Bathing suits, flips-flops and warm, sunny days at the pool are now just a distant memory. But a small group of Northwest residents said their final goodbye Sunday to what for them was the last day of an endless summer.
The Hilton Washington closed its outdoor pool for the season - and forever. Developers are proceeding with plans put a condominium tower in its place.
“I will miss it terribly,” said Nadine Cahodas. “I don’t know where I will go. I probably won’t swim. … There was something about swimming outdoors that was special.”
Miss Cahodas is the among dozens of lap swimmers, sun god and goddesses, and stroller-pushing mothers in an almost-state of mourning - now that month after month of poolside rumor has finally become a reality.
In May 2007, Lowe Enterprises and the Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, a joint venture between Canyon Capital Reality Advisors and basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, purchased the hotel for $290 million.
The pool opened on Independence Day in 1965 under a clear sky and a high temperature of 88 degrees - weather only slightly better than the 70 degree temperatures Sunday when pool members gathered for a final swim and farewell party.
“I swam in this pool with every child I’ve loved in my life,” said Doria Howe, 60, and a member for 20 years.
Beyond the uniqueness of the pool - an urban oasis in the summer, shelter from the heat and noise of Connecticut Avenue Northwest by magnolia trees and a sprawling terrace, residents say it also was a community gathering place.
“It was the closest thing I got to a country club,” said retired schoolteacher Claire Saret, 50, who belonged to the pool for the past 12 years.
The heated pool was open from about 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. six months a year (while most other public pools stayed open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day.)
“In the summer usually, one-third or half [of those at the pool] would be neighborhood people,” said Max Pulgar-Vidal, a banker who has been a member for nearly 26 years. “Over the years, we have had many friends there…. It was a nice feature of the neighborhood.”
Everybody seemed to have their own fond memory - from splashing with the toddlers to watching the endless and ever-changing flow of international travelers, stewardesses and other hotel guests.
“I loved coming here and reading,” said Joan Ludlow, another longtime member. “I swim, then I look forward to reading after. I was here last summer and I read a hundred books on the lawn.”
Mr. Pulgar-Vidal said the controversial writer and economist Jeremy Rifkin was once a member.
“He was always reading his own books,” Mr. Pulgar-Vidal. “We joked that he did that so he could impress the young women who would ask him what he was reading.”
Said Marjorie Meyers, elementary school principal in Virginia: “To swim here in the morning with the swallows and the doves - it was the most peaceful thing in my life.”
Others remember when a local TV weatherman named Dave Zahren was a lifeguard and members would playfully heckle him on overcast days.
Residents in the surrounding Adams Morgan, Kalorama Triangle and Dupont Circle neighborhoods tried unsuccessfully to fight the change through City Hall, despite the new developers pledges - complete with blueprints - that they will build a new pool on the southwestern corner of the sprawling hotel grounds, made infamous on March 30, 1981, when John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan as he was leaving the hotel after a speaking engagement.
“The redevelopment plans…have left me feeling alienated and insulted,” said Barbara Negley, another longtime member who lives nearby.
“Not as a pool member…but as a resident of the city who wishes to keep downtown density and bad architecture and its affront to residential neighborhoods in its place.”
Geoff Griffis, a development partner with Lowe Enterprises, said high costs and lack of use have forced many hotels to remove their pools.
“The new pool will make the members very happy,” he said. “The current pool was getting older. It was actually leaking.”
Peter Mathen, a member for more than 20 years and dedicated lap swimmer, express little hope last week that the pool will reopen to the community in 2010.
“It’s a product of the ‘60s,” he said. “It’ll never happen again.”