ST. LOUIS – Last year, thieves forced the Fairground Park pool to shut down for the entire summer.

The pool, which opened in 1958, and its predecessor date back more than a century. Their legacy goes far beyond swimming.

“This pool means so much to the community. We had to get (the pool) back open, and we wanted to get it back open,” Greg Hayes, the director of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry for the City of St. Louis, said.

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It’s been a long swim to bring back the pool.

Instead of glistening water, leaves filled the pool last year after thieves broke into the facility in February 2023 and stole nearly all of the metal, from the pumping and filtering equipment to the toilet flushers in the pool bathrooms.

Residents across a big chunk of the city waited and waited for the pool to reopen.

“We kept looking. There wouldn’t be no water in it,” Jackie Reay said. She brought her grandchildren to the pool on Thursday. “We were like, ‘Oh man, I wish so bad they would open that pool!’”

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Summer campers even protested at city hall, demanding the pool reopen.

The extensive damage and delays in getting replacement parts, from pool pumps to bathroom sinks, kept the pool closed until Memorial Day weekend in 2024.

The City of St. Louis spent more than $165,000 to get the pool open again, according to Hayes.

“They stole pretty much anything that was metal, even the smallest things in the buildings,” he said. “So, it took us a great deal of time to try to get the pool ready.”

It is sparkling once more.

“Looks great,” Reay said. “They’ve done a nice job on it. I was thrilled to death when I found out they were open.”

Construction of the park’s first pool began in 1912. It was the city’s first municipal pool, the largest in the world at the time. Over the years, swimming in the park has done more than just keep St. Louis cool. It’s helped the city break through its racial divide. In 1949, St. Louis Mayor Joseph Darst ordered the integration of the pool. Rioting ensued that afternoon and evening, bringing the city national shame and an end to the integration, but only until the next summer. There was no more rioting.

“We want to keep making history here with all of the folks, not just for the neighborhood but the region, the city, itself,” Hayes said.

Young swimmer, Namiya Blisset, was ready to her part, proudly beaming that she plans on visiting the pool every day of her summer vacation.

Even after a lost summer, St. Louis loves its swimming pools—this one longer than any other.