Little Mermaid

me, always swimming

As a little girl, I loved to swim, still do. Just about any chance I got to go swimming, I would. I dreamed of having my own pool. My bigger dreams were to be an Olympian swimmer and also to swim the English Channel.

Pools and water became an obsession as well as a love. I would look into my backyard and fantasize a swimming pool. It never appeared. My dad always lived in an apartment building with a pool so there was usually a place for me to swim. When I was older and using his for exercise, I would have to share it with his elderly neighbors. They could get nasty and it was tricky navigating around their crankiness. Some of them became my new best friends in life … as long as we stayed in our own lanes.

When I saw the David Hockney series of pools, I totally understood how the swimming pool was his muse.

David Hockney's A Bigger Splash, 1967

When I was a freshman in high school and was forced to swim, I often lied and said I had my period, which in fact I really didn’t get until my sophomore year. I felt more comfortable and relaxed holding my breath under water than just about anywhere else. I wasn’t really aware of how therapeutic it was, but swimming under water there put me in a serene state, one I have never found again.

I went to a high school that housed one of the most famous pools in the world. Beverly Hills High School has an Olympic-size swimming pool with a hardwood floor that closes over it to become a basketball court. Mesmerizing. You’ve probably seen it in Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which was filmed on location there. Remember James Stewart & Donna Reed falling into the pool in their dance clothes? Well, I won swim contests in that pool during lazy summers. And not just won, but set some serious records.

When the weekends rolled around and we spent them with my dad, I was always bathing-suit ready. We would drive to one of his friends’ houses. A friend with a pool. And that is where I whiled away my whole day, in water, doing handstands for my dad’s approval. My dad, being handicapped (polio), floated around in an inner tube. I would hang on to be as close to him as possible. Being the focus and center of my dad’s world was another excellent thing (other than pools), and now I had both.

One of the best summers of my life was when my father must have “made a deal” that gave us full use of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel pool. It was so exclusive, like being a member of a private club. I would swim most of the day, taking breaks only to lie around in huge lush towels ordering cokes and sandwiches and charging them to dad. Fantastic.

document proving my two big wins

One year before I designed my own pool, I joined the gym at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. It might be one of the best kept secrets in L.A. Because when you join its gym, you get full use of the pool, hot tub and steam room. Another secret is that you can pay for just a day’s pool use even if you’re not staying in the hotel. I spent many nights there suggesting good restaurants to out-of-towners.

One that I often recommended, and still do, is Capo. Italian. Only a few steps from the Loews Hotel. Terribly expensive — and worth it. It has a very charming style, small and manageable. I think their Rigatoni with Truffle meat sauce is one of the best dishes of pasta in Los Angeles. Any appetizer with Burrata cheese is great. Bruce Marder, the owner (a Beverly Hills High graduate) is known for his steaks and other grilled meats at this restaurant, so try one. I also love the hummus they serve with the bread. For dessert, try the chocolate soufflé or bread pudding. The hot apple tart with caramel ice cream is also worth the trip.

swimming with my brother, dad and glamorous June Wilkinsen

hanging on to my dad's inner tube


my very own, very green pool (pinching myself), I swim every day

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18 Responses to “Little Mermaid”

  1. Love your slices of life and the photos. My kitten girls, The Thug Sisters, are very happy with Papa Bear and would love a visit.

  2. Augie Duke says:

    Love this entry simple and a delight…..

  3. robin says:

    I fall more in love with you with every word you write…

  4. Love your pool, your stories, your life. What a simple delight! Thank you. xxoo

  5. what I want to kno is, “can you cook?”…’cause your channeling a need for foood in me, lol.

  6. susan H says:

    Great! Just loved this!
    Sometimes I read your blogs and think I’ve written them . We have so many of the same memories, especially this blog is filled with them!
    My favorite time as a kid was being alone in the pool after school. Holding my breath under water was my specialty. Crashing L.A. pools became my hobby. Once I crashed the pool at Bel Air Hotel and even asked the pool man if he had ever caught anyone sneaking in. “Nope it could never happen!” said he. Ha!
    I’ve told my family to float me in the pool at the old hotel (What’s it’s name?) in Death Valley when I’m dying.
    I’m now in NYC for a month ! Can you remind me of the NYC restaurants you love so I don’t need to go back and read every blog?
    Are you coming for any part of March ?

  7. Ah, such sweet memories. My mother was a single mom and we had no pool, but she use to drive us to the beach and pretend we were staying at the Surf Rider Inn and swim all day. My mother was so beautiful and charming I don’t think anyone would have had the heart to kick us out. My sister and I felt so sneaky it was blissful! I thoroughly enjoy your reading about your young life. You were quite a character!

  8. Kim says:

    Thanks Fredde! I understand pool obsession. I have it too. Whenever someone tells me about a house they bought or sold, I always ask, “Does it have a pool?” Some of my best memories were when we had a pool on Cody, all those Sundays with friends and family were the dreamiest.
    Now, finally, we are getting a pool again and I couldn’t be happier. The water makes people happy. The water brings people together.

  9. Mitch says:

    Hi Fredde. Great story. You prove the truth that not every home in BH had a pool.

    We never had one, or a least a real one. Doughboys don’t count — not even big ones.

    During the summer we’d walk to the La Cienega municipal “plunge.” When the facility needed refurbishing, the city demolished it. Some of the people on the city council complained that too many non-residents were using the pool. Most of us knew what they meant by “non-residents.” The water was getting too dark for them.

    Some of us teens discovered the rooftop pool at the old Holiday Inn at Crescent and Wilshire. The trick to getting in was to act like a guest. Sometimes it worked.

    Hey Fredde — ever sneak into the Swim Gym? Some kids did — in the wee hours of the morning.

  10. always loved you, babymamma. I lived one block from Loews opn Ocean Av & only ate brunch there – LOL…I was always in the ocean anyway since it was right out the front door – you did not have to contend with the Pico Storm Drain after a storm in the pool – GADZOOKS. Nice page here. Luv U baby

  11. Madeline says:

    You look the exact same.

  12. jennifer dudley arbaugh says:

    I have been re-reading your blogs. You have to know I am a huge cheerleader for each word and memory. I wish we had shared more of them together. How well I remember the divine Bev Wilshire pool before dug up an turned to something small and rather obscene. Swimming is simply a better form of yoga! Relaxes the soul and instills soft passion. I think it is why we both have places on a lake. We are moving soon from this beautiful ol lady in Cincinnati. Ed and I swim each summer eve in our pool. Perhaps we will take it with us!! xxx jenn

  13. Carol Ward Dudley says:

    The “Old” Beverly Wilshire Pool was a club – there was even a tennis court back there – what is there now is the new/old or the old/new Beverly Wilshire Addition. xoc

  14. Melody says:

    Fredde, these stories, your photos and your page are SO well put together. I am so happy to be able to read them and that you have been able to express them in such a wonderful way! Great cheers! and above all, Bon Appetit! : )

  15. I never knew you wanted to be an Olympic swimmer…Think there’s still time! As always, I was sitting at the Beverly Wilshire with you and just could see everything you wrote…xo

  16. Like Tina, my experience growing up was different but I always felt this deep primal attraction to water. Pool water in particular. I was lucky enough to build one for myself too, although we no longer live there. Now I’m obsessed with snorkeling in warm water. Thanks for the post Freddie.

  17. Linda says:

    This story brought back so many of my childhood pool memories …

  18. I love reading all your stories!!! Also, I’m going to look into being a member of a hotel gym- what a great idea!

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