Balboa Park Pool

San Francisco, CA | sports/recreation | community/education

Balboa Park Pool represents an opportunity to catalyze its surroundings, spurring increased community participation and providing the neighborhood with an enhanced family resource.

Site Plan

Balboa Pool has been a beloved fixture of San Francisco’s Balboa Park neighborhood since it opened in 1956, with its beautiful natatorium, sleek horizontal form, scored concrete walls, extensive glazing, exposed wood and concrete ceiling, and sweeping semicircular ramp leading to the central entryway. Designed by noted architect Frederick H. Reimers, it is one of the only intact International Style pool buildings in San Francisco.

ELS, in joint venture with Kuth Ranieri Architects, preserved the natatorium’s historic integrity while making essential repairs, upgrading structural and environmental systems, and enhancing the user experience. The team reconfigured the changing rooms and administrative space to carve out room for a new, 800-square-foot community area that is accessible even when the natatorium is closed.

Because the pool was longer than regulation length for competitions, the designers divided it with a bulkhead that provides a regulation-length swimming area while separating lane swimmers from recreational swimmers and classes, enabling different groups to comfortably use the facility at the same time.

The existing semicircular ramp was a distinctive part of the historic building but did not comply with ADA standards. The design team replaced one wing of the ramp with a staircase for quicker access, retaining the curving shape, and replaced the other wing with a new curving ramp that met ADA standards. Even the original railing was replicated in a way that met user needs while preserving the historic appearance.

To better connect the facility to its neighborhood context, the parking area was redesigned to improve traffic flow. A new civic threshold was created by defining a clear entry point with a contemporary metal canopy. The rehabilitated pool preserves the best qualities of the original building while respectfully upgrading it to serve as a vital resource for the community for many years to come.

In joint venture with Kuth Ranieri Architects. 


AIA San Francisco Design Commendation, Social Responsibility, 2021

Preservation Design Award, California Preservation Foundation, 2021

AIA East Bay Design Awards Finalist, Design Excellence in Equitable Communities and Ecosystems, 2020

Project Stats
  • Client

    San Francisco Recreation and Park Department


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