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$3-million set aside to restore 1930s pool

To thousands of Tampa tots, summer wasn't summer without the Cuscaden Park Swimming Pool. They swam, splashed and soaked up the sun, relishing the area's only public pool.

Many took lessons to refine their strokes. Others just learned to stay afloat.

That continued for six decades until the pool closed in August 1997 due to old age.

Now, it stands ready for revival.

The city of Tampa has set aside about $3-million to restore the 1937 pool to its original glory. It's an expensive job _ a new pool costs about $1-million _ but worth the trouble, local leaders say.

"Those of us who have lived in Tampa a long time learned to swim there," said Wayne Papy, the city's recreation director. "It will become a focal point for the neighborhood."

First, the city wants to declare the Cuscaden pool a local landmark. The issue goes to the Historic Preservation Commission on Aug. 13, then to the City Council in September.

Commission administrator Annie Hart says its historical and architectural significance give it a great shot. It already contributes to the Ybor City National Historic Landmark District.

The pool's history runs deep in V.M. Ybor, an older, working-class neighborhood named after Vicente Martinez Ybor, the founder of Ybor City.

The city built the above-ground, oval pool on 15th Street through the Works Progress Administration, which put people back to work after the Depression. Architect Wesley Bintz designed it.

Cuscaden is one of the few remaining Bintz pools in the country. A handful received National Register of Historic Places status. Many faced the wrecking ball.

Like the Roy Jenkins Pool on Davis Islands, it has bathhouses around the perimeter below the deck. Its red brick and blue and white trim give it a stadium feel. Geometric lettering on the front adds Art Deco flair.

Funding for the project came from Community Investment Tax money and a $1-million federal grant from the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery program. The city plans to renovate the entire structure, replace the leaking liner and add community meeting rooms.

When finished, it will look brand new, Papy said.

Construction should start in January and last about 13 months, said city architect James Jackson. It's one of three new public pools planned in Tampa. The others are at DeSoto Park in Palmetto Beach and Loretta Ingraham Center in Carver City/Lincoln Gardens.

Many swimmers can't wait to dive in. Over the years, countless children at the Ybor City Boys & Girls Club took their first strokes at the Cuscaden Pool, located next door.

"When it closed down, it meant our kids had to be bused to another site," said branch manager Bertha Gary. "A lot of kids were disappointed. It was like we had our own pool."

The pool shares the 6-acre site with Cuscaden Park and Playground, named after Ohio native Arthur Cuscaden, who moved to Tampa in 1878.

Arthur Cuscaden planted some of Tampa's first orange trees and later donated the grove for the park.

Active in politics, Cuscaden served as mayor pro tem during the James McKay administration, and was on the City Council and School Board for several terms.

In 1890, he married Frances Robles, daughter of Tampa pioneers Joseph and Mary Ann Robles.

For years, Cuban, Spanish and Italian cigar workers flocked to the park to play baseball and meet friends. On any given Sunday, about 2,000 people showed up.

From the park hail some of baseball's greats, among them Al Lopez, Tony La Russa, Lou Piniella and Tony Saladino. Tennis champ Judy Alvarez also played at Cuscaden as a youth.

When the pool closed, the city considered turning it into an inline skating rink, but some community members balked. Even Mayor Dick Greco, who spent part of his youth in Ybor City, pushed for the swimming hole.

"It's certainly a pool we need to have back in service," Papy said.

_ Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or thurstonsptimes.com.

In the late 1930s, swimmers flocked to the Cuscaden Pool in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood. For several decades, it was an important recreation facility and the place where children from the Ybor City Boys & Girls Club learned to swim.

Cuscaden Pool, built in 1937, was designed by architect Wesley Bintz with red brick sides, blue and white trim and geometric Art Deco lettering, above. To many people, it had the feel of a stadium, below.

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