In 1971, when I was 9 years old, Cortez Pool opened for business at 35th Avenue and Dunlap. At last, for those of us too young to drink or drive a car away from this stultifying Northwest Valley suburb where I grew up, there was something to do.
Back then — and, in fact, right up until its recent rebirth as a dazzling 21st-century water park with more aquatic amenities than a The Little Mermaid sequel — Cortez pool was pretty basic. Just two pools (the teeny, shallow one for kids), a smelly cabana with changing rooms and a couple of toilets, and a diving board.
Still, going there was something to do. (Metrocenter wouldn't open for another two years, after which we walked past Cortez Park Pool and kept going; at the mall there was a movie house and a record shop from which one could shoplift Captain and Tennille 45s. There was an ice rink where one might have one's 12th birthday party.) I walked to Cortez Pool several times a week with my friend Dana Younie. We argued about which of the girls in the DeFranco Family was prettier (he preferred Merlina; I favored Marisa) and ate crabapples from the bright-purple-leafed trees planted out in front of the pool before ducking in for a swim.
I noticed, driving past a few years ago, that the pool was closed. Soon after, it was replaced by a pile of rubble. I called David Urbinato, the city's Parks and Recreation media flack, to ask what had happened. It turns out that in 2009, Parks and Rec had hired a crew to do some improvements to the Cortez pool and its surrounding deck. When the workmen cut into the decking, the pool sank three feet.
"There was a soil condition underneath the pool," Urbinato told me. "There was a lot of sand in the soil down there, and the pool had been sort of just floating there for a really long time."
The city closed down the facility that year and drained the pool. After kids began breaking in and vandalizing the property (there's still not much fun to be had in the neighborhood), city workers jackhammered the deck and filled in the pool with dirt. Eventually, the Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative coughed up funds to replace the site's sand with compactible dirt, and the $3.3 million renovation began.
The pool reopened early this month, and I stopped in to check out the upgrades. I was surprised to discover that the big, brick cabana through which one enters hadn't changed a bit. It was the same cold, smelly concrete-floored cave I remember from long ago (although Joe Diaz, a landscape architect for Parks and Recreation, assured me the toilets in the restrooms are all new).
Once beyond the sticky turnstile, my reverie ended. My childhood last gasp had morphed into something too spectacular for the west-side ennui of my childhood. The entire main pool has been rebuilt, only this time, instead of a big rectangle of water in the ground, it's an LED-lighted, water-jet-studded, regulation-standard competition pool that Cortez High School, just across the street, will use for its swim meets. There's a diving pool with two diving boards, a separate, shaded kiddy pool with that weird zero-depth-entry thing, where the water starts as a puddle on the decking and then slowly builds into a waist-high wading pool. And everything's dwarfed by a pair of big, gaudy water slides that give Cortez the feel of an amusement park.
More impressive than all these wet bells and whistles is the fact that the whole place is engulfed in shade. A series of giant umbrellas in bright, primary colors tent all the water features. In the
'70s, we had a pair of crappy little shade structures from which cranky moms hollered at bullies who tried to dunk the little kids.
I noticed, as I was leaving, that the crabapple trees are gone from out in front of the pool. But I wasn't feeling the least bit wistful. Because, at last — and once again — there's something for kids to do with their summers in the old neighborhood.