The pool industry in the 1960s was like a toddler first learning about the world. It lurched forward on unsteady legs, grasping at everything in its path with a wild rush of energy and enthusiasm.
In 1968, one executive who had just entered the business told
Pool News he was trying his best to understand the
distribution channels. “It’s a bit confusing,” he
said. “In the pool industry, everybody sells to anybody, any
time, at any price.”
This free-for-all occurred because the industry was still forming.
Lower production prices meant that for the first time, a
middle-class family could own a swimming pool, and thousands of
average Americans, having been influenced by Hollywood, were lining
up to feel like movie stars in their own backyards.
“The word ‘pleasure,’ like the word
‘profit,’ is firmly entrenched in our national
vocabulary,” said Buzz Hays, president of the National
Swimming Pool Institute, in 1965. “It’s no longer a
dirty word. Whole industries were built on it, ours
The act of creating a brand-new market gave the entire industry a
sky’s-the-limit feeling, similar to the dot-com boom of the
1990s. Optimism ruled the day, with each year dramatically
outpacing the one before, and new trade associations popping up
like superheroes eager to solve any problem facing this prosperous
world of boundless innovation.
As the industry rocketed forward, Pool News followed suit,
becoming larger and more sophisticated. By 1965, the homespun birth
and wedding announcements were gone, replaced by hard news and
information on products.
Not that the magazine had lost its personal touch. The pages still
contained humorous stories about individual industry members, and
many ads featured photos of the very men responsible for the
products being sold. No doubt their friendly faces provided a sense
of security for buyers who could actually see the man in charge of
that filter, and be told, “If you have a problem, call
Another personal touch from the 1960s was the industry’s love
of anything silly. It was a decade of costume parties, practical
jokes and gag gifts — a typical photo in Pool News
might depict a startled-looking pool builder tentatively holding a
baby alligator while members of his local association laughed in
All told, the ’60s was a time of enormous growth and
self-definition, as the industry learned to see itself as distinct
from other markets.
The future is bright
A number of factors contributed to the industry’s dramatic growth.
First was the advent of lenders entering the pool market. By the
middle of the decade, many home-owners were including pools in
their mortgages, a concept that began in Phoenix and spread like
wildfire as more consumers realized they could own pools with
barely an increase in their monthly payments.
The ’60s also gave rise to package pools, especially in the
Northeast. During its formative years the product had developed an
unsavory reputation, due in large part to shady practices involving
sales of franchises. However, by the mid- to late ’60s,
package pools had found a solid niche, with many well-known aquatic
stars lending their names to the product.
The decade brought significant advances in pool equipment as well.
Filter technology underwent a transformation with the arrival of
high-velocity sand filtration. Rapid sand filters offered the same
benefits of sand and gravel, but relied only on sand, an innovation
that shrank filter size and upped performance.
Pumps changed, too, shifting from cast iron to bronze. The new
material was actually a mixed blessing at first because the high
cost of brass raised the price of the pump, and manufacturers
reportedly began sacrificing quality to compensate. As late as
1969, a number of builders, particularly in the East, would not use
bronze pumps because they claimed their ability to self-prime
wasn’t equal to the older cast-iron models.
But mostly it was unquenchable demand for a fun, sexy, glamorous
product that fueled the industry’s meteoritic growth.
Today, the pool and spa business is divided roughly into five
segments: builder, service technician, retailer, manufacturer and
distributor — with overlap in the first three sectors. But
back in the 1960s, those roles were in flux, with many companies
dipping into different niches.
Against that backdrop, none were more diversified than the
nation’s two largest builders: Anthony Pools and Blue Haven
Pools. The Southern California firms engaged in a friendly —
and not-so-friendly — rivalry throughout the ’60s, with
each vying for a bigger piece of American pie.
Founded in 1946 in Los Angeles, Anthony Pools (later to become
Anthony & Sylvan) was content to remain in the Golden State
until 1965, when the firm began an aggressive expansion plan. In
quick succession, the company opened offices in Nevada, Arizona,
Pennsylvania and Texas, with the Dallas location also manufacturing
various pool products. Later in the decade, the firm acquired
Pioneer Pools Corp., a New Jersey-based package-pool
For its part, Blue Haven used many of the same tactics to achieve
enormous growth. In 1962, the company completed a public offering
of 55,000 shares of stock at $4 per share. The purpose was to raise
capital for expansion. No doubt, part of those funds went to pay
for a “Pool Super Mart,” which debuted in Southern
California in 1963. One of the first large-scale showrooms seen in
the industry, the Mart’s grand opening featured a full
aquatics show, clowns and prize drawings.
