Swimming Pools

Portland-Outhwaite Center Pools

The Portland-Outhwaite Recreation Center opened in 1932 at 2511 East 46th Street with a 240-foot by 120-foot outdoor pool and a smaller indoor pool. The outdoor pool was one of the largest in the city. Days after its opening, 10,000 people attended the dedication ceremony and toured the new recreation center. The POC offered a remarkable facility to the growing black population of the initially ethnic Cedar-Central neighborhood and served as a refuge for black swimmers across the city from racial discrimination and dangerous swimming holes. The Portland-Outhwaite Center pools along with the Central Bath House served as the two swimming facilities open to Black swimmers in the neighborhood.

The POC acted as a place of employment opportunities. In its first decade, prominent Clevelanders worked at the POC. Rev. L. J. Van Pelt of the Shiloh Baptist Church became the superintendent in 1934 and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens worked as an instructor and supervisor in 1938. Many residents of Cedar-Central worked at the POC as coaches, instructors, clerks, playground supervisors, and the most visible and active role of lifeguard. Lifeguards, specifically, were held in high regard as they ensured the safety of swimmers and led the most enduring activity at the POC, swimming classes.

Swimming classes acted as an introduction to recreation for many adults and children. Swim classes were held for men, women, and children every day. Children’s classes were held early in the evening and adult classes in the later evening and into the night. With the heated indoor pool, classes occurred regardless of the season as adults and children could still learn during frigid winter months. Beginner classes were initially free for everyone, but eventually only beginner classes for children were free. Besides instructing residents of the neighborhood, the POC’s physical instructors taught classes for local high school students as part of their curriculum. Many learned to swim in the POC’s pools, and many others participated in the swimming teams.

Children learning to swim at POC in 1950 | Cleveland Memory Project, CSU Special Collections

The POC had one of the best swimming teams in the city. In 1939, seven members of the team placed first in a city championship meet and the team became city champions in 1941. The POC’s swimming teams were not only great within the city but were able to compete among the best black athletes in the Midwest. In 1946 at the first annual Midwestern Association Championship, four POC swimmers won the 320-yard relay. The event was hosted at the POC, and the crowd of 2500 locals erupted after this victory.

The POC’s pools also hosted large aquatic events. In 1941, the head lifeguard, Joe Allen, produced a swimming show at the indoor pool that featured swimming and diving contests, a beauty contest, safety demonstrations, and comedic sketches. The show was a great success drawing in 2,000 people and dazzling them with creative prowess.

Melvin Walker talks about diving off the lights with friends at the Portland-Outhwaite Center pool.

Swimming wasn’t the only important athletic activity at the POC. Boxing and baseball drew the interest of many youths, and the POC provided them with ample instruction and opportunity. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Wilfred “Whizbang” Carter trained young ambitious boxers in the basement of the POC. He was the best trainer in the city. Carter cultivated a long-lasting boxing culture at the POC. In 1954 and 1955, the Recreation Department and Call & Post hosted a baseball school in collaboration with the Cleveland Indians Scout Division at the POC’s baseball fields. Boys from across the city were able to attend.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, the Portland-Outhwaite Recreation Center provided great opportunities, but as time progressed, it could no longer meet the needs of the community and act as a safe environment for recreation and swimming. By the 1950s, the center was showing its age and in need of extensive repairs. The pools were falling below city standards. In 1954, councilman Theodore Williams asked the city council to pass a resolution to address the POC’s maintenance. However, maintenance concerns continued to mount over the 1950s and into the 1960s, and the center’s condition was reflecting signs of neglect. A new indoor pool was constructed in 1963, but it was initially unusable since one of the sides was falling off. In 1969, the outdoor pool closed due to a cutback of city workers, and in 1973, the indoor pool was without hot water due to a broken boiler. After repeated denial of the deteriorating condition of the POC, the recreation department, finally, acknowledged its poor state in 1973, but could not immediately address repairs. Councilman Charles Carr was unsuccessful in his struggle to have the facility fixed, but his successor, Lonnie L. Burten, continued the struggle.

