Searching for the Lost Pool at the Hotel St. George

A few months ago, I was researching Brooklyn’s Hotel St. George for my article on The Godfather’s shooting locations

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…and found myself fascinated by its former indoor pool, now long gone:

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Once the largest hotel in the United States and occupying an entire city block of interconnected buildings in Brooklyn Heights, the 30-story Hotel St. George played host to everyone who was anyone, from Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant to Truman and Roosevelt (you can read a very detailed history here).

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In particular, the hotel was famous for its 168,000 gallon salt-water Olympic-sized pool, with an enormous mirrored ceiling, a waterfall, mosaics, and art deco accents. As the decades passed, the pool was eventually opened up to outsiders for a fee and became a favorite among locals.

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Sadly, by the end of the 1960s, the St. George’s prestige had begun to wane, and the hotel soon fell into disrepair. The pool was drained in 1974 and later removed. Today, a gym occupies the site.

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But do remnants of the Hotel St. George’s grand pool still exist? Over the years, several Scouting NY reader have written to say that small details do in fact remain from the legendary pool, and I was finally able to take a look for myself the other day.

Here’s the pool in its heyday…

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…and today.

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At first, it seems as though everything is gone. However, look closely and you’ll see that not only is the original mezzanine balcony still in place…

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…so too are the original green-tiled columns!

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Here’s a color picture of the original pool for comparison:

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Though the lower columns have been covered in beige tiling, the original upper portions wrap around the entire level…

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…at one point, even disappearing through the wall.

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But there’s more to find than just columns. Around the room are a number of the pool’s original mosaics, depicting a variety of scenes.

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For example, this waterside vista can be found in the Pilates room…

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…stretching behind an added wall into the adjacent workout room:

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Behind some running machines, a beach setting:

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And on a nearby wall, this cute little red-roofed house:

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But as it turns out, there’s one final piece left from the original structure. A partitioning wall divides the room in half, but head through to the other side…

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…and you’ll find find that the pool wasn’t completely removed. A small portion still exists, complete with tiling along the edge. The pool is now oriented in the opposite direction, creating a small lap pool:

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I happened to go into the room above the gym area, a large space with towering ceilings housing various squash and racquetball courts.

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In addition to the large, curved ceiling…

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…there’s an unusual motif running along the walls that suggests a pre-gym origin:

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You’re going to have to use your imagination to bring this one to life, but it seems this was once the hotel’s Grand “Colorama” Ballroom:

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Described as the “room of a million moods,” the ballroom could accommodate up to 3,000 dancing or 2,000 dining. It’s a little hard to figure out exactly where the ballroom would have been oriented…

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…but on the opposite wall behind a boxing ring…

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…you can find additional details, including a line of zig-zagging boxes:

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It continues down the entire length of the wall:

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I know a lot of you have fond memories of the Hotel St. George and I’d love to hear them. New York City may never see a pool this grand again, but as always, the ghosts remain.

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-SCOUT

PS – For some amazing pictures of the Hotel St. George, join the Yahoo group here.

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29 comments

  1. Wonderful find. Keep up the great photos and history of NY’s previous glory.

    • there was a viewers gallery above the pool where the diving boards were. i spent many hours watching people in the pool wishing i was also at the pool but with no fee (.50c) all i could was watch. i also remember you passed a some kind of a wakway featuring hundreds of hollywod celebrites pictures as you walked to the viewers gallery. does anyone remember this. it was on or about 1950.

      • San Francisco Professor

        I do remember the viewer’s gallery from about 1951-53. I remember because there was a small glassed-in room up there with four or five game machines for little kids like me to play. A baseball game pitched a metal pinball from a flap beneath the pitcher’s mound, and you tried to bat it out of the park into the stands. The best was the basketball game, in which you controlled a metallic player with a trigger, to make him flip a ball up at a hoop. Disneyland Main Street has an arcade with that game, last time I went with my son.

  2. …not to say it isn’t glorious now, it’s just a different kind of glory.

  3. Wow! The things you uncover never cease to amaze me. I’m sorry I don’t have the talent to know where to look for these things, but I’m really glad you do and that you take the time to share them with all of us.

  4. I was on the Grand Central the other night and saw a Nissan Cube heading West with your bumper sticker

  5. Great post! I live in the St. George and have membership to Eastern Athletic Gym. Much of the building still has memories and details from its history. Over the years of living there, I have uncovered a few treasures form Hotel era, including a silver tea dish that has a crest and St. George inscription on it!

  6. I used to get high on the roof every day

  7. It looks like a very nice gym. But for an obscene $125 per month, it freakin’ well better be!

  8. I’m from Staten Island north shore. My Dad took the family once to the St George pool. This was maybe in the late 40s. I would have loved to have gone back but my hints were to no avail. We went the once and never went back.

  9. Yet another fascinating post. This place has great bones, too bad that some of them like the area around the subway entrance are so tattered. I did a tight shot of the neon sign on the corner (interesting to see that on the old postcard) with the Clark Street sign in the corner. That is actually my name, minus the street of course.

  10. Very cool! I live in St. George, Utah so this title really struck me haha. I love your posta

  11. Weird el-cheapo fact: the rooms in the tower have 7-foot ceilings! I’ve never seen that anywhere else except in somebody’s basement.

  12. My wife and I moved into the St. George in 1980, just as it was being converted into apartments. We lived in what was referred to as the Grill Building, the oldest component on the corner of Hicks and Clark.

  13. My wife and I moved into the St. George in 1980, just as it was being converted into apartments. We lived in what was referred to as the Grill Building, the oldest component on the corner of Hicks and Clark. I had a chance to tour the basement before it was “renovated” into a health club. It was a holy mess! I understood that the width of the old pool became the length of the new pool and the rest of the club was built over the old pool.