In 1964, Blue Haven announced its intent to expand nationally, and
over the next couple of years opened branches in Texas and across
the Midwest. The firm also was heavily involved in manufacturing,
and in 1967 began to offer a whopping 10-year warranty on
equipment, called “the first of its kind in the
But the two industry juggernauts weren’t alone.
Newcomer Shasta Pools burst onto the scene in 1965, effortlessly
surfing the construction wave that swept over Phoenix. In 1966,
Shasta built 26 pools. The following year, that number increased to
248. In 1968, it stood at 535.
Four of the top five firms on the Pool & Spa News Top
50 Builders list today were doing a brisk business in the 1960s, a
testament to these companies’ strategic and entrepreneurial
skills. They include Blue Haven Pools & Spas, Anthony &
Sylvan Pools, California Pools, and Paddock Pools and Spas. Shasta
Industries is No. 6.
Those heady days of being in on the ground floor of a runaway new
product also carried a price.
Almost from the moment the industry was born, there were unethical
builders hovering like flies on a thoroughbred. And as early as
1963, the Better Business Bureau was instituting stings.
At the time, bait-and-switch advertising was rampant, and the BBB
began secretly recording the pitches of pool salesmen in an effort
to snag builders making false claims.
The problem was compounded by a mysterious sales slump that gripped
California in the middle of the decade. While the industry
nationwide saw record growth, builders in the largest pool state
watched in horror as permit numbers dropped, culminating in a
plunge of 42 percent in 1966.
That year, builders and manufacturers held a meeting called, rather
hopefully, “Operation Optimism” aimed at solving the
problem. They blamed the issue on a number of factors, most notably
public distrust of the industry.
“It’s not uncommon to have a salesman tell a prospect,
‘Why don’t you get another bid, call me back and
I’ll beat it,’” said Jack Berg, president of Blue
Haven. “The customer gets entranced with the low-ball price,
and when the salesman then tries to talk him into the price he
should be getting, the customer becomes pretty
During that time, many large firms declared bankruptcy, including
Orinda Pools, which left more than 100 unfinished projects in its
wake. Fortunately, the industry did recover nicely, and the rest is
“Our business isn’t like yo-yos or skateboards,”
said NSPI President Phil Bulkeley in 1964. “Ours will stand
the test of time.”
While he may have been wrong about the first two, he was on target
Moments in Time - The ’60s
HEADS, YOU’RE THE PRES:
Founded in 1954, Nor-Cal Engineering quickly became a major player in the distribution field
in the early ’60s. At the time, the two founders, El Haverty (left) and Henry Mohr, flipped a coin to see who would be president. Haverty won. Mohr served as NSPI president in 1966.
Attendance at the 4th Annual NSPI Convention in Las Vegas in 1961.
The formal clothing of the homeowners, the salesman-turned-scientist and the futuristic look of the filter made this 1963 ad truly indicative of the times.
Robert Steel Named NSPI Executive Director
In April 1963, Robert Steel became NSPI’s first full-time executive director, and the association moved from Harvard, Ill., to Washington, D.C. He would serve in the post for nearly two decades.
In 1964, the Paddock Pool Distributing Co. was formed in Phoenix under George Ghiz (right). As was fairly common in the day, the firm was a combination manufacturer, distributor, builder and franchiser. Two years later, Ghiz would split the company, naming the manufacturing and distribution arm
Paramount, while Paddock continued to build pools, becoming a giant in the Arizona market. Also shown: Bob DeRose (center), Paddock of California, and Eugene Hirt, VP, Paddock of Phoenix (left).
A BIG BYTE:
Here, a Swimquip employee works on an early IBM computer in 1965. In the left-hand corner is the “memory storage bank,” and to the right is the “main console.”
REMEMBER THE LADIES:
In this photo, Mrs. Bernie Lenz (standing) gives Mrs. Brackston Whitaker, chair of the women’s activities for the 1967 NSPI convention, a preview of the upcoming demonstration on the use of false eyelashes. The topic was to be part of the ladies’ program.
NSPI Reaches 1,000 Members
With the enrollment of Bullfrog Ltd., NSPI added its 1,000th member during the group’s convention in 1967.
PROFITS THROUGH PLASTIC:
In 1968, PVC became an acceptable material for pools. The product cost much less than galvanized pipe, and served to lower prices across the board. This provided a boost to
an industry already growing at a brisk 30 percent per year.
- The ’60s
- The ’70s
- The ’80s
- The ’90s