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Strawberry Pool


In the early 1900s the University converted part of a network of conduits, dams and small reservoirs into a recreation facility known as the Men’s Swimming Pool or the Canyon Pool. Designed by Sanitary Engineering Professor Charles Gilman Hyde (who later also served as Dean of Men) the pool was, as the name implies, sex-segregated — limited to use by male students and faculty. Campus women had their own pool, surrounded by a fence, at old Hearst Hall (in the vicinity of present day Wurster Hall) and were not allowed to intrude on the men-only precinct of Strawberry Canyon.

The Men's Swimming Pool was an irregularly shaped concrete pool with a narrow surrounding deck and a few simple diving platforms. Off to one side was a shed used as a changing room. The pool existed as a men-only facility from 1911 through 1943, when it was finally opened to use by women. (It was replaced by the current pool complex in 1959.) But for most of the years of its existence the pool in Strawberry Canyon was a resort for all-male exercise and relaxation. Perhaps inevitably the pool became wreathed in a homosocial haze, and it appears as a highly-eroticized corner of the campus in works of literature from the period.

In Clarkson Crane’s novel The Western Shore, set in Berkeley in 1919, a homosexual English professor named Philip Burton enjoys gazing at the male students who relax in the afternoon sunlight:

   A few days later the weather grew even warmer and Tom began to go nearly every afternoon to the swimming-pool up Strawberry Canyon, where he would lie on the warm pavement and dive occasionally into the greenish water. Somehow he felt better under the blue sky, dozing in the heat. The spring-board would be thudding, there was always splashing in the pool, and, when he opened his eyes, he would see lithe tanned bodies all around him, glistening with water. While he lay there, in the hollow between green hills, his unpleasant thoughts would fade and finally go away entirely, and only a blurred sequence of colors and sounds would traverse his mind, all suffused with the warmth of the concrete on which he was lying.
    One afternoon he heard some one say: “Hello there, Tom,” and, having opened his eyes gradually, saw Burton, in swimming trunks, standing above him. For a moment he was silent. Then he replied: “Hello, Phil.”
    The instructor’s body was burned pink. He sat down on the warm stone beside Tom.
    “I didn’t know you came up here often,” he began, laying down a book that he had brought with him.
    “I’ve been here several days,” Tom answered.
    He lowered his eyes, planning to say no more, for an abhorrence of Burton swept over him. He loathed this stocky man with the drawling voice and brown mustache who sat beside him. But half through indolence, because he could not sustain hatred, he said, even before Burton had spoken again:
    “It’s sorta nice to lay around in the sun.”
    “Oh, it’s beautiful,” exclaimed Burton, tossing up his head, “perfectly lovely. I’ve often thought that this is about as much like an Athenian palæstra as anything one could find to-day.” He paused and added: “And then the hills, of course, and the sky and all that.”
    Several boys were diving, one after the other; spray flashed in the sunlight. Tom thought that Burton was just as he used to be in the army, always talking of things no one knew about, and he felt briefly the same amused tolerance he had had for him then. He looked now at the instructor, who was staring at a tanned youth just come from the water....
    He heard a voice he recognized and saw that three or four fellows from the house, Tony Barragan, Milton Granger, and one or two others, were going into the shed to undress. Burton said:
    “I want you and Ethel to come up for tea again some afternoon.”
    Tom finally answered: “All right.”
    Burton again was staring at the boy near him who lay prone, forehead resting on brown arms. At last he said:
    “How’s your work going, Tom?”
    “Oh, all right.”
    He did not like to talk of the studying he had not done. It rose before him, insurmountable; he felt a sick dread....
    He heard Tony Barragan’s voice somewhere in the pool: the fellows from the house would probably see him. He began to think that he would go away and dress, for he could not stand being near Burton.
    “I have to dress pretty soon,” he announced.
    “Going to see Ethel this evening?” asked Burton. “Give her my regards, if you do.”
    Tom was silent. At that moment Milton Granger pulled himself from the water half onto the concrete bank and leaned there, dripping.
    “Hello, there, Tom.”
    “Hello, Milt.”
    “It’s great up here, isn’t it?”
    Sadly Tom remembered that there had been a time when he wished to introduce Milton to Phil Burton, because he thought that they would like each other, both being literary. He hoped now that Burton had not heard him say “Milt,” for he might intrude. But he noticed that the instructor had suddenly turned his back toward Milton Granger. A moment longer the freshman hung there on the edge of the pool. Then he shook the water from his hair and cried: “So long, Tom, see you later,” and disappeared with a splash.
    Burton stood up.
    “I think I’ll go in and dress,” he said.
    Filled with sudden hatred, Tom exclaimed:
    “Oh, by the way, Ethel told me about that concert you and she went to.”
    He thought that Burton seemed agitated. Standing there, the instructor asked:
    “Who was that boy?”
    Tom smiled at the fellow’s attempt to change the subject.
    “Milton Granger,” he answered, as dryly as he could, “one of the freshman at the house. I think I mentioned him to you one day.”
    “Oh,” Burton stood without moving. Then he said: “Well, I really must go,” and he walked away.

In a poem published in 1930, a weary stockbroker fondly recalls his halcyon days as a Cal student at Strawberry Pool, and the fellowship of one particular friend:

Strawberry Pool

Robert Reid Lee

You will remember Strawberry Pool
With a sick longing, when its cool
Green bottom has given place to baking
Pavements, and you have no more slaking
Of that long thirst that drew us up
(The years will snatch away the cup),
That drew us up the steep road past
The broom, whose yellow shadow cast
Upon the dust made it more white;
Past the gaping stadium, quite
Empty then of its shrieking throngs,
To which that one fall day belongs.
With a turn to the left and down the ridge,
Across the narrow wood bridge
Where the stream pushes the ferns aside
To jump the rocks where the crayfish hide;
Past the nettles that sting unwary
Hands, the lupin and strawberry,
On we went, my old companion,
Under the hills that rimmed the canyon,
And where the golden-hearted, red-lipped
Last wild rose opened, we stripped
The dusty clothes from the sticky skin,
Mounted the tower , and dove in
Down the long steep airy slant
With sharply indrawn breath and pant
Into the jade green sun-flecked deep,
Making the frozen white drops leap,
Shattered from the molten blue,
(For green turned color at feel of you),
While sick flesh shrank from the chilly clutch
For a moment, but warming to the touch,
Carressed the green, the blue, the white,
The strawberry, the sharp sunlight,
And romped with thunder of hand and foot
Past the jutting branch and root;
Wearying of that, then to clamber
To the bank, and feel the amber
Bite of the sun that filtered through
The leaves between himself and you.
With feet apart, one hand on one knee,
Pound the head with the other to free
The ears from water. Then lie still
With grateful contentment….Ah! You will
Remember (the years will snatch away
The cup), and on that dreary day,
When the air is harsh and dry
That makes the fat flesh creep and sigh
On brittle bones shaken by the din
No door keeps out but always in,
While squinting hard at tape and ticker
Suddenly there will come a flicker
Of sun across the shadowed wall.
You will look up, and start, and call,
But get no answer, for the years
Will snatch away the cup. No tears
Will fall, perhaps, but there will be,
Always and always, memory.

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Read More About It

  • Clarkson Crane. The Western Shore (Salt Lake City : Peregrine Smith Books, 1925, c1985), p. 249-254.
  • Robert Reid Lee, “Strawberry Pool,” in University of California Chronicle, October, 1930 (Berkeley : University of California Press).

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