The Thomas Jefferson Pool, one of eleven giant pools opened in city neighborhoods in the 1930s, is a popular summer destination for swimmers, dippers, and waders. Opened in 1936, and with few renovations since, the pool maintains its historic place in the community as a summer escape .
In the 1930s, the pool hosted the largest Italian-American community in the United States, and a very large Jewish community as well.In the 1940s and 50s the pool was site of struggles between East Harlem’s ethnically diverse populations to claim space for themselves; gangs informally segregated the pool into Italian, Irish and Puerto Ricans sections. Longtime East Harlem residents hold bittersweet memories of having to fight for access. Aứrea Almeida remembers that sympathetic Italians would sometimes watch out for her as she passed through their territory. Other times, she explained, when the ground was particularly fought over, “you had to cross the Italian section with a lot of Puerto Ricans. And if you were by yourself, honey, you would not walk, you would run.”
Jefferson Park’s pool — 270 feet long by 125 feet wide — accommodates 2,600 people at a time. Two large fountains emerged from either end of the swimming area, and the separate diving pool featured seven diving boards — one of them a high board. In the 1990s the Parks Department decided the diving pool was dangerous and has since transformed it into a wading pool.