End of An Era: Clintonville’s Olympic Swim Club Closes For Good

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The Dive Well at Clintonville's Olympic Swim Club(Photo: Sam Hendren)
The Dive Well at Clintonville's Olympic Swim Club(Photo: Sam Hendren)

Yesterday’s Labor Day holiday marked the unofficial end of summer. It also marked the end of an era in Clintonville. For 76 years neighbors have cooled off at the Olympic Swim Club.

But now it’s closed for good. And generations of Clintonville residents are saddened by the shutdown.

As a handful of adults swam laps in the Olympic-size swimming pool last week, children of all ages leapt into the 16-foot-deep water of the dive well nearby.

“We love it. It’s really been a big part of our lives for a long time,” said Karen Staley.

Karen Staley and her husband Paul have brought their children to the club since they were toddlers.

“We’re really going to miss our diving well because it’s very unique. We’ve got the 5-meter board, two 3-meter boards and two 1-meter boards in a 16-foot diving well,” Staley said

The 5-meter platform stands about 17 feet above the water. Paul Staley says the jump is irresistible.

“It’s exhilarating. It’s the best. Now that the pool is not going to be here next year, which is very sad for all of us, I try to go off of it every time we’re here,” Paul Staley said.

Those exhilarating jumps ended yesterday when the Olympic Swim Club shut down for good. The club, which sits on Indianola Avenue just north of North Broadway, operated between Memorial Day and Labor Day. According to owner Newt Jones, attendance began dwindling in the late 1990s.

“The dynamics of the neighborhood has changed and more kids are working these days and they’ve got the internet and they’re staying inside. They’re not going outside so I think that’s been the biggest reason for the changes at Olympic over the past 15 years,” Jones said.

The pool’s design was influenced by the one used in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was built in 1938 and had been operated by Newt Jones’ family for 76 years. Asked why the club was closing, Jones said the decision was made entirely for economic reasons.

“The swim club has not been a profitable business for well over 15 years and so if you’re not making any money then it doesn’t make sense to stay open,” Jones said.

Jones says that the club was, in years past, the place to gather for the Clintonville community. That’s never changed for Karen Staley who said the club’s members were like her second family. Dagmar Wolcott, who swam at Olympic for 42 years, says it’s the community vibe that she’ll remember. Gretchen Cochrane put it this way:

“There’s a whole group of women that lead very different lives in the winter and we see each other almost every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day and then maybe not at all until the following year and we just pick up where we left off. It’s summer friends,” Cochrane said.

Not only is there sadness; some swim club members are angry that they’re losing an important gathering spot in Clintonville. The closing spurred Dagmar Wolcott to take a more active role.

“Making posters, doing flyers from street to street, going to the area meetings and there’s going to be some more serious ones in September that will talk about zoning and other things that really weren’t addressed at former meetings,” Wolcott said.

The Olympic Swim Club family is breaking up. Some members have already determined which of a half-dozen area pools they’ll frequent once it’s outdoor swim time again.

Owner Newt Jones describes the closing of the club for him as bittersweet.

“People think that my family and I don’t have any heart and that we’re just tearing this away from the community and that’s just the opposite,” Jones said.

Jones says that in place of the swim club there will be a mix of residential, retail and restaurant offerings that he believes will help transform that section of Clintonville.

“It’s going to be a beautiful project and it’s only going to enhance the dreary Indianola Avenue. I think it’s going to be the rebirth of Indianola Avenue,” Jones said.

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