A Pool in the Middle of the Village

In the beginning, Aarne Ervi created the Central Pool. Tapiola was formless and empty. Dirt and sand covered everything, but the spirit of the Garden City was hovering over the area.

The 49-meter-high Central Tower, Keskustorni, reaching to the sky, and the shopping center of Tapiontori, spreading out at its foot, have already been completed, but there is nothing in the area in front of them. Well, there is a large pit there; from which stone and gravel were dug for the many construction sites of the growing City of Tapiola. I’m strictly forbidden to go anywhere near that fascinating, huge gravel pit. Of course, I have to go and see it. Big boys are brave enough to swim in the water accumulated at the bottom of the large hollow. We, the smaller guys, are content to throw stones into the cloudy water. Meanwhile, the expansion plan for the center of Tapiola has already been pinned on the drawing tables in the architect’s office. Earthmoving works will begin next year. 

The Central Pool is completed in 1965.
Photo: Valokuvaamo Pietinen, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo, Asuntosäätiö

All the kids in the neighborhood visit the construction site to admire it. Even adults are guessing what might be built to replace the watery hole. Another tower? Hopefully not. There are already two of them, Mäntytorni and Keskustorni. A swimming pool? Hopefully yes. Little by little, the structure begins to take shape and there is a lot of talk about it in the ”Tapiola Tänään” magazine.  The pit will be replaced by a pool.

– Groovy! No need to go all the way to the Westend beach for a swim.
– No, no, you got it all wrong. They are building a decorative pool.
– Huh!
– A large Central Pool lined with tiled walkways. It will also have sprays of water. 
– What do you do with those sprays if you can’t swim there?
– They will be decorative jets of water illuminated with colored lights.
– I don’t understand anything at all: a swimming pool where you can’t swim and sprays for lights. Shady business indeed…

Tapiola Tänään weekly magazine 1967
Photo: www.tapiolagardencity.fi

And a pool it was to be. Admittedly, it was great, even though swimming was not allowed in it. Swimming without permission is of course another matter. The look of the pool area was consistent with Tapiontori and Keskustorni, which was not a big surprise, because the site was designed by the architect office led by Mr Aarne Ervi. The pool, primed with light concrete slab walkways, offered the same spacious feel as the rest of the new center for the recreation of the townspeople. 

The Central Pool in the late 60s
Photo: unknown photographer, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo, Asuntosäätiö

With these new structures and buildings, Tapiola’s focus began to shift slowly away from the original central area of the Eastern Suburb characterized with the shopping amenities of the street Mäntyviita. Now you could do your grocery shopping in Pika-Elanto at Tapiontori. In this Tapiola’s first modern supermarket there was no need to bother the staff. Customers loaded their purchases in the shopping cart themselves and sailed directly to the checkout. This service-free visit to the store was called with a fancy new term: self-service. Our family still preferred the old three Elanto-brand shops’ complex in Mäntyviita. Of course, we went to test the fast, new supermarket as well. In my grandmother’s opinion, its products were not of the same high quality as in our own good old Elanto. I guess she was right, but times were changing – schnitzel and bread were sold, wrapped in a plastic bag.

Tapiontori and Keskustorni in 1965
Photo: Historian kuvakokoelma
Oy Stockmann Ab:n kokoelma, Museovirasto

In the fading light of the evening, the towering water statues illuminated with changing color beams were undeniably a magnificent sight. And when paddle-wheel boats and dinghies appeared in the pool, there was also fun for the children during the day. However, moving the heavily moving pedal boats was a lot of work. On a hot summer day, after a boating tour, it would have been nice to take a dip in the cool water of the pool. But what is forbidden is forbidden. I had to make do with eating an ice cream bought at a nearby kiosk. While spinning boats in those sweaty circles in the summer of 1964, we noticed that something was happening on the other side of the pool. And yes! The swimming pool that so many residents of Tapiola so ardently wished for was finally being built over there. And it wasn’t just a rumor, it was a fact printed in the local newspaper. The freezing waters of autumn did only attract winter swimming buffs like my father and some other cold water aficionados to the Ryssänkärki winter swimming resort at Lauttasaari, close to the capital city of Helsinki.

