The Riverside Baths and Bare Ass Beach

Posted on August 22, 2008 – 4:54 PM | by OldManFoster
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By William Burg

Riverside Bath House

Before the days of air conditioning, Sacramentans used any available means to beat the heat. Homes were designed with broad porches and plenty of windows for ventilation, but the easiest way to keep cool was to find the nearest body of water and jump in. In order to provide a more genteel environment for swimming than leaping into the river, Judge Charles E. McLaughlin formed the Sacramento Riverside Bath and Park Company and built a large enclosed bathing house on Riverside Road, about three miles south of the old city limits at the Y Street Levee (now Broadway).

Originally constructed in 1909, the enclosed baths included a large 128 foot by 64 foot main tank, intended for men and boys and a smaller 20 by 40 foot tank intended for women and small children. The pool included slides and diving boards. When they were built, the Riverside Baths were the only swimming baths within 50 miles of Sacramento.

By the mid-1930s, the baths building was beginning to show its age. The original enclosed structure was replaced by an open pool with Art Deco stucco changing rooms and snack bar. A secondary pool could be rented out for private events. The new facility, renamed the Land Park Plunge, opened in 1937.

Conveniently located at the end of the PG&E streetcar line on Riverside Boulevard, across from the present site of William Land Park, the baths were a popular summertime destination. The City of Sacramento originally planned to purchase the Baths as part of Land Park, but the public turned down a bond issue to take them over. Instead, the Riverside Baths remained a private institution. Their status as a private pool made possible one of Riverside Baths’ more notorious practices: the owners maintained a strict whites-only policy in their pool. According to Southside Park resident Al Balshor, “If you had a suntan, you couldn’t get in!”

This policy kept many Sacramento kids on the outside of the Riverside Baths, including Tony Lopez, who grew up in Southside Park. “They wouldn’t let us in because we were Mexican,” said Lopez. His only entrance to the Baths was due to the intervention of Max Baer, veteran boxer, Land Park resident and staunch opponent of racism. On a hot summer day, Lopez and some of his friends encountered Baer in a candy shop across from the baths. Baer, who loved the neighborhood kids, bought them all candy bars. When Lopez and his pals explained that they could not swim in the pool, Baer led them across the street and angrily insisted to see the manager. Faced with the furious Baer, the pool management relented, but as soon as the boxer left the baths, staff kicked Lopez and his friends back out.

For Lopez and his friends, or those unwilling or unable to pay for admission, the alternative was a trip to Bare Ass Beach. This well-hidden swimming spot on the Sacramento River was located south of Broadway, roughly where Miller Park sits today.
The swimming spot was dominated by thick stands of wild blackberry bushes, and a few isolated hobo camps, known as “the jungles” to local kids.

The site got the name “Bare Ass Beach” because few bothered with the formality of bathing suits. “We went swimming bare-assed!” said Lopez. “We stripped and had a good time in there, until the City got pissed off. Clean fun. There was no fighting, we just had a good time there. The cops used to come out and we’d run like hell! We’d run into the jungles, they couldn’t see us but we could see them!”

The City of Sacramento also operated public pools, at McKinley Park and McClatchy Park. These pools were not segregated, but both were a long streetcar ride away from the Southside neighborhood where Lopez and his friends lived. Southside Park opened its own pool in 1953, only a few years before the Land Park Plunge was demolished. Today, the Temple B’nai Israel and Interstate 5 occupy the site. The only remaining evidence of the Baths is a milepost on the California State Railroad Museum’s “Sacramento Southern” excursion train. The end of the three-mile run from Old Sacramento stops at “Baths Station,” a few yards west of the site where the Riverside Baths once stood. Even the secret location of Bare Ass Beach has been lost to history, as the site was converted into the River Park marina.

  1. 3 Responses to “The Riverside Baths and Bare Ass Beach”

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    By sunda stone-newsome on Nov 13, 2010 | Reply

    I was born on 8th ave and Riverside Blvd in 1943. I attended Riverside Elm, Cal Junior Hi and McClatchy Hi. For years I would stand outside and watch my two white next door neighbors swim in the Land Park pool. In 1954, Natalia Collins moved into the neighborhood and we became friends. When her father Att. Nathaniel Colley/NAACP,found out we were denied entry, he sued the owner for discrimination. With local media and television present we entered the swimming pool legally never to be turned away again.

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    By William Burg on Nov 13, 2010 | Reply

    I heard about that (Nathaniel Colley’s court case) after I wrote the above article. I really want to write a followup article about Nathaniel Colley, who was a pretty amazing local civil rights leader–or maybe even a book. He also won a court case that integrated the New Helvetia housing projects. He’s one of those figures of 20th century Sacramento history that people should really know about; you don’t hear very much about Sacramento’s civil rights struggles, and that’s a story that deserves to be told.

    The other thing I’d change about the above article is far more mundane–it should be “the Miller Park marina.” But, alas, I was on deadline and failed to double-check the last sentence.

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    By Sunda Stone-NewsomeSunda on Nov 23, 2015 | Reply

    My maternal grand parents John & Mary Hebert were the first Af-Americans to intergrate in the RiversidePark area of 8th ave. The property owners started a petition to stop my grandparents from buying property on 8th ave to build their home. Needless to say there were more people in favor than not. Mary was a founding member of the Women’ Improvement Civic Center for Af.americans. Mary & John were also were the first Black grocery store owners in downtown Sacramento. they were also members of St Andrews AME downtown which is on the national register of historical sites. I have read many article on the history of Af.Americans in Sacramento and my grandparents who were influential and in the Black and White community have been omitted. They moved to Sacramento in 1924 and built their home on &th ave in 1935.

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