Canyon Column 4: A History of Reed’s Outdoor Pool!

It’s 1989 and summer is in full swing in Portland. Locals flock to the closest body of water and even the smallest patches of shade are snatched up. Reed lays dormant as students and staff head home for summer vacation, and the campus is largely peaceful — everywhere except for the Canyon. Beneath the Physical Plant and next to Reed Lake, Portlanders jump off a diving board and splash in Reed’s outdoor pool. A few student lifeguards—summer stragglers that chose to stay in Portland to enjoy the weather (and maybe avoid a few family members)—watch over them. In this week’s Canyon Column, we’re diving into the history of Reed’s former outdoor pool. 

Reedies dredging the lake in 1929. Photo Courtesy of Zac Perry.

Reedies dredging the lake in 1929. Photo Courtesy of Zac Perry.

Since Reed’s establishment in 1908, Reedies have always loved spending time in the Canyon, and part of that time was spent swimming in Reed Lake. Reedies used to dredge the bottom of Reed Lake, near where the land bridge and fish ladder exist today. They would remove the mud, logs, weeds, and everything else embedded in the bottom of the lake to create a deep enough body of water to swim in. Changing rooms were built along the side of the lake right off of the amphitheater, and a dock stuck out from the rooms, allowing easy access to the water below. Reed Lake, however, is not the ideal place to take a dip, and mud can be quite persistent. After roughly 20 years of repeatedly dredging the lake, Reed decided to build an outdoor pool.

First, they had to block the flow of water coming from the lake. In 1929, Reedies began to drastically alter the landscape to the west of the lake, piling mud and removing logs in order to dike up the beaver dams and make a land bridge. As a result, they destroyed the beaver habitats and blocked the natural flow of water from Crystal Springs Creek, preventing the headwaters from joining with Johnson Creek, the Willamette River, and eventually the Pacific Ocean. In an attempt to allow water from the springs to continue downstream, Reed diverted the flow from the lake into a 240 foot pipe that channeled the water around the newly constructed dam at the west end of the lake. This side channel was unnavigable for future generations of fish and other aquatic species. 

“When they put this pipe in, that was the end of the road for fish migration,” Reed grounds manager Zac Perry said.

Despite the negative environmental impacts, Reed finished constructing the outdoor pool in 1930, and it quickly became a local summertime staple. Even after the pool’s removal in 1999, locals continue to wander onto Reed’s campus in the hopes of reliving old childhood memories.

“I can’t count the amount of people that have stopped me looking for the pool,” Perry said. “These are people that are like 80+ [years old]. They’re like, ‘I learned to swim in that pool,’ or, ‘My mom used to take me down here every day.’”

Reedies enjoying the outdoor pool in the 1930s. Photo Courtesy of Zac Perry.

Reedies enjoying the outdoor pool in the 1930s. Photo Courtesy of Zac Perry.

From the pool’s inception in 1930 to its removal in 1999, not much changed. It became embedded into the culture of Southeast Portland, and many local children learned to swim in it during the summer. But despite the love that the greater Portland community had for the pool, it was not as widely used by Reedies, as most students vacated campus from May to August.

In the summer of 1999, Perry was hired to develop a restoration plan for the college, and the pool’s impact on the environment was reevaluated. The restoration plan originally proposed to build a fish ladder around the pool in order to keep the staple of ‘Olde Reed’ while providing a channel for migratory species. In early 1999, however, the State of Oregon and Washington declared coho salmon an endangered species.

“That changed the importance of our stream, it wasn’t just Reed’s stream anymore,” Perry said. “It was a stream that had the potential to support endangered species, and the work we do could benefit migratory species all through the Willamette Valley, and the success of salmonids migrating as far out as the Pacific Ocean.”

With that potential came the opportunity of outside funding. Originally, Reed had planned to internally fund the construction of the fish ladder, but soon agencies such as the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Bureau and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife began offering some financial support for the project. Reed’s acceptance of outside funding triggered a state survey of the stream and its ability to support coho salmon. By this point in time, the pool was nearly 70 years old, and the state found that the old concrete may allow small levels of chlorine to leach into the stream below. The presence of chlorine could affect the residing macroinvertebrates that are fish’s main food source, and chlorine leaching could ultimately impact the coho salmon population. 

As a result, the state gave Reed two options: either reline the pool with a new layer of concrete, or remove it. Relining the pool would cost roughly $35,000 and would require the school to dig out the pool in order to pour the new concrete layer and base. 

The pool in 1999 prior to its removal. Photo Courtesy of Zac Perry.

The pool in 1999 prior to its removal. Photo Courtesy of Zac Perry.

“It gave the college basically an opportunity to kind of reevaluate the value of the pool at that time,” Perry said. “We considered that Reed had a second pool at the Sports Center, and ultimately, in Oregon it rains for most of the year, and an outdoor pool is only beneficial in the hot summer months when the majority of Reed’s student population is gone.”

 In the end, the college decided to remove the outdoor pool.

“[The pool] stood there for a long time, and later we realized how much that structure  impacted the environment,” Perry said. “As far as the Canyon restoration goes, the pool coming out and the fish ladder going in — that’s probably the crown jewel of the whole project.” 

So in 1999, Reed’s outdoor pool was finally removed and the fish ladder was installed. And as Reed stepped into a new century, they began the rehabilitation of our beloved Reed Canyon.

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Wade McDonald
Wade McDonald
2 years ago

Wade McDonald Class of ’84
Clarissa, thanks for this article, brings back happy memories from when I was a lifeguard there summer of ’83. Pretty girls tanning, happy splashing kids- outdoor pools are more fun, though the indoor pool water quality was so much better. First time glancing at the Quest since 1984. Nice to get the full story, ISTR the alumni magazine just had a blurb.

R Storey
R Storey
1 year ago

I am only "like" 70 + but I loved this pool; and you are correct generations of neighborhood children learned to swim or just swam in that pool every summer. It was cold water because it was not a heated pool, but we loved it just the same! Thank you for the history behind the building of the pool and the reasoning behind removing it…very imformative!

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