Ultimately, Burten’s persistence paid off. The first city funds for repairs were approved in 1979, and Mayor George Voinovich approved $750,000 in 1980 specifically for renovating the POC. Renovations had an immediate effect in recreating a safe environment for residents. When the reconstruction of the outdoor pool was completed, the Portland-Outhwaite Recreation Center was rededicated as the Lonnie L. Burten Recreation Center in 1985. Burten had died the previous year, but his mission to restore the outdoor pool to the way he once knew was completed. The Lonnie L. Burten Recreation Center still operates as the primary recreation center for the Central neighborhood.

The Portland-Outhwaite Center just before its opening on July 20, 1932 | Cleveland Public Library, Photograph Collection


  • “Carter, Wilfred Carlyle” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History”. case.edu/ech/articles/c/carter-wilfred-carlyle
  • “City Ignores Inner-City Recreation Facilities.” Call & Post. July 16, 1977.
  • “C&P, Recreation Division Baseball Clinic Friday.” Call & Post. August 6, 1955.
  • Finger, Bill. “Passing in Review: Six Who Cover the Pool.” Call & Post. July 25, 1935.
  • Jackson, Cleveland. “Brewster Center Cops 4 Midwestern Swim Titles; POC Four Beats Champs.” Call & Post. August 3, 1946.
  • “Jesse Owens Assumes Duties at Portland-Outhwaite.” Call & Post. May 5, 1938.
  • “Lonnie L. Burten Rec Center Opens.” Call & Post. July 11, 1985.
  • Morris, Robert. “Portland-Outhwaite Center Making a Comeback.” Call & Post. November 28, 1981.
  • “Negro Swimmers Compete at POC Saturday, July 27; Detroit Favored.” Call & Post. July 27, 1946.
  • “Neighborhood Kids Join the Learn to Swim Program.” Call & Post. March 1, 1947.
  • “Once City’s Finest Playground: Portland Outhwaite Rec. Center Shows Signs of Disgraceful Neglect.” Call & Post. June 29, 1963.
  • “Outwaite-E. 46th Pool Open Today.” Plain Dealer. August 1, 1932.
  • “P.O.C. Swimmers Prep for ’42 Title Defense.” Call & Post. December 27, 1941.
  • “P.O.C. Wins Seven Firsts at Swim Meet.” Call & Post. July 27, 1939.
  • “Portland-Outhwaite Pool and Center to be Fixed Up.” Plain Dealer. January 11, 1980.
  • “Portland Pool is Among the Busiest.” Call & Post. June 6, 1942.
  • Roy, Christopher. “Central (Neighborhood).” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. case.edu/ech/articles/c/central-neighborhood
  • Seawell, Stephanie L. “The Black Freedom Movement and Community Planning in Urban Parks in Cleveland, Ohio, 1945-1977.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2014.
  • St. Clair, Arthur. “Carr Wants Nagy Ousted.” Call & Post. July 14, 1973.
  • St. Clair, Arthur. “Portland-Outhwaite—.” Call & Post. July 14, 1973.
  • Sweeney, Al. “Joe Allen to Produce Swimming Show at POC.” Call & Post. July 26, 1941
  • Walker, Melvin. Interview by Carol Malone. 25 February 2013. Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Cleveland State University. clevelandvoices.org/items/show/2188
  • “Wants Repairs for PO Center.” Call & Post. May 8, 1954.
  • “’Whizbang’ Carter Gunning for Golden Glove’s Training Trophy.” Call & Post. August 11, 1941.
  • “10,000 See New Center Dedicated.” Plain Dealer. August 4, 1932.
  • “$161,549 Approved for Recreation Centers.” Call & Post. August 18, 1979.
  • “2,000 Jam POC Pool for Gala.” Call & Post. August 2, 1941.
2511 E 46th St, Cleveland, OH

Tell us about Portland-Outhwaite Center Pools

Many of the locations documented on Green Book Cleveland are not well-documented in the historical record. If you have additional information about Portland-Outhwaite Center Pools, please let us know by sharing a memory, correction, or suggestion using the comment form below.

Or send an email to info@greenbookcleveland.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *