The Natatorium: Still Making a Splash After All These Years

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By Pamela Kleibrink Thompson

As The City of Boise’s first public swimming pool, The Natatorium has been Boise’s place to be come summer for over 120 years. For many families, The Natatorium is a family tradition; indeed, many of the children swimming at The Nat this summer will be splashing around in the same waters their great-grandparents swam in years ago.

The Natatorium opened on May 25, 1892. The Nat’s six-story Moorish towers and four floors of galleries overlooking the geothermal pool made it Boise’s most exotic building. The perfect location to display the grandeur of Idaho at the turn of the century, The Nat was the site of Idaho’s first Inaugural Governor’s Ball in 1901. A cover slid over the 65’ x 125’ enclosed hot water swimming pool so it could serve as a dance floor just like in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The 15,000 square foot building contained the largest indoor swimming pool in the country and included rooms for billiards, card playing, smoking, reading, and dining, as well as Turkish baths, hot tubs, steam tubs and a bar. In 1914 Hiram T. French named the landmark Natatorium “The Taj Mahal of the West.”

After 40 years, the steam from the hot water damaged the wooden structure and the roof was rotting. Boise citizen Clarence Moser describes a windstorm at the Nat in 1934: “There was a big storm outside. We got down to the shallow end and we hadn’t been down there five minutes ‘til one of those big beams fell down in the pool. And lucky it never hit a person. Everybody come out of there, they condemned it then.”

The Natatorium’s building was demolished but the pool remained, although it was no longer filled with geothermal water. Doug Copsey of Boise fondly remembers the Nat: “As a young boy growing up in Boise in the 1950s and 60s its welcome relief from the summer heat was only a bike ride away, and many a hot afternoon was spent there. The original building was long gone by the time I started using the pool, but they left the huge stone diving platform there for many years. There was a rope pontoon line about halfway down the length of the pool that divided the shallow end from the deep end. You had to be able to swim two laps across the pool and back before you were allowed to swim in the deep end.”

Today’s kids are still making great memories at The Natatorium. There are two pools now, a snack bar, a picnic area, and, of course, the Hydrotube. The main pool has two diving boards and runs in depth from 3 feet to 12 feet. The water temperature is cool but not cold. The smaller wading pool has a gently sloping floor so little ones can play in water that is only toe-deep if they are timid, and is ideal for children 4 and under. There are deck chairs and umbrellas available, but these fill up quickly, so many folks set up camp on the sprawling lawn underneath the Hydrotube.

The Natatorium is located at 1811 Warm Springs Ave, right behind Adams Elementary School. For more info about hours, fees and swim lessons visit http://www.cityofboise.org