A couple of weeks ago, I attended the reopening of the Suburban Swim Center on Gradyville Road in Newtown Square. The last time I had been there was in December of 2008, when I rode my bike over to do my regular morning swim. The lights were off, and a sign on the door said, “Closed–power outage."
The cause of the power outage, as it turned out, was because the club’s manager had embezzled $112,000 in funds that were to be used to pay the bills. With that loss, the club could not pay the mortgage and other carrying costs, the property went into foreclosure, was purchased by the lender, and it seemed just a matter of time before the property was sold to a developer who would level the building, and build something new in its place.
One of the small blessings of the current economy is that with the pop of the real estate bubble, a property that would have immediately been bought up and developed into something new in the heated real estate market of the Bush years, instead found no bidders.
While the property remained padlocked, the swim team that was its primary user, the Suburban Seahawks, was forced to find other local pools that would make pool time available. The team’s longtime coach, Charlie Kennedy, has many friends in the local swimming community, and so he was able to keep his swim program going, while the drama over the property played out.
The swim program that had been based at Suburban Swim Center since the pool opened in 1960 had a proud tradition: swimmers from Suburban had been national champions, set national and world records, and included Olympians and Olympic medalists.
The year 2010 was to have been the 50th anniversary of the opening of the pool, although, the club traces its roots back to 1950, when Hall of Fame swim Coach Peter Daland first began coaching a group of Delaware County swimmers. When Daland left the area in 1957 to coach at the University of Southern California (and led them to the first of nine NCAA championships in 1959), his assistant Bill Taylor took over as coach.
In 1959, the Daily Times reported that in that swim season, Taylor’s swimmers set eight national records, while also winning the Senior and Junior League Championships of the Philadelphia Swim Directors Society. (See photo of some of those 1959 swimmers.)
In August, 1960, the Daily Times noted:
“The Suburban Swim Club is in the process of building an all-year-around indoor swimming pool, devoted strictly for competitive swimming and tutoring. The pool is located on Rt. 252 one mile south of Newtown Square, and is probably the only pool of its purpose in the entire nation. It should be completed around Nov. 1. The pool, for which the tank has already been laid, is 25 yards and has six lanes. It will have two diving boards, one and three meters. The pool, when completed, will cost $150,000, with the entire expense to be borne by its 85 members. One of the big money-raisers to finance the project will be through an all-year swimming program for all age groups, male and female. Bill Taylor of Woodlyn is the swimming coach for the Suburban Club.”
A group of swim club parents, led by Frank Edwards, found the site on Gradyville Road between Rt. 252 and Media Line Road, and then had designed and built what was a novelty at the time, an indoor pool for competitive swimming. The swim club opened the doors to the pool in November of 1960.
There are a lot of stories to tell of the swimmers and coaches who swam and coached at the facility in the last 50 years. One of the club’s brightest stars, Olympian Brendan Hansen, was the keynote speaker for the re-opening ceremony, and then switched into his Speedo and raced a leg in a relay race with some of the clubs current young stars.
Watching from one side was Brenda Borgh, who swam in the 1976 Olympics at age 15. A path behind the pool leads up to a house on Dogwood Lane, where former swim champion Alex McKee moved his family in the early 60’s, so that his children could walk to swim practice. One of his sons, Tim McKee, would go on to swim and medal in two Olympics.
The history of the club deserves more than my short blog posting. In talking with Brendan Hansen, Charlie Kennedy and some others after the event, I suggested that we begin to compile some of the stories of Suburban Swim Center to highlight the events and people who have created such an impressive record of success. Brendan is in training for the 2012 Olympics to be held next summer in London. Between now and then, I hope to talk with the various people who have made the program so successful and share those stories with you.
For more information on the club and its swim programs (youth, masters, scuba, lessons), go to http://www.sscswim.org/ or email Diane Mastrangelo at email@example.com or call the office at 610-325-3175.