    If you get a chance, you should see the roof garden, with its Egyptian style mosaics and spectacular views up and across the East River. One of my favorite memories of the hotel was the listing agent giving me a quick tour of a duplex unit (a huge two-story living room and one bedroom up the stairs) just below the roof of the tour, with four two-story Palladian windows looking up and over the river; if you closed your eyes you could swear that you were hearing Cole Porter at a piano in the corner and the clink of deco cocktails! Unfortunately, that apartment was already spoken for! (Rent – $1200!)

    PS: It was a salt water pool.

  14. I live facing the back of the St. George Tower, opposite the back entrance to the Eastern Athletic Club. About three years ago more parts of the tiled walls around the pool were torn down, and I claimed several pieces of the brilliantly colored deco tiles from inside the dumpster.

    The pool was also used for the tryouts for Billy Rose’s Aquacade, during the 1939 NY World’s Fair. A friend of mine, the late author Frederik Pohl, lost his front teeth when he tried to see if he could dive down to the bottom of the pool, in 1933. He succeeded, all too well!

  15. Wow! You are my hero for doing what I wish I had the investigative skills to do! I live on Clark and every day I walk past the remains of the hotel. I’ve been DYING to know what came of it, especially the pool. This is too magical, thanks so much for filling us in. Keep it up!

  16. Nice article! My Long Island friends from Islip area went there with Mr. Bill Brown on day long excursions. He took many kids there, I’m sure as we were his “kids” who always loved places he would take us in the city.
    I DO remember the high dive, and watching another one of our group jump off. I was a skinny kid and afraid of heights, or even jumping in head first, but greatly enjoyed this pool, with its 30s atmosphere. My parents were from Elmhurst and were always telling me of city attractions like this in their teen years.

    Great memories, and thanks so much!!

    Dave Loder

  17. Glen C. Williams

    Boy! You have revived such fond memories of my visits to the St. George Hotel pool. I used to frequent this pool with my late brother Gregory and 3 or 4 of our friends from St. Albans, NY (Queens). We would take a bus and 2 trains to get there. We would splash and play and swim and frolic for hours before heading back home. This was in the early to mid sixties. I don’t recall a disapproving eye or complaint from staff or patrons at the sight of six or seven skinny black kids making good use of this facility.

  18. Wow! What great article. I look forward to seeing other sites of NYC that have been change and still have some of the old parts left. :)

  19. My Step Dad was a Police Lieutenant in the local Precinct near The Hotel St George and when he worked the day shift, he would meet us at the Hotel with my Mom and get us all in to use the swimming pool. I remember how grand the Hotel St George was along with the other upscale Hotel Granada that was not too far away. At one time Brooklyn catered to the super elite before areas became run down and mutilated. I am happy to see now that Brooklyn is coming back storng and that many of the old Brownstones are being cleaned up and renovated. For many many years, as a Brooklyn resident you never had to leave the County and go into what we called “The City” (Manhattan). Even though it was mere minutes away by subway, everything you needed could have been acquired in Brooklyn. I myself was born and raised in the tiny hamlet of Greenpoint (still have family there) and if I could, I would move back in a heartbeat. Unfortuantely that is no longer possible but I will ALWAYS be a Brooklyn Girl !!! You can take the girl/woman out of the city, but you canot take the city out of the girl/woman. BROOKLYN, I LOVE YOU !!!!

  20. George in Silicon Valley

    My grandmother, during the years c. 1950 when she was a famous D.A.’s mistress, would take my brother and me to the St. George Hotel, which formed my idea of the glamorous life I wanted to live when I grew up. What’s missing from this great article so far, and your letters, is the smell from that salt water, unlike any chlorine pool’s smell. Do you remember? It was the clean, fresh salt smell you get when you walk up onto the boardwalk at Jones Beach and the sea breeze hits you. It smelled like heaven. To this day, in Silicon Valley, when I luxuriate in the jacuzzi of the Bay Club next to Oracle, and look at the floral display facing us, and I remember Gram and the St. George Hotel. And I think, “I made it.” All I knew before this fine article was that the place had been destroyed in an enormous fire during the invasion and destruction of Brooklyn. (On the Clinton Hill block where I lived, next to Adelphi Academy near Pratt Institute, Biggie Smalls later sold dope.) It is so heartening to see the St George resurrected, like Brooklyn itself.

  21. Wylie Jones Jordan, MD

    In 1988 I was just back from a job in Spain when I moved into one of the tower rooms and started lifeguarding at the basement pool. One day a little boy dived into the shallow end of the pool and cut his head on the mosaic tiles in the bottom. He was terrified and crying and rushed up to hug me, burying his bloody head in my red lifeguard shirt. I wanted to do more than comfort him, and decided to go to medical school. It took a year to compete premed requirements, and four more to graduate in 1964. I’m retired now and living in Acapulco, but I’ll always remember the St. George.

  22. Wylie Jones Jordan, MD

    That should obviously be 1958.

    • George in Silicon Valley

      Nice story. At the St. George pool you decided to be an M.D. and you did it. I would go there with Gram and one of her elegant gentlemen friends, who wore white shoes and slipped employees– and grandchildren– “fivers” when he shook hands with them. And I formed the dream of a life like that.

  23. I live in the St George and swim in the current pool nearly every day. I knew some of the story, but this article is great. Thank you!

  24. Over the years, I’ve heard so many family stories about my parent’s very fancy wedding reception at The St George Hotel in Brooklyn. Being a Manhattanite, the significance of a Brooklyn hotel escaped me. I was recently looking at my parent’s wedding photos, and was intrigued to know more about this venue. I even thought of visiting it. I was saddened to learn that it’s no longer open to the public. It looks like it was quite a glamorous place in it’s day.

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