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History of Swimming in Fort Lauderdale

and the International Swimming Hall of Fame

Fort Lauderdale’s Early Swimming History

Fort Lauderdale’s swimming heritage dates back to the Civitan raft off Las Olas beach and the monumental Olympic-sized Casino Pool, which opened in 1928.   Within a few short years, Fort Lauderdale gained national attention by producing two young swimming stars that won Olympic Fame, Elbert Root and Katherine Rawls.  Rawls was the greatest women swimmer of her time.  The Associated Press named Rawls national female athlete of the year, in 1936. That same year, the College Swimming Coaches Association of America discovered Fort Lauderdale and organized the first annual Coaches Forum in the City.   In 1937, the Women’s National Aquatic Forum joined the coaches Forum.  By 1960, the Forum was attracting 44 colleges and universities, 28 prep schools, 28 clubs and over 600 swimmers for Christmas training.


Fort Lauderdale is Awarded the Swimming Hall of Fame

The idea for a Swimming Hall of Fame began with the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States, by a committee headed by the then president of FINA , R. Max Ritter. The College Coaches Swim Forum first kindled Fort Lauderdale’s interest in the Hall of Fame. Fort Lauderdale’s Mayor Burry, the entire city commission, and even Florida’s Governor Farris Bryant expressed support for the establishment the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale. To pursue the idea, Fort Lauderdale’s City Commission created “Mayor’s Swimmers’ Hall of Fame Citizen’s Committee,” early in 1962. Members of this committee included the entire commission and 30 civic leaders.


On November 9, 1962, the City Commission unanimously approved: A RESOLUTION INDICATING THAT THE CITY OF FORT LAUDERDALE IS INTERESTED IN ESTABLISHING THE FACILITY KNOWN AS “THE SWIMMING HALL OF FAME” IN THE CITY OF FORT LAUDERDALE AND IS IN A POSITION TO PRESENT ITS PLANS THEREFOR. At the same meeting, the commission approved an allocation of $250,000, the expected proceeds from the sale of the Casino Pool land, for the initial cost of a plan to build the shrine and an Olympic size pool. The plan called for the Hall of Fame to be situated on a man-made pier that would extend 400 feet into the intracoastal and be built by the Florida Inland Navigation District. It was noted by the commission that although the city has pledged the money, the project was contingent upon winning the bid for the shrine. “If another city takes the bid the whole project will be cancelled.”


On November 27, 1962, a five-man team – four from Fort Lauderdale and Ted Groves from the Florida Development Commission – presented the plan, along with letters of support from various organizations, to the general assembly of the 75th Amateur Athletic Union convention in Detroit.  The AAU unanimously selected Fort Lauderdale’s bid over the bids of Houston and Louisville. “We are grateful to them for bringing this new project to Ft. Lauderdale,” said Mayor Burry.


Among the letters of support presented to the AAU’s committee was one from Mayor Burry, which read in part: “The municipal government of Fort Lauderdale extends a warm and cordial invitation to you and the members of your selection committee to take advantage of our hospitality and to favor us with this national shrine, for which we are more than willing to contribute our financial assistance and continuing zeal and affection.”


In another, Robert Culliver, president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, wrote: “This community needs the cultural asset of a museum that marks one of the traditions of our city. Our organization has set aside a considerable sum of money for such a purpose. We heartily welcome the Swimming Hall of Fame and will continue our support in years to come”.


Upon winning the bid, the “Mayor’s Swimmers’ Hall of Fame Citizen’s Committee” became the “Hall of Fame Administration Committee,” chaired by Mayor Burry.


The Swimming Hall of Fame Pool

Work began almost immediately on the man-made pier where the Swimming Hall of Fame was to be built.  Upon completion the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund of the State of Florida dedicated the peninsula to the City of Fort Lauderdale on May 13, 1963, “for public municipal purposes only,” subject to the following provisions:


In the event the said CITY OF FORT LAUDERDALE shall (1) use said land for other than a site for the Swimming Hall of Fame or (2) for a period of three consecutive years shall fail and neglect to maintain and use the same for said purposes, the dedication hereby made shall, at the option of said Trustees, be subject to termination upon sixty days notice in writing by the Trustees to said City.


On November 23rd, 1964, the “Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc.” was incorporated as a non-profit educational corporation chartered under Florida law with a board of 19 directors. Eminent swimming coach, Dr. James E. Counsilman was the organization’s first president and William “Buck” Dawson was selected and approved by the Hall of Fame Administration Committee to be the first Executive Director. Correspondence shows that the Hall of Fame Administration Committee and the Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc. worked together amicably to resolve issues involving the pool designs, financing and the mutual understanding of jurisdiction and usage of the facilities before executing a formal agreement. On January 18th, 1965, the City of Fort Lauderdale and the Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc. executed a lease/operating agreement that remains in effect today, as amended in March of 1991.  It expires in 2015 and is renewable at the option of the parties for another fifty years.


The 50-meter pool, 25-yard diving well warm-up pool and all the appointments thereof, including the landfill seawall and landscaping for the peninsula were completed in August, 1965, at a cost of $986,000.  Additional land at the end of the peninsula and $195,000 were placed in escrow by the City for construction of the Hall of Fame building, contingent upon the Swimming Hall of Fame Corporation demonstrating its reliability in collecting the memorabilia, funding the exhibits to go into the building, and demonstrating the financial wherewithal to operate the shrine once built.


On December 27th, 1965, 4,500 spectators and swimmers from all fifty states and eleven foreign countries participated in and witnessed the dedication of the Swimming Hall of Fame complex and an international swimming meet organized by the Swimming Hall of Fame.  The events were televised nationally on the CBS Sports Spectacular.



The Hall of Fame Shrine Building

Before construction on the Hall of Fame Shrine building began, both the City Commissioners and the Hall of Fame, Inc. agreed that the Hall of Fame should raise the sum of $195,000, matching the projected outside building cost. This was estimated to cover the cost of furnishing the interior of the building with world-class exhibits. By contract, it was the responsibility of the City to erect the building and the SHOF to build exhibits and operate the museum, but when it was learned that the $195,000 pledged by the City would not cover the cost of the Shrine building, the Hall of Fame, Inc. contributed to the City-owned building from its own fundraising efforts.  “The remarkable thing about these gifts,” said Robert Culliver, of the Hall of Fame Administration Committee, “is that more than $100,000 has gone directly into the City-owned building – not into the exhibits, but right into the bricks and mortar of the building itself.”


Official “international” status and recognition of the Swimming Hall of Fame came at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, when the 105-nation FINA Congress met and endorsed it as an “International Swimming Hall of Fame” – the first world recognized hall of fame in any sport.  That this institution is in the USA is particularly appropriate because the Hall of Fame idea originated in the United States with Baseball in the 1930’s, and because the United States’ greatest achievements in a widely international sport are in swimming.


The organization’s Articles of Incorporation were amended to reflect that the name was changed to “International Swimming Hall of Fame” on June 16, 1969. ISHOF also copyrighted its’ name and trademark.


The Buck Dawson Era: 1965 - 1985

In 1965 Broward County had the Casino Pool and three 25-yard competitive pools.  Not only did the Hall of Fame Pool become the finest swimming stadium on the east coast and one of the finest in the world, but it satisfied the demands of the local competitive swimming community.


Under the operating agreement of 1965 and mutual understandings of that agreement, the City Parks and Recreation staffed and maintain the pools and ran programs for the local community. The role of the Hall of Fame was to promote tourism through the operation of the museum and to use its contacts within the aquatic community to bring in conferences, conventions and aquatic events to the city.   From the time of the opening of the Hall of Fame Complex through the mid 1980’s, Buck Dawson, the Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc., the American Swim Coaches Association and the College Swimming Coaches Association (which operated through the SHOF/ISHOF) were solely responsible for bidding on and/or bringing swimming events for the city, including the Annual International Swim meet, International Diving meet (now the ATT FINA Grand Prix), the World High Diving Championships, the Aquafollies, National Championships in Swimming, Diving, Synchronized Swimming and Water Polo, the Galt Ocean Mile Swim  (Now Ft. Lauderdale Rough Water Swim), the YMCA National Championships and National Masters Swimming Championships. In addition, Dawson was a tireless promoter who brought many national and international conventions to the city.


After the initial fundraising drive that helped build the Shrine building, the Hall of Fame struggled financially, until Dawson came upon the idea of “Swim-A-Thon.”  The SAT stabilized ISHOF’s finances and by the time Dawson retired in 1985, ISHOF had accumulated a $1.4 million reserve fund.


The economic impact that the Hall of Fame brought to Fort Lauderdale, estimated to be $20 million dollars per year by 1985, encouraged other cities to build world-class aquatic venues to compete with Fort Lauderdale for events.  In many cases, the new facilities conformed to modern safety and competition standards, while the Hall of Fame did not.


Improvements: 1986 – 1991

In 1986, both the City of Fort Lauderdale and the International Swimming Hall of Fame recognized the need for improvements and the two entities collaborated on a fundraising plan that targeted both public and private sources.  The City initiated a $1.18 million dollar Government Obligation Bond and a $600K allocation from Broward County. With support of local politicians, Olympians and local business leaders, the Hall of Fame initiated a lobbying effort in Tallahassee that resulted in two grants of $2 million dollars each and $500K from corporate and private sources. Funded projects included building a second 50-meter pool, bringing the stadium pool and diving pool to national and international standards, building a teaching pool, renovating the bath and locker rooms, resurfacing the deck, renovating the bleachers, replacing filtration and pumping systems and expanding the Hall of Fame museum.

The contract with the design consultant, Arquitectonica International, was a three party agreement, naming the City of Fort Lauderdale, International Swimming Hall of Fame, Inc. and the design firm. Correspondence shows that the International Swimming Hall of Fame was present at every meeting, participated in all decisions related to the renovations and was copied on all correspondence.


The first meet to be conducted in the new facility was the USA Swimming National Championship in August of 1991. Two world records were set in the newly renovated pool.

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