Marquette Natatorium Getting Spruced Up?

Marquette Natatorium 10/20/2009

When I was in Cape in Fall of 2009, I made a swing by the Marquette Natatorium down by the cement plant. Wife Lila was interested in seeing the place because she, Jacqie (Bill) Jackson (66) and Dan Beatty (67) worked there as swimming instructors and lifeguards in the late 1960s.

My wife’s niece, Laurie Evertt (of Annie Laurie’s Antiques), mentioned that the Natatorium was one her favorite places. She sent me an email the other week that she was afraid that they might be getting ready to tear it down because there was some kind of work going on there.

Marquette Natatorium 01/29/2010

Today she sent me an photo that makes it look like the building is being pressure-cleaned, maybe to be repainted. That’s not the kind of work you do if you’re going to bulldoze it. Laurie apologized, unnecessarily, for the quality of the picture: “I had Fletcher (her toddler son) screaming in the car, so I did a drive-by.”

Natatorium Historical Factoids

I think I swam in the pool only one time. Still, I’ve always had an interest in the place. A natatorium, by the way, is defined as a structurally separate building containing a swimming pool.

The Southeast Missourian is a treasure trove of little factoids.

  • A city permit was issued to build the 70x 94-foot structure at a declared cost of $25,000 in 1937. It was to be located at the site of the former Marquette School Building. It was to be built of reinforced concrete, the roof would be concrete slab and the steam heating plant, wiring and plumbing would be included in the cost.
  • The Natatorium, built for the use of cement plant employees, was placed in service Feb. 16, 1938.
  • The July 14, 1938 Missourian proudly announced $330,362 in building construction for the year, including the following new buildings or expansions: St. Mary’s School,  Lorimier School, the Natatorium, a new addition to the Rueseler Motor Company, the Jewish Synagogue and an expansion of the Buckner-Ragsdale building.
  • July 30, 1946: all swimming pools in Cape were temporarily closed until further notice and parents were urged to keep their children from swimming in ponds and creeks because of an outbreak of polio. Gerald Perry, 10, was taken to a St. Louis hospital after his left arm and shoulder were paralyzed. He was in a ward with two others. Twenty-seven youngsters were in a an isolation ward; three of them were in iron lungs.
  • Apr. 3, 1968: Cape department of Recreation acquires Natatorium and plans to keep pool open year-round. Mrs. Wm. Shambo, who conducted swimming clinics on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, said water ballet, additional swimming classes and public swimming would be added to the program. Water temperatures were to be maintained at 85 degrees.
  • Jan. 9, 1969: The city council ruled that the Natatorium would be open to Cape residents during the winter months again. It had been closed because of poor attendance. Only 200 swimmers used the pool in December, bringing in $72.50 in income; operating expenses are about $1,000 a month.

What is it used for today?

I couldn’t find any recent stories about what the building is being used for. At one time, I heard rumors that the pool had been floored over and the building was being used as housing for cement plant visitors. Later, I heard that it was being used for office space. I’d have to give more credence to the latter.

Anyone know the REAL answer? How many of you remember swimming in the Natatorium, either because your family worked at the cement plant or after the city took it over?


Click on the gray links to read them.

Here’s what the Natatorium looked like after its first coat of paint. The next day the job was finished when the black accents were added to the name.

Fred Lynch featured the Natatorium in his blog April 12, 2010.


20 Replies to “Marquette Natatorium Getting Spruced Up?”

  1. Boy do I remember the Natatorium. My neighbor (Vernon Barringer) worked there and I sent a lot of time there with his son (Junior)in the winter months. I seem to remember the Lifeguard was a gentleman named (Tubby Davis) (due to his size) and the showers required prior to entering the pool. I could not understand, at the time, why you had to get wet prior to entering the pool! Great memories!!!

  2. My grandpa worked at Marquette and I remember going to the Natatorium once with a bunch of cousins. I didn’t learn to swim until I went to SEMO in 1961 so I was not a fan of pools. The mention of polio brought back lots of memories for me. We were all so scared of it in the 1950s before the Salk vaccine.

  3. Sometimes, it is hard to forget where you were on certain dates. On April 4, 1968, Jacqie (Bill) Jackson, Dan Beatty and I were guarding at the natatorium. We opened the place and waited, but not a single person showed up. Finally, I think Dan ran out and brought back a bucket of chicken, and we spent the evening talking and eating chicken.

    There were no cell phones or other means of instant communication at the time, so we didn’t find out until later, that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated at 6 PM in Memphis.

    1. Wow! How terrible…I am sure that is not what you were thinking when no one showed up.

      I have never been inside the building, but one of the reasons that I have always liked it was because I was drawn to it. Not sure why, but something about it always pulled me in.

  4. The natatorium was indeed filled in and has been used by Buzzi Unicem (the current owners) as a meeting facility and as housing for its out-of-town clients while goose hunting.

  5. Okay, I confess I was a guard and swim coach at the Natatorium too…Bill Jackson (Jacqie), Marty Cocoran and Donna Mason and I did some guarding too at the old monster. The joke was at the time, the building was build so strong that it would cost more to destroy than to keep open… so they kept it open for the total of 200 swimmers that came an swam over the winter. Lucky for me I had a job at Sides-Miller Men’s store on Broadway too so I did not have sit by with some a be lonely at night in the building. I was a little spooky there and NO ONE was around, so the city fathers decreed that there was always to be TWO people at the pool.
    Bill (Jacqie) and I would bring all the swim team kids twice a week to the pool and they would swim like crazy in the 20 yard little monster and the waves were two to three feet high due to the poor design of the gutters. I remember the little kids (seven and eight year olds) getting really drowned in storm like indoor seas.
    The Heat was always way too hot (Mrs. Sambo and Mrs Rickard liked hot water for her water ballet) and one day the boiler went out, so Marty Corcoran and I went into the bowles of the monster and looked at what was under the pool. If you were thinking of a GOOD Steven King like scene you would be correct. Monstrous boilers from the 1930’s with pipes and locomotive like sounds coming from the boiler that heated the building and the pool. I remember we lit the boiler and ran upstairs and only went down there after that when we absolutely had too!
    Those were good times for all, but the place was a dump, but when you have nothing to compare it with then I guess things were just fine. Good times and good experiences for the kids of the day getting to swim indoors when we were just about people between Memphis and St. Louis that had an indoor pool or Natatorium.

