Carnett: Summer saved by OCC's pool

I was 12 years old in the summer of 1957 and had just finished the seventh grade.

My family lived on Costa Mesa's Eastside, not far from the Santa Ana Country Club.

I was too old to play in our front yard sprinklers. Conversely, I was not old enough (according to my mother's non-negotiable edict) to ride my bicycle five miles to the glorious breakers off Newport.

What to do for summer fun?

Fishing for crawdads in the open drainage ditches flowing next to Costa Mesa's potholed streets was one diversion. And, frankly, not a bad one.

Another was to climb the crumbling white cliffs of the Back Bay (Upper Newport Bay). I never fessed-up to my mom about those cliff-climbing forays. Had she known, I wouldn't have been allowed to go unescorted to the beach until my 25th birthday!

What else was available to spark a young boy's fancy?

That summer my buddies and I discovered the swimming pool at Orange Coast College. No Costa Mesan that I knew of at that time possessed a backyard pool. Some of us had never even seen a pool.

Somehow, in the summer of '57, we learned that OCC's pool was open to the public. Perhaps my mom read an item in the local newspaper. Whatever the source, we were made aware of OCC's public swimming hours 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

As I recall, the entrance fee was a single, thin dime.

OCC's gleaming new pool opened in 1953. The complex consisted of two pools: a large swimming and diving pool, and a smaller wading pool. The pools sat next to the college's gymnasium, just off Fairview Road.

The gym was a boxy, wooden structure left over from the Santa Ana Army Air Base. It'd been constructed in 1943, and served as a service club. Comedian Bob Hope had entertained troops there during the war.

The college converted the facility into a cozy gym in 1948.

On early summer afternoons in 1957, my brother and I and a couple of neighborhood pals, would ride our bikes down Del Mar Avenue and cross Newport Boulevard to Fair Drive. We then had a couple of options.

We could mosey through the always fascinating fairgrounds, proceeding on the oblique to Fairview, a seldom-traveled, two-lane byway. Or, we could ride due west on Fair Drive and stop to explore the abandoned air base barracks buildings that sat where the Civic Center is now.

We wouldn't mosey too long, however, because we were eager to get to the pool to get in as much swimming as possible. We'd save the moseying for our ride home.

When we arrived at OCC's relatively isolated gym — flanked by vast open fields to the east and north — we approached the men's locker room to buy our tickets.

Wearing trunks under our jeans, we changed in the locker room. Bedecked in shorts and carrying a towel, we then walked out onto the pool deck.

There, we were greeted by a glorious blue liquid expanse, plopped rather capriciously in the midst of Goat Hills' bucolic boondocks.

Every day, a couple of hundred kids would be at the pool, most in the 8 to 14 age range. Several college students served as lifeguards.

We'd find a convenient spot to lay our towels on the deck, then we'd jump in. We frolicked in the refreshing water, dove or jumped off the 1- and 3-meter diving boards, and dove for coins in the 12-foot depths of the pool.

We also took time to sunbathe on towels and talk to cute girls.

At closing time we'd return to the locker room, don our T-shirts and jeans, and then stop by a window on the south side of the gym to buy a candy bar — for a nickel. I almost always bought a Look Bar. The chewy, nougat confection would last most of my ride home.

Every trip to the pool that summer proved to be another perfect day in paradise!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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