Video Observer: A Plunge Into History at Brea’s City Hall Park

With the start of summer underway, many North Orange County residents may be looking for places to swim. At City Hall Park, located at 401 South Brea Boulevard, the Brea Plunge, the oldest continually operating municipal pool in Orange County, offers one such place and happens to have a fascinating past.

Generations of Brea citizens have celebrated summer and learned how to swim at the plunge. According to park signage posted by the Brea Historical Society and the City of Brea, the 25-meter plunge was the first outdoor public pool in Orange County and is one of the oldest public swimming pools still in use in Southern California.

Construction began in 1928, with the Mediterranean-style pool and bathhouse officially opening in 1930. The Plunge closed for the summer of 1943 because of the nationwide polio scare. It was modernized with a new filtration system in 1977. Major renovations took place in 1990 and again in 2008 to ensure that the swimming pool could continue serving the community.

According to information from the Brea Historical Society, soon after Brea was incorporated in 1917, the city’s leaders saw a need for a public park that could be enjoyed by all. Planning began, and in 1930, City Hall Park opened, quickly becoming the hub for the town’s gatherings, government, and recreational activities.

The west side of the park bordered the first homes in Brea, which were initially built by the Union Oil Company for oil field workers living in the area. The other side of the park bordered Pomona Avenue, the main thoroughfare for early downtown Brea, now known as Brea Boulevard. The grounds included all the city government offices, along with community organizations and a swimming pool. City Hall Park was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, making it the first Brea landmark nominated for preservation.

The Brea Plunge is just one part of City Hall Park. According to the park’s National Historic Register application, the municipal pool was constructed at the same time as Brea’s City Hall. In 1928, the Spanish Mediterranean-style building housed the entire city government, including the police and fire stations, the city library, and the courtroom and jail, along with the Chamber of Commerce and community meetings, making it the first combined city government building in Orange County.

After Brea’s government outgrew the facilities and moved to the newer Civic & Cultural Center in 1980, the historic city hall building was refurbished by the Brea Lions Scout Foundation in the 1990s, according to a dedication plaque posted by the Grand Parlor – Native Sons of the Golden West. It is now used by the Boy and Girl Scouts of Brea.

View of the Brea Plunge from the Rose Garden at City Hall Park in Brea

Allen Ruoff, a Los Angeles architect, originally designed the Art Deco/Spanish Revival-style city hall, swimming pool, bathhouse, and park as a unit; they are among the few existing public landmarks located in a public park in Orange County today that are more than a half-century old. Reading more signage posted on the fence outside the Plunge, I learned that there once was a fishing pond at this park in the 1940s.

According to the sign, children would spend hours at this pond. It attracted a large population of bullfrogs that were so loud that they disturbed the neighbors every night. This led to the pond being removed. There once was a water fountain in City Hall Park. According to another sign posted by the pool, in 1948, the Shaffer Memorial Fountain, an interesting octagonal water fountain with a thirty-five-foot base and “dancing colored waters,” was constructed in memory of businessman and city councilman W.D. Shaffer by his company’s employees.

Lit at night by colored lights, it was a local landmark until it was removed in the 1960s when it became “dysfunctional,” according to the National Register application.

In the southeast corner of the park stands a white-painted single-story, Spanish-style building with a red tile roof and a basement: a former American Legion Hall. According to the National Register application, after the City Park had been established and the City Hall constructed, this structure was built in 1931 as the home of the Brea American Legion Post No. 181.

Brea Plunge from across the rose garden

Besides serving as the American Legion meeting place, it provided space for the Brea Women’s Club, among other community groups. According to a dedication plaque posted on the building by Santa Ana Parlor 74 – Native Sons of the Golden West, the structure also served as emergency housing after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, and in the 1970s, the police department and jail moved into this building from City Hall, making space for more city services. Glass doors were added in 1970. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the building became the permanent home of the Brea Museum and Heritage Center on April 19, 2002.

City Hall Park was the only park in the community until the late 1940s, which made it the center of social life. The Brea Plunge and surrounding park would become the focus of summer activities for families of oil workers living in the area. Back then, the Brea Municipal Band would hold its summer concerts on the park lawn, and the Lions Club would have its annual town barbeque.

Today, Brea still hosts events in the park, including a popular summer Concerts in the Park series for families and a July Fourth Country Fair. A basketball court, restroom, lovely rose garden, gazebo, and playground have been a part of the park since 1970.

Playground at Brea’s City Hall Park

The park still consists of several community spaces, including the Brea Museum and Heritage Center, the Brea Lions Scout Center, and the Olympic-sized swimming pool known as the Plunge. The pool is open seasonally.

For summer 2023, residents in and outside of Brea can enroll in swim classes or pay the $3 fee to visit the pool during recreational swim hours. The Brea Plunge is open from June 5 to August 11, 2023.

For more information, visit the “Aquatics at the Plunge” webpage at https://www.ci.brea.ca.us/433/Aquatics-at-the-Plunge.

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