few months of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. It was created by executive order and designed to increase the purchasing power of people on relief by employing them on useful projects.
This innovative program provided funding for a variety of activities rather than simply doling out relief payments, which Roosevelt felt would mean “spiritual and moral disintegration destructive to the national fiber, according to historical records. The WPA philosophy was to put the unemployed back to work in jobs that would serve the public good and conserve the skills and the self-esteem of workers throughout the United States.
At its peak the WPA employed about 3.5 million people and was the largest of the New Deal programs.

Work to build Crystal Beach Pavilion and the 20,000-gallon pool began in December 1937 with a crew of 45 men, according to records. It was built on the site of the former Trow’s Perfection Flour Mill building, which was destroyed.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.

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