The Plunge saltwater pool has been around since the early 1900s and was once a place where people learned to swim and enjoy the great outdoors. Think of it as an early swimming pool of yesteryear where famous English Channel swimmer Florence Chadwick trained among others.
While it was once maintained by volunteers of the Ocean Beach Historical Society it has changed. Over the years The Plunge has become a sandy hole that’s more of an eyesore in some people’s minds.
Many might ask why the former pool isn’t simply just filled in with sand, or perhaps made into something the community-at-large can use rather than sitting vacant. The answer isn’t easy.
According to an Ocean Beach MainStreet Association tour brochure, William Dougherty was the builder of the hotel in 1919 on the site of the 1800s shack of OB’s first “homeowner” Capt. Thomas.
The hotel had a grand opening on May 1, 1919, and was a popular resort during the 1920s as guests and locals enjoyed “the spa, skating rink, dance hall, and hot saltwater pool that drained to the ocean,” the brochure says.
But time has not been kind to The Plunge and, in a sense, it’s a bit of a wasteland. However, it does have some historical value according to some, but it is not a historical landmark or ever been designated as such.
Pat James, 62, a resident since the 1970s, and the vice president of the Ocean Beach Historical Society did have some thoughts about The Plunge and the adjacent 61-unit Silver Spray Apartments formerly the hotel/resort located at 5116 Narragansett Ave.
“It’s called The Plunge because that’s what swimming pools were referred to back then; there are some in San Francisco, and one in Mission Beach. It was just a term they used a lot … Now it’s a big sandbox, and some of the walls are still there but some have come down where the surf came up and knocked them down.
“Many Ocean Beach youngsters took swimming lessons there,” he said. “Florence Chadwick was one of the instructors who taught children to swim there and another notable regular was Faye Baird of Ocean Beach, considered San Diego’s first women surfer.”
As it stands today, James noted the shape of the apartments remains the same, the windows and entryways have been altered. Also, the cover over the saltwater plunge no longer remains.
“Although we are recognized as an emerging historic district by the City of San Diego, it is typically up to the owner of the property to seek historic designation. As far as I know, the property has been in the same family for many years,” he said.
The former pool is now a ruin and roped off to visitors.
“…in the summer people would sit out there and use it over the years but much of the sand has washed it away. It’s a big empty spot that’s half sand, half weeds,” James said.
In terms of maintaining The Plunge and keeping the area safe around it (it continues to deteriorate because of the elements), James thought it was the City’s responsibility. Perhaps because there is an easement for coastal access through the property.
“The Plunge takes people around to the beginning of Sunset Cliffs, and then goes from a sandy beach under the OB Pier.
“That’s where the cliffs start and I believe it is closed off now because the beach to the cliffs and the cliffs to the beach has been shut for some time due to a big part of the stairs that were washed out last year,” James said. “It is an area exposed to high surf and I’m pretty sure the City is responsible for any maintenance west of the sidewalk. This includes the entire Plunge area that takes a beating every year especially in the winter due to exposure to the elements.”
Calls and emails to find out who does own The Plunge and who is responsible for keeping it up to par were not returned from the City of San Diego, or from the owner of the Silver Spray Apartment complex.
According to the California Coastal Commission PIO: “San Diego has a Commission-certified Local Coastal Program (LCP), and this area would likely be in the City's permit jurisdiction. In other words, the City would issue the permits and it would only come to the Coastal Commission if there was an appeal.”
“I don’t think the rest of the property is neglected just the one wall, and The Plunge is the highest-profile of the buildings. I think over the years I’ve spoken to some managers who did maintenance,” he said. “Volunteers did a lot of the work once and then the city picked up the ball about 20 years ago when the City’s resources weren’t stretched thin,” James said.
“Today the City does some maintenance but it’s an area that takes its thrashing. Nothing can really be done other than keep it clean; at one time I thought maybe put in tables and sand, but it never came to fruition.”
The Plunge is a “historic relic of our heyday and should be left alone in my opinion. There is no reason to take it out. It’s a pretty solid piece of concrete other than some walls have fallen out. I know elderly people who swam with kids and if you ask them if they should knock it down, they shed a tear,” James said.
There are only two commercial properties deemed historic in Ocean Beach: The Strand Theater and the Ocean Beach Library. Other historic designations include the cottage program.
And while it may be just a big, decaying sandbox now, it once was quite an attraction.
For example, according to the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association brochure in November 1919, Camp Holiday, the vacation bungalows next to the hotel, opened and advertised rooms for $1.25 a day, $6 a week, and $16 a month. In its early days, the row of bungalows served as an auto camp for the newly popular car travelers. Visitors pulled their cars right next to their rental cabins for their stay in OB.
In 1927, individual apartments rented for around $35-$40 per month and included the use of the saltwater pool.
James added it’s important to “remember our resort days as depicted in ‘Beach Town Early Days in Ocean Beach’ by Ruth Varney Held. The Silver Spray represents a major portion of this part of our history.”
Today, James said he also felt it “is an asset to the community as affordable housing for year-round residents.”
“Although showing its age today, I believe it is a historic gem waiting to be polished. Maybe someday we will see it returned closer to its former glory,” he said.
Among some of the stories about its history is that it once had a ballroom that is now said to be haunted.
According to the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association brochure: “Legend says the ghost of Joyce Swindle, a young bride in 1964 who was shot along with her husband of three weeks on the walk near the hotel, haunts the halls with her cries and footsteps looking for her husband.”
“I was in the ballroom a long time ago but not long enough to experience her spirit, I think I recall it being used for storage now,” James said.
James who hasn’t paid much attention to The Plunge or the apartments as of late said, “I would like to go in and visit sometime again because I feel such a profound connection to our community’s history.”
For now, The Plunge remains, but who knows for how long.