A Hidden Gem in the Orinda Hills
Published August 5th, 2009
By Andrea A. Firth
Photo provided by Orinda Historical Society
As you walk down the steps alongside hand-laid stone walls to the entrance of the Oak Springs Pool, it is like taking steps back in time. The tear-drop shaped pool, nestled against an ivy-covered hillside and surrounded by oak trees, looks much the same today as it did 80 years ago when the natural spring on the hill was tapped to create the neighborhood pool.
"It really is a hidden gem. It's an oasis," says Kathy Duffy, a member for over twenty years, as she looks out at the pool which is located a short distance from the bustle of Highway 24 but feels far removed from the hectic pace of a commuter's life. "It's like having your own backyard pool, and it's a great place for kids," she adds as she observes two children who have the pool to themselves on a warm and sunny July afternoon. The diving board, a feature that has disappeared from most modern pools, is a big draw, and pool toys, noodles, and floats are always permissible explains Duffy.
Built in 1929, when mostly trees populated the Oak Springs neighborhood and just a few cottages dotted the hill, the effort to create a spring-fed pool for the benefit of the neighbors was spearheaded by longtime Orinda resident Nathan Gray. "[Gray] owned about 200 parcels and sub-divided a lot of the hill," says Chris Flum, who grew up in the neighborhood and remembers hearing stories about the development of the area from Gray.
By the mid-1940's a clubhouse was added, a homeowners' association was formed, and the pool became the central meeting place for the growing community that had settled in the area. Kids' game nights and parent socials were all part of the draw. And rumor has it that in the early days, the sheriff, highway patrol, and other local officials would drop by the clubhouse during their breaks to do a bit of gambling.
"Back when I was growing up, it really was the mecca of the hill," recalls Flum. "It was a warm and friendly place," he adds, which is a big reason he joined the pool when he returned to the neighborhood to raise his own family. Flum also remembers that the starting blocks had to be strategically placed around the odd-shaped pool to ensure competitors at the swim meets each swam the same distance. Oak Springs Pool no longer supports a swim team, which is an attractive feature for members who appreciate the unrestricted access to the pool throughout the summer.
Solar panels were installed on the lot adjacent to pool in the mid-1980's long before being green was cool, and the pool is kept at a comfortable 80° throughout the season which runs from late Spring to early Fall. The clubhouse, which was updated along the way to include a fully-functioning kitchen, retains the charm of an old cabin in the woods with knotty pine paneling, single panel windows, a brick fireplace, and twinkle lights strung from the ceiling. For a modest fee, the clubhouse can be rented all throughout the year, notes Duffy. "People have used it for all sorts of activities from ballet and karate classes to African drumming, book clubs, and birthday parties."
With 40 member families, Oak Springs Pool is never crowded. "We could probably grow to a hundred families, and it still would not have a negative impact," states Duffy who is working with the Board to increase the membership. As the Treasurer on the pool's Board, Duffy is acutely aware of the costs associated with maintaining the facility. "We don't want to lose this," she says. "We think it is important to keep this going."
Flum, who enjoys the space and solitude that the pool provides, agrees that membership needs to grow in order to adequately maintain the facility and provide the amenities people want, such as Wi-Fi which was recently added poolside. He is trying to bring back the game nights that he enjoyed as a child to share with his boys, seven year-old Gavin and nine-year old Phoenix. "I want to bring back that community feel," concludes Flum.
Oak Springs Pool began as a communal effort among like-minded neighbors to capture and enjoy the natural spring water from the mountain. The year round water source was perfect for a man-made swimming hole erected sometime in the 1900's. As we now know it, the Oak Springs Pool was built in the 1920's. In 1945, the clubhouse was built by dedicated residents and members who understood the importance of fellowship with family and friends.
Quotation from History of Orinda
In 1924, 1925 and 1926, subdivision maps were filed on the Oak Springs area, adjoining Moraga Oaks, and building sites were sold. Coy Filmer acquired the subdivision the following year. A swimming pool was constructed on the property on land reserved for general recreational use of the residents. The clubhouse adjacent to the pool was built in 1945 and has, subsequently been greatly improved by, among other things, modern filtering and heating equipment. Many of the residents accomplished the improvements by physical work and by money raised from picnics and other functions. The recreation areas are administered by Oak Springs Home Association, the creation and authority of which are authorized by restrictions in the deeds.
(reference: 1.THE HISTORY OF ORINDA GATEWAY TO CONTRA COSTA, Muir Sorrick, Friends of the Orinda Library, page 95, 1986.)