OwnerBathhouse and Swimming Pool
Address701 College Dr Decorah, IA 52101
Architectural StyleArt Moderne International Style Streamline Moderne
Tour TypeWest Decorah Tour
The Decorah Swimming Pool and Bathhouse is an outstanding and well preserved example of the successful collaboration between federal, state and local government bodies in cooperation with the assistance of a private college. It was built in 1937 during President Roosevelt’s “New Deal Era”, and exemplifies the relief that was granted to government bodies by the federal government by providing work for the thousands of unemployed due to the Great Depression, specifically the WPA or Work Projects Administration.
In the early 1930s, the City of Decorah began looking at ways to provide safe swimming opportunities for residents of the area. There was much disagreement about whether the envisioned swimming pool should be a concrete pool or an “artificial swimming pond or lake”. It was proposed by many that the artificial swimming lake would be more sanitary and safe than a concrete pool. One local businessman even proposed privately building a concrete swimming pool, bathhouse and recreational facility, including miniature golf, south of the fairgrounds. However, a bond issue special election was set by the city for 9/13/1935, for the proposed city-owned swimming pool. Total cost of the pool was estimated to be $25,000 with the city estimated to be responsible for only $5,000-8,000, due to expected funding from the WPA.
The publisher of the Decorah Public Opinion noted that he “strongly favors the construction of a small artificial lake for swimming and believes that this would be much better for Decorah than the Concrete swimming pool.” (9/12/1935). He asked the readers to consider the “sanitary effect of a sand bottom”, and stated that all impurities would lodge on the bottom of a cement pool, “just as they do in your bathtub”. However, he encouraged the public to vote for the $15,000 bond issue regardless of their preference since he felt the city would judiciously look at all angles. The bond issue passed 800 to 319 the following day. Attorneys for the city determined that due to the wording it had to be a cement pool (which was favored by city officials), or a new special election would have to be held on the potential of an “Artificial swimming lake.”
Luther College president O. J. H. Preus supported the facility and proposed to his board that a minimal charge be made to sell land that the college owned adjacent to then Hwy 52 (now College Drive). Preus’s proposal was approved and the City bought the land for the site of the concrete pool for $1.00. The city directed then City Engineer Charles Altfillisch to begin the design and planning of the pool and bathhouse. Due to the funding from the WPA, seventy-five local men who had been out of work were employed as general laborers. Additional skilled positions were added to this number for the jobs that required more expertise.
Charles Altfillisch’s design for the swimming pool and bathhouse was in the Art Moderne style that reflected the modernistic design of parks and swimming pool bathhouses favored by architects and engineers in the 1930s. The Decorah Swimming Pool and Bathhouse is a typical example of recreational facilities that were built with WPA funds. This building and its construction are linked to the Great Depression and the New Deal and in particular the WPA. It is notable for its distinctive Art Moderne architectural character and sustainable design which remains essentially unaltered since it opened in 1937, even after being remodeled in 1989.