Voices of Deep Eddy

Conversations with those who helped restore the historic bathhouse

Many Austinites have taken part in the project to restore the Deep Eddy bathhouse and among them many volunteers, organized by the Friends of Deep Eddy. They worked in cooperation with Austin's Parks & Recreation Department and a construction team provided at a significant discount by Escobedo Construction, under the architectural supervision of Laurie Limbacher of Limbacher & Godfrey. We asked a few of the participants to chat about the project. .

Leon Barish, Friends of Deep Eddy

I like telling people the Deep Eddy infrastructure is original. The pool infrastructure is essentially original; the pumps have been changed, but the shell itself is the 1916 shell. I suspect that if we did some research, we'd find that 1916 shell may be nearly the oldest piece of city-of-Austin-owned infrastructure still in operation. The moonlight towers are older; those are 1895, and there may be some things that may be a little bit older, but it's certainly one of the oldest pieces of operating infrastructure that has not been replaced. …

The Friends of Deep Eddy was really formed for two reasons. This project was part of it, but there were also pool-maintenance issues. … It became apparent to a number of the regulars that there really needs to be an organization that helps Aquatics with these things. And then Paul [Bardagjy] came up with the idea that we've got this great building up here; we need to do something with that as well. So we came together as an organization.

It was a community-based, all-volunteer organization – just people coming together who have a love for the pool. I think it's perhaps the best example that the city could point to, of how successful a public-private partnership can work to get something done for the city and for its people.

Blake Tollett, Friends of Deep Eddy

We sort of looked around and said, "Well, let's restore the bathhouse." That's how we got started. It wasn't a lark, exactly, but it was a big challenge, and it would make a nice picture up there. Make a nice facility. It's just kinda grown. …

Everything's kind of aligned perfectly. You get a determined look on your face – we've got a group of people, who are really authentic people; they're doing everything in their spare time as volunteers, and we've just been really fortunate. And there is such a wide spectrum of people from across the city who swim at Deep Eddy.

Laurie Limbacher, architect

Shortly after the city bought it [in 1935] – within a week or two – there was a real monumental flood that came through and filled the pool with dirt and debris almost to the brim and totally took out the existing bathhouse. That flood was the triggering event; they then filed the appropriate project proposal through the Works Progress Administration. They had two gentlemen – Delmar Groos and Dan Driscoll – who had worked as lifeguards and basket boys at Barton Springs, who happened to have studied architecture at UT. So they got these boys, who were recent graduates, to do a design. The design is influenced by an architectural style called the "streamlined moderne." It's got this sort of horizontal character and simple detail in the stone. It seems like they were also maybe a little bit influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright – I don't know how to explain that sort of stacked pagoda roof anywhere other than the influence of Wright. …

They had to cut costs, and they decided they could save some money if they would eliminate the roof over the men's area, but it led to this really lovely space. They planted banana-tree plants in there and had this open-air shower in the middle. And that was the model – the same architects went on to work on the Barton Springs bathhouse, and they used the same open-air concept on Barton Springs. …

David Escobedo, Escobedo Construction

I liked the idea because it's grassroots. … I liked the idea of the $5, $10, $100 – I don't know what's the largest donation. I know Dell's kicked some in now. And we worked around the usual city red tape to go through. Here we were able to cut through quite a bit of it, so I am hoping that the city could use this somewhat as a model to get other work done. …

We went in, and we were being attacked by fleas, and all the other stuff. I said, "Guys, let's fix this roof. I think you have enough to fix the roof, and you can have a little gathering." And they had the mayor come, and we hoisted him up so he could beat on it with a sledgehammer. So you had all that kind of stuff – and more people got interested in it, and it was something that got fixed, so guys could stand in there and work on it and not get wet. And people could look at it and say, "Oh, wow, it is happening."

Stuart Strong, Austin Parks & Recreation Department

This has been a model partnership for the city. The Friends of Deep Eddy have brought substantial resources to the project and basically made it possible. … We're now working with a number of groups that are considering or participating in efforts like this one. The Town Lake Trail Foundation is a citizen group that is following roughly the same sort of principle. They have adopted Town Lake as the focus of their efforts and the trail on Town Lake. They have a fundraising capability and a board of volunteers who have impressive professional skills, so they're able to bring in very desirable skills to get us through fundraising, engineering, permitting, construction. … What we need is a base of willing volunteers who'll come and assist in park improvement. Enthusiasm is critical, but sometimes we really need people with experience and professional skills to do the long-term projects. …

We're just looking forward to Deep Eddy. This is something that the community is going to find a delightful facility. Most people in Austin never knew it was there, although for a period of 30 years, that was the norm in Austin, and it was lost.

Paul Bardagjy, Friends of Deep Eddy

What to me has been the most significant thing that I've learned, and I think that's benefited us as swimmers and also as citizens, is that we've kind of done our thing on our own. We've basically taken control of the situation that wasn't very ideal and made it better. As you know, if you sit around and watch the system grind along, it gets some things done, but it doesn't get everything done. I suspect if we hadn't stepped in and made some kind of move, that bathhouse would have eventually gotten torn down. To me, the big deal is that we saw an opportunity and made the best of it. …

The big lesson to me is that this was an opportunity that we all took on and that thus far we've succeeded with. And it's shown me what we can do as citizens, whether it's here at Deep Eddy or wherever. To me it's exciting because I'm looking for the next opportunity. It makes me really encouraged that I can do something, or can be involved in some process like this, to help our community out.

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Deep Eddy Pool, Deep Eddy, Laurie Limbacher, Limbacher & Godfrey, Leon Barish, Stuart Strong, Parks & Recreation, Friends of Deep Eddy

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