Revisiting a relic
On seeing old landmarks with new eyes
We had a very brief Bay Area visit this week, and while I was there, I drove past the Larkey Park Swim Center in Walnut Creek. This is where I learned to swim as a little kid—I still remember the time my swim instructor thought he had gotten the whole class out of the pool and left me doggy-paddling in a panic. This is also where I began to associate summers with the smell of chlorine and coconut-scented sunscreen.
Here’s what the swim center looks like now:
The pool was renovated a few years ago, and an elaborate splash pad added. The splash pad is extremely popular on hot days, or at least on the hot days when the water is turned on for kids to run through and play. Some years this doesn’t happen—they keep the water off because drought, drought, drought. Probably not this year though. The rain has been unrelenting.
I tried to find a historical photo of the swim center from the 1970s or 1980s, but no luck. In my memory, it looms murky greenish-brown in a very seventies way. That might not be exactly correct, but the exterior was definitely not the clean white that it is today.
In my memory too, this building was ugly. It was rough concrete brick and felt worn even 40 years ago when it was new. The floor was always sopping wet and sometimes sticky with spills. It was a noisy place full of kids; joyful but chaotic and unkempt.
Later, as an adult, I’d pass by it all the time and not give it a glance. Even after it was renovated in 2017 to its current form, it was still a relic of my childhood and not anything I paid attention to.
Yesterday when I drove by the Larkey Park Swim Center—perhaps because the day was drizzly and gray and so the building’s white stood out, or perhaps because my eyes are accustomed to the Edwardian and Craftsman houses near where we currently live—I noticed it. I saw it. A gentle surprise to realize that this relic is quite attractive. It is very California summer, very California casual, very much the benchmark for what I think a swim center should look like. Now that I’ve been around the swim center block a few times, I daresay this is the best-looking one I’ve ever been to.
When we returned from Canada in 2021, after being surrounded by a lot of dark red brick, I took some walks in the Rancho San Miguel enclave of Walnut Creek, famous for its Eichler homes. I’ve always admired the lines of an Eichler, but that year too, I appreciated anew the uniquely California architectural landscape that’s part of what draws people to come here and never leave.
Sometimes this is what I like about going away—that when you come back home, you get to see new things too.