The writer with his new bicycle on the Swimming Pool construction site in the spring of 1965

In mid-November the following year, we were standing in cold wind outside the pool, waiting in the long line of customers for the grand opening of the swimming pool doors. The rush is unspeakable. A numbered key attached to a sturdy rubber band is handed to the customer for a reasonable fee. Doing that, the stern-looking lady at the cash desk, keeping an mean eye on the rushing crowd, spins the allotted time on the clock corresponding to the number on the key. You are not allowed to exceed the hour-long swimming shift, otherwise there is an embarrassingly loud message on the indoor speakers from a member of the Kasvio family overseeing the place, the whole pool building echoing nastily: ”Number 157. Time is full!  There’s a long line up here!” 

Tapiola Swimming Pool in the late 60s Photo: unknown photographer, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo, Asuntosäätiö

The swimming pool attracted people from the entire Espoo area and beyond. There must have been hundreds of visitors a day. Tapiola Pool had several lifeguards and the shrill sound of the whistle cut regularly through the chlorine-filled air. They had a lot of work to keep under control the eager group of swimmers who were not used to the swimming pool etiquette. On the weekends, when the pool was chock-full of swimmers, the noise was deafening. The tiles and glass surfaces echoed the clamoring sounds many times over. A couple of green plants on the terrace of the poolside cafe didn’t help much. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you got access to the jumping tower, mainly only during the early morning school shifts. Most of the tracks had to be closed to make jumping safe. A kind of pool initiation was a head-first jump from five meters. Landing on your stomach was not only embarrassing, it also hurt and drained the air from your lungs.

Outdoor pools in the late 60s
Photo: unknown photographer, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo, Asuntosäätiö

When the outdoor pool with jumping towers and children’s wading pool were completed, bicycle trips to the beaches of Westend and Mellsten decreased. They didn’t run out completely. On the real sandy beaches you could run about and even smoke a ciggie without the risk of getting caught. The outdoor pool was very attractive because of the one-meter diving board and the three-meter jumping tower. We kinda felt sorry for the lifeguards in that pandemonium; especially, when both the outdoor and indoor facilities were in use simultaneously. We loitered on the steps of the amphitheater of Aurinkoterassi in the warmth of the sunshine, drinking lemonade and reading comics. In that lazy summer fun, half a day passed quickly. On the blazing hot July afternoons, it felt as if the whole of Tapiola was there. The world was filled with the splash of water, the joyful squeals of children and the cacophony of transistor radios. That was the real soundtrack of a hot midsummer’s day.

On the dark evenings of autumn, all the sixteen jets shooting water to a height of many meters looked dazzling with their bright colors.  When the year turned to November, the showers died down and the lights were turned off. The area of the central pool was by no means well lit. The swimming pool illuminated one side for some distance and the street lamps lined the walkways, but their light did not reach the whole Central Pool area. When I was younger, I instinctively walked along the pedestrian streets, even though there was no real threat of random violence in Tapiola – the black water field exuded unfriendly gloom. 

Nighttime vision of the Pool area in the 1960s
Photo: Teuvo Kanerva, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

In winter, the large white ice field covering the Central Pool tempted me to cross it on my way to the library or to the Wager-Musiikki record store in the Heikintori shopping center. There were a lot of skaters on the ice, although the municipal maintenance did not clear a rink on the frozen Pool. It was created, as if by itself, when the eager skaters kicked the snow aside. After all, close to the Pool was a well-maintained skating rink as well as a hockey rink right next to it, behind a small patch of forest. There were just so many skaters that Tapiola’s many frozen flat surfaces, including the bay area of Otsolahti, attracted big crowds of users. I myself learned the art of staying upright on skates on the small ice field next to Mäntytorni hightower made by the residents in the neighborhood.

