Beyond Masada / Trading a dusty trek for a refreshing dip in the Gordon Pool
Tel Aviv’s most popular pool was once a historic watering hole for the great and the good of the city. Recently renovated, it has recaptured its iconic mix of easy socializing, beachfront leisure, and that famous chilled, salty water.
With all due respect to Masada, admiration for King Herod’s palaces, love for the desert, and full appreciation for the brave fight against submission-turned-myth of Jewish heritage that took place there , when it’s 95 degrees in the shade one might suggest a few alternative places to sweat besides hiking up the snake path again.
Like, for example, the Gordon Pool in Tel Aviv, a national treasure of a different, less UNESCO-world-heritage-site sort. It offers similar physical activities as well as opportunities to chat up members of the opposite – or same – sex while going easy on the mass-suicide-and-survival-of-our-people themes.
Named for the Gordon Beach nearby, the original pool was built in 1956 by Werner Joseph Wittkower, the same architect who built Tel Aviv University, the old Tel Aviv bus station and other city landmarks. One of the very first 50 meter pools in the country, Gordon’s distinction was - and remains - that it is re-filled daily with salt water drawn up by three pumps from a spring at a depth of about 120 meters, meaning the water, summer and winter alike, is always chilled, at about 24 degrees Celsius.
Over the years, the pool became something of a Tel Aviv institution, a gathering place for the bohemians and yuppies of Tel Aviv alike, along with anyone else willing to shell out the rather steep membership fees so as to do the backstroke in water that highly resembles the beach ten feet away.
The great and the good of the city would hang out there daily, rain or shine, playing backgammon, sipping coffee on the grass nearby, or arguing with Chaim the lifeguard about which lanes those wearing flippers should be allowed to go in. The pool was a particular magnet for older residents of Tel Aviv, who petitioned and got the management to open up for them at 4:30 am for pre-dawn swims, and then spent long morning hours afterwards talking politics naked in the dressing rooms.
By 2006, however, with the opening of more flashy country clubs around the city, the pool was in decline, and in desperate need of renovations. Soon, the municipality, which had purchased the spot from the original private owners announced it was going to demolish the pool to make way for the new boardwalk and bike path running from Bat Yam all the way North towards Herzliya.
This news precipitated the kind of well organized community protest that the peace movement can only envy, with local celebrities coming out of the woodwork to hoist the campaign protest banners. Songwriter Yoni Rechter wrote up pamphlets, rocker Riki Gal demonstrated, and comedian Keren Mor personally petitioned the city planners.
The high level public pressure and persistence worked – and the city caved, deciding, at a cost of 30 million NIS, to raze, and then re-build Gordon and turn it into a municipal pool, owned and operated by the city. New architects then came in and shortened the length of three of the seven lanes to 40 meters, so as to make room for the boardwalk – a move some old timers still consider something of a minor national tragedy—added in two more pools, a 200 square foot children’s pool and a smaller kiddie pool, and built a wood platform around the perimeter.
The new Gordon pool, together with the new-shower and dressing room re-opened to great fanfare in 2009, and a year later, so did the adjoining new state-of-the-art Gordon gym, although entry fees to the gym and its spa are separate (but equally expensive). Today, a whole new slew of old timers, along with all new celebs and tourists, are back, doing the freestyle, sipping cappuccinos made by the new on-site barista, and arguing with Chaim about the flipper lanes.
The Gordon Pool. Perry Eliezer 14. Phone number: (03)762-3300.
Unlimited Parking in the nearby Kikar Atarim lot (under the Marina Hotel) 27 NIS. Or, if walking, walk down Gordon or Ben Gurion Street towards the beach. The pool is situated on the promenade underneath the Carlton Hotel.
Summer Hours: Sunday 6:30am-10pm, Monday-Thursday 6am-9:30pm, Friday 6am-7pm.
Tickets: 64 NIS on weekends and 74 NIS on Saturdays, with reductions for soldiers, students, children and seniors. It is also possible to buy 10 entry-cards at a reduced price, as well as better value six month and one year memberships.