  6. Terry, you are right about the temperature in the natatorium being way too hot. It was like a sauna in there, even in the coldest part of winter.

    I never saw the boiler room, but I remember the spookiness of the place, too. It was so well built that no sound came in from the outside. Jacqie (Bill) Jackson used to sing in there, and it would echo off the walls… his own person sound system. ha! But, if you were in there with no one around, it was kind of like being able to hear your own heart beat. It was the kind of silence you could feel. Major creepy!

  7. I remember swimming at the natatorium. It was a lonely place because most times you would be the only family there. I think there was a rule that it was for Marquette Cement families only so you couldn’t even take a guest. There was a problem with regulating the temperature so it was usually hot. It was also very loud as the noise bounded off the walls. It was more fun to go to the Capaha Park swimming pool or the Country Club pool. I probably first went there in 1950 or 1951 and last swam there in 1961 or 1962. I asked my Mother if she could remember any details about when the pool was concreted over. At 86, she couldn’t remember any details but it was closed becaused of the lack of use and the cost of maintenance and utilities. Dad, now deceased, was plant manager and retired in 1982. The pool was concreted over by that time, after being closed up for awhile. The building was being used for housing cement plant guests, many of whom were there to go goose hunting. I have no current info about the place as I left Cape in 1983.

  8. I fondly remember the Natatorium. My Dad worked at the cement plant. My sister,brother and I went every chance we got. My family lived one block from May Greene School so it was not too far to go. We all learned to swim and dive there. On special days you could take a guest. It was nice to invite your best friend on those days. The life guard was Lardy Davis (a very large man) but nice to kids. The time period we went there was in late 40s and earlly 50s. Marquette Cement was a very good company to its employees. I always felt blessrd that my dad worked there. In the early days of my dads employment they would have a Christmas party at the Arena. All family members would get treats and each family got to select a gift out of the special catalog. Sorry I don’t have any information on the place today

  9. It could be my fond memories of the Natatorium was because I went to May greene School. The Country Club and the Capaha Pools were out of reach.

  10. I did swim at the Marquette Natatorium when I was 6 or 7 which would have been ’51 or ’52 so don’t know what year it was re-opened, but it was. I thought it was exotic (not the words of a 6 yr old but that’s the impression it left) to be able to swim indoors. I remember the very green water so the pool must have been painted green. My dad worked at the Cement Plant for 47 years. I drove by the plant and the Natatorium on our last trip home last summer and it did look forlorn.
    I loved the shots of Vandeven’s, too. As a kid I didn’t like the way it smelled – maybe it was the meat or ripe produce… Mom would often pick me up after school (at Trinity) and take me with her to Vandeven’s. Thanks for these great photos.

  11. One night…when I was at “Teen Town”…a band member announced that there would be a pool party at the Natatorium Pool the next day. I thought hundreds of kids would show up to go swimming…I couldn’t wait to go. When I got there…there were about 3 people there…I couldn’t believe it. It was my first experience swimming there. A few years later…Terry Hopkins had us practice there…it was the only place we could swim during the Winter. If we wanted to keep up with the Carbondale Team…we needed to practice not only in the Summer…but also during the off season. I ended up getting my W.S.I. (Water Safety Instruction) there and I also guarded there as a sub mainly. Marty Corcoran…was always wanting to go to St. Louis at the drop of a hat…and he knew I would guard. I remember guarding with David Holloway and Donna Eakins. And yes…it was creepy there at night! For one thing…there was so much fog inside…that you could not see across the pool..and it wasn’t that big. The pipes creaked constantly…it would have been a perfect place to have a Halloween Party. But mainly..the hard core swim team members were thankful to have a place to work out.

  12. my family went swimming there pretty regular,i was just a kid,do not remember the heat,but remember we always had a great time,and the echo was awfull,then we always got to eat those great bbqs at the blue hole,and play on the big ole rocks around it.

  13. Hello. I have never been in this building (although I have driven by it with interest many times). But what I really want to know more about is the history of the Marquette Cement Company for some research I am doing. I know it was taken over by another company, but I am interested in when this happened. More specifically, I have an old form from the company and I am interested in estimating how old it might be. Please contact me ( if you think you might be able to help. Thanks!

  14. I would love to take a tour of it. Me and my girlfriend are infatuated with the building. It is so modern looking enen though it was built over 75 years ago.

  15. Well. It is still there. Drove past it yesterday by accident (forgot the road was closed off to the bridge). Building has been painted recently and the grounds are maintained – just no one there. There is also a solid looking fixer-upper of a house for sale just down the road. Looks like it may have been a small institutional building at one time.

  16. Remember swimming at the Natatorium as if it was yesterday. I was a member of the Cape Swimming and Diving team for many years. Since there was no indoor swimming pool for the team to use during the winter, we would go to the Natatorium in the evening using the pool for swim team. Small pool, eyes hurting from all the chlorine, but living every minute of it spending time with the team and my friends.

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