fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Natatorium plunged out of existence

Ashland is now famous for theater, but its townspeople — once had grand plans to capitalize on the area's natural springs and become — a world-class mineral water resort.

Out of that vision grew the Ashland Mineral Springs Natatorium.

Built in 1909, the natatorium failed to become the global — epicenter of mineral spring resorts, but it did generate happy memories — for generations of local children.

It was later called the Twin Plunges because of its two — pools and operated until 1977, when the owners had to close the operation — for financial reasons.

"It was a real gathering place for kids in Ashland," recalled — Edith Willstatter, who with her husband Al, was the last owner of the — pool before it was demolished to make way for a Heritage Bank branch. — "They kind of lived with us all summer. We were kind of the town babysitters."

According to a 1978 Tidings article, "vestiges of the — past" that included slides, diving boards, a diving trampoline, 300 swimming — suits and other items were sold off at a public auction that marked "the — end of an Ashland institution."

"We were sad," Willstatter recalled. "We felt sorry for — the kids. This was their summer home."

The Ashland Food Cooperative now stands on the site.

Grand hopes

In a paper entitled "From 'Nat' to Now: A History of the — Twin Plunges" based on Tidings articles, Willstatter details the lifespan — of the pools.

As many as 35 pick, shovel and wheelbarrow-wielding men — at a time worked to excavate the pools and retaining tanks.

Upon its opening on a Saturday in October of 1909, Ashland — Mayor R. N. Snell exhorted residents to make of the day "a grand gala" — and called on every man, woman and child to devote at least one hour to — visiting the "grand natatorium."

Visitors discovered an east pool for men and a west pool — for women, spring boards, slides, high dives, trapeze rings, a balcony — around the pools with room to seat 500 people and a maple dance floor — that doubled as a skating rink.

That evening, residents could pay a quarter each and be — amazed by the swiming and diving feats of the world-renowned Professor — Oberdorf of Seattle.

But competition among the area's pools and spas seems — to have split the customer base. the late 1920s, the building surrounding — the twin pools was torn down and the property was sold as a tax foreclosure.

The business reopened with outdoor pools after a renovation — in 1931.

The Twin Plunges was the scene of bathing beauty contests, — a fashion show with models parading between the pools, swimming classes, — dances and other activities.

Later owners - needing winter income and inspired by an — article on plastic pool covers in Popular Science magazine - erected an — air-inflated plastic cover over the pools and held a grand opening on — Dec. 31, 1958.

"Winter indoor swimming was short-lived that season, however," — Willstatter wrote in her history. "A wind storm on January 8 blew shingles — off a nearby house and hit the tautly inflated bubble. The reaction was — much like a can opener."

An experiment with a Mylar bubble also proved unsuccessful — when the material deteriorated after one season.

Closing days

The Willstatters operated the pool for 11 years, working — 12-hour days seven days a week during the five-month season, Edith Willstatter — recalled.

In addition to slides and diving boards, kids enjoyed — pinball machines, a jukebox and other features, she said.

Youngsters from all over the Rogue Valley and northern — California visited the pools.

"The towns of Hornbrook and Montague (California) would — empty out and come up here for school skip days," Willstatter said. "That — was always fun. They would spend the whole day here in Ashland and picnic — in the park."

In the 1970s, the couple were awakened in the middle of — the night to find a group of beer-drinking transients skinny-dipping in — the pools with kids and dogs in tow.

"My husband started chasing them with a two-by-four," — Willstatter recalled.

Financial risk and fatigue from the long work days eventually — led the couple to sell the property to the bank. They had first offered — it to the city and county, but had been turned down, according to Willstatter.

"It was no longer economically feasible to operate it," — she said. "There were insurance costs for one thing. We didn't want the — exposure."

The Twin Plunges did exact a revenge of sorts on the demolition — crew as the facilities were being torn down and the pools filled in.

"They wrecked a couple pieces of machinery trying to bring — it down," Willstatter said. "There was so much rebar. There were also — two wells and an artesian spring. They had to deal with the water until — it could be rerouted somewhere else."

Terry Skibby, George Kramer, Southern Oregon Historical — Society staff, Edith Willstatter, Kay Atwood, Southern Oregon University — library staff and Steve Gies provided information and assistance for the — creation of this series on Ashland's lost buildings.