Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Hepatica leaf pool

Hollywood, California: Philip Ilsley estate, Hepatica-leaf pool.

While doing research for an article about free-form pools, I found this amazing picture of a pool in form of a Hepatica leaf. It looks so completely whimsical and irrational and I've never seen anything quite like it. Still, it is a merry pool, and I can easily imagine myself in it, happily paddling my way from lobe to lobe past the gently curving sides of the pool.
Philip Ilsley, who built his pool in 1949 on the Hollywood Hills overlooking the San Fernando valley, insisted that it was both beautiful and functional. He explained, that "the Hepatica shape provides the most swimming and diving space for the least water. Its three lobes separate the sun-tanners; who like to loll on the warm brink without getting wet, from the divers, who splash and splash around the springboard on the opposite side, while the athletic types who like to swim can tee off at the far end of the leaf and paddle right up the stem..."
A eccentric pool for an imaginative person, it seems, but this eye-catching form was made to grab attention, which it did very well, as several articles were published about it. Ilsley was an entrepreneur who revolutionized the construction of pools using pressure-sprayed-concrete (Gunite), which made them affordable even for the middle classes, making Ilsley's firm the largest pool-building company in the US. He became the preferred pool-builder of the rich and famous in Hollywood. Many film stars wanted their pools to be unique, and Ilsley was able to meet their dreams with creations like the piano-shaped pool he built for Frank Sinatra in Palm Springs.
What I find intriguing is that a fashionable pool-builder like Ilsley chose the leaf of the humble, small Hepatica as a model for his own pool. Being so sought-after by the stars of the old Hollywood, why didn't he choose something more glamorous, like the old symbol of fleur-de-lis, that could have stood for Iris douglasiana, the beloved native iris of California? What was his relationship to the dainty little liverwort that needs cold winters to thrive and therefore is not even suited for the warm Californian climate? I guess I will never know, but I still find the Hepatica leaf pool quite attractive in its own, quirky way.
Thomas A.P. van Leeuwen: The Springboard in the Pond. An Intimate History of the Swimming Pool.
MIT Press, 1999.


Karen said...

That is just so cool. As a lap-swimmer, I would think this shape would be annoying, but it's hard to argue with its beauty and uniqueness. Wonder if it still exists? Wow, that view!

Hey, super late notice here but SAGBUTT is meeting tomorrow at the Miller Library/CUH. 11am - 2pm Sat. 2/27 if you can make it. Hope all goes well!

Tankar från Trädgårdsmästarn; Hillevi said...

Thanks, very nice post!

The builder was a genius entrepreneur, and I think his choice of the hepatica was a very conciuos one. The modest tone it sends out makes it very honest and adorable.

I wish you joyful weekend!

nilla|utanpunkt said...

Love it as well. Something of what holiday resorts later picked up, but much more refined and elegant. It is interestingly timeless as well. It is the rest of the setting that dates it. Lovely terrace, by the way