The frozen Central Pool in the early 1970s
Photo: Jouko Mäkinen, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

Almost at the same time with the swimming pool, a church was built on the other side of the Central Pool. As we lived in Tapiola, it was no ordinary shrine either. In the adults’ conversations, expressions were heard that did not quite fit the description of that type of building: concrete box, devil’s dice, anti-devil bunker… Even the bell tower was forgotten by the architect, they said. The bells chimed on the side of the temple, deafening the congregation entering the holy building. At the school’s Christmas ceremony, we got to admire the divine cube from the inside. The bad words of the adults were left to their own value. The impressiveness of the church hall was awe-inspiring. The vast empty space above us silenced all the giggles immediately. This was just the right kind of church in the middle of Tapiola village. 

Tapiola Church, the Eastern Suburb on the background
Photo:Teuvo Kanerva, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

The main event at the beginning of September in Tapiola was Syyslystit, the autumn festival. Tivoli Seiterä, a vagrant amusement park, conquered the sandy field next to the bowling alley. A huge crowd of young people was milling in the area from the opening moment until the last hour.  There weren’t that many fun fair rides, but the atmosphere was fascinating with the smells and sounds of a real amusement park.  

The Central Tower, close to it Tivoli Seiterä, the vagrant amusement park in the early 1970s
Photo: unknown photographer, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo, Asuntosäätiö

My record collecting hobby was already in full swing, so my number one interest was the Bomber Booth.  On the counter in front of the player, there was a paper pinned with lines from one to ten. The tenth line was thicker than the others. The idea was that the player who got the dart dropped closest to the tenth line from the planes circling round at the ceiling the booth was free to choose one single record. I managed to win many of these 7-inch records. Once I got two singles hitting the middle of the thick top line. The records were quite a mixed group. Among that pure rubbish I managed to win a couple of quality singles. I gave Louis Armstrong’s ”What a Beautiful World” disc to my mother as a birthday present.  Another popular stall, close to which a large number of teenagers and grown-ups flocked about with cigs hanging from their lips, was the Cigarette Roulette. With a small bet and good luck, you could win a big pack of Lucky Strike. If you were that lucky, you soon had your friends bumming for their share of the pack behind the fairground tents. 

Many types of guitar bands were also recruited for the Syyslysti concerts.  Some of the gigs took place in the weirdest places: a Swedish band played on the slope of the parking garage behind Heikintori. The best stage was, of course, on the edge of Central Pool in front of the amphitheater. Local bands played there to flaunt their budding skills. Big and slightly smaller domestic names gigged during the Syyslysti week and at other times as well. Juice Leskinen Coitus Int. and Dave Lindholm’s Orfeus were particularly memorable as the highlights of the 70s.

Wigwam playing a gig on the floating stage in 1970. The weather was bearable…
Photo: Teuvo Kanerva, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

That was also the case on the cold and rainy September day in 1971. Wigwam is coming, is the top topic among my friends at school. We suspected that the gig announced to be held at the Central Pool will be moved indoors due to bad weather, maybe to the Tapiola Co-educational School’s sports hall. After all, Pekka Pohjola, the co-ed school’s own son, is the band’s celebrated bassist. Bands have performed quite regularly on the stage of the sports hall anyway. The day of the gig is windy and cold. At least it’s not raining. Hundreds of teenagers and older citizens start gathering at the edges of the Central Pool in the cool of the autumn afternoon. Where will Wigwam play? Speculations are running hot. A rickety pontoon raft made of planks floats in the pool. No way, not there surely! Grungy roadies drag the equipment onto the floating stage. Miraculously, even Jukka Gustavson’s massive Hammond organ is intact on the stage swaying in the wind. Finally, here comes the familiar foursome in their winter coats and beanies. The audience applauds wildly – trying to keep warm. Pissed off Wigwam plays a short half-an-hour set. Gustavson has the woolen mittens of a market fishwife on his hands.  He plays surprisingly well with them… The last song is deservedly ”Pearls Before Swine”. 

The writer is on the left, sitting on his hands. This picture is from the 1970 Wigwam gig.
Photo: Teuvo Kanerva, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

I don’t believe it! You’re kidding. Could it be true! Let’s go see it together. It’s true. There are fish swimming in the Central Pool. The whopping big fish spin around in the shallow water close to the edge of the pool, escaping the rain of pebble thrown at them into the deeper waters. They’re salmon, says Hassan and tries to hit one with a big rock. Carps, claims Matti. Be that as it may, someone in the municipal government has had the idea of the century. This time, we were not guilty of dumping fish in the Pool, our catch from the sea bay area of Otsolahti. Fish have been planted in the Pool, says the local paper. No little fish either; these are big, full-grown whoppers. The men from the municipal maintenance department are hammering some signs in the ground over there. What do they say? Fishing is prohibited! Of course. Well, no signs have ever stopped anyone. And not now either. Illegal fishing quickly becomes a popular pastime of the entire village. When evening falls, fishing lines with hooks and baits descend into the greenish water. A fishing rod is far too attention-grabbing, and besides, salmon or carp – whatever they may be – will greedily swallow almost any bait: a piece of bread, macaroni, even chewed gum. I don’t think anyone catches them for making a fish soup. Prohibition and an assured big catch is an exciting combination that it’s hard to resist.

A fishing contest arranged at the Central Pool in the attempt to empty it of fish before the cleaning.
Photo: unknown photographer KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

No soothsayer was needed to see the fish episode’s miserable ending. It wasn’t long before the bloated dead drifted to the sides of the pool in a limp mass. The Central Pool was in a bad shape anyway. It was wildly overgrown. Walking along the edge of the pool, under the cloudy surface, you could see all kinds of rubbish thrown into the water. Draining the pool became inevitable. Again, for fun of the youth of Tapiola, this was an event to watch. Has Simo’s stolen bike ended up at the bottom of the pool? That wasn’t there, but a lot more things were found. Bicycles, of course – a bunch of rusty ones that have been lying around for a long time and a couple still unrusted, recently thrown into the Pool; bottles – intact and broken; chairs and benches; metal trash cans – from the edge of the pool; and an iron bed… The completely rusted iron bed aroused joy and created many theories as to how it may have gotten there. A local students’ May Day holiday prank could have been a correct guess. The University of Technology’s party house’s, Dipoli’s, concentration of drunken technology students was not far away.

The emptied Central Pool during maintenance in 1973
Photo: unknown photographer KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo, Asuntosäätiö

At the beginning of the eighties, Tapiola was something left behind in my past life. My mother still stubbornly lived in her small apartment in Menninkäisentie. When our family finally got a car at the end of the decade, the visits to the mindscapes of my childhood became more frequent. Sometime towards the end of the 90s, I was in very a familiar place again, sitting on the amphitheater bench by the Central Pool and watching children frolic in the outdoor pool. Now, of course, I was not accompanied by the usual gang of my teenage friends, but by my wife and our three children. My mother was talking to my eldest daughter. My wife loitered in the afternoon sun reading a book. In the languor after the meal, I watched the water games of the two younger ones with my eyes half closed. Suddenly, the powerful screech of the overseer’s whistle jolts me awake.

The amphitheater and children’s wading pool in the 80s
Photo: Teuvo Kanerva, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo

– Hey!  Listen!  Whose little boy here in the diving pool is unsupervised!  On the three-meter tower, over there!

 – Huh! That. Yeah. That’s our Tari. Yes, he can swim and jump too. Jump, boy! Well. What did I say. Go again! Dad is watching.

I move closer to the outdoor pool and exchange a few words with the flustered lifeguard. Tari climbs unafraid to the top of the tower and – splash! – immediately feet first into the water, swims in the doggie style to the stairs, out of the pool and up again the concrete stairs to the high jumping tower. A group of teenagers stand on the tower platform in a guard of honor, while the four-year-old whizzes by and shows them the model of jumping.  Shaking his head incredulously, the lifeguard exits to the indoor pool. I shade my eyes with the palm of my hand and admire my son’s tireless play in Tapiola’s shimmering summer afternoon. Splash! 

Return to the pools in the mid-90s. Photo: unknown photographer, KAMU Espoon kaupunginmuseo, Asuntosäätiö


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