A story of community, creativity & commitment.

In anticipation of our Down By the Bay Auction & Dinner Dance, we’ve crafted a web miniseries chronicling the 100 year history of our pool. We started with the early years (1915-50s), journeyed through the 60s-80s, and now we’re at the third and final installment: the late 90s. 

Bay Ridge Pool postcard cerca 1960. Shot by M. Warren.
Bay Ridge Pool postcard cerca 1960. Shot by M. Warren.

After more than 50 years as a successful business, the tides began to turn for the Bay Ridge Inn in the late 1990s.

By 1998, the Inn’s owner, the Wills family, was looking to sell the property—the upkeep for such a sizeable facility was no small undertaking for a family-run business.

The precipice.
It was for sale. The Inn’s entire waterfront property—its grounds, beaches, the facilities and the 32.74 acres that stretch from the Bay up to where Black Walnut Creek cuts under Herndon—marked by the marsh nestled in the beautiful woods.

Front of the Bay Ridge Inn Menu: image by Kyle Foss.
Front of the Bay Ridge Inn Menu: image by Kyle Foss.

Interested developers immediately appeared bearing generous offers, poised to slice the property into 25-45 waterfront home sites.

For some, this would have been an easy decision. Yet Kathleen Wills, the Inn owner and long-time Bay Ridge resident, felt a higher calling—powered by a love for the community, its lands and the Bay. The environmental impact of such development here would be profound, to say the least—incalculable, really.

A group of concerned Bay Ridge residents made fast work to create an LLC in an effort to protect this property from over-development. This LLC was spearheaded by Alex McCrary (River Dr.), Kurt Karsten (E. Lake Dr.) and Bill Cable (River Dr). Initially, the group met with potential developers with the view absolutely to minimize the development needed to cover acquisition costs.

A spark.br_events_FMCvolunteerday
A bit of serendipity came into play next. Alex McCrary caught wind of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s search for a new headquarters—their bid for a new home in Eastport (the old Trumpy boatyard) had just been rejected. It hit him between the eyes—CBF would be a perfect fit to acquire the Bay Ridge Inn and conserve a large portion of it. And he knew just the man to see this through: Kurt Karsten.

Karsten approached George Chmael (BR resident and CBF executive) with the concept. The conversations escalated and the negotiations began between CBF and Bay Ridge’s Kartsen, McCrary and Dan Wells (Lawrence Ave, BRCA president). The wheels were in motion. The new CBF headquarters would occupy the site of the existing pool, a parcel would be spun off to BRCA, and the Bay Ridge Trust would hold a conservation easement to protect the undeveloped balance of the land.

The strategy.
A three-way collaboration was established between the seller, CBF and Bay Ridge. CBF served as the liaison, negotiating directly with Kathleen Wills on their agreement terms, while also integrating the Bay Ridge provisions set forth in a community agreement.

Bay Ridge’s requirements were largely threefold: to place a conservation easement on the portion of the Herndon property and beaches outside the new CBF headquarters and its parking lot (to thwart any future development on the land); to secure land for BRCA to (hopefully) develop a long-awaited community pool; and (importantly) use of the existing Bay Ridge Inn’s pool for the summer of 1998.

And it worked. Agreement was made: CBF was able to build its new home, the adjacent acreage was conserved in perpetuity with access reserved to residents of Bay Ridge, and for $10 the BRCA acquired a 2.7 acre parcel of bay front land, which land came with a grandfathered “non-conforming” land use allowing use for a community pool.

There was a hitch, though. That non-conforming land use (pool) could not be abandoned for longer than 12 months, or the possibility of future pool would be extinguished forever. BRCA had to move fast if it was to finally have a pool of its own.

And there was the matter of raising the $850K necessary to pay for a new pool and facilities.

Excerpt from a Bay Ridge Inn brochure cerca 1990.
Excerpt from a Bay Ridge Inn brochure cerca 1990.

What to do?
Have a party—a summer long party! Rather than proceed with immediate demolition, CBF was pleased to allow BRCA to “keep an eye” on its pool for the summer. In return, all BRCA had to do was pay for guard staff and be sure to have a new pool ready for opening day the following year.

During the summer of 98, the initial pool board members got to work launching an ambitious fundraising campaign to raise the necessary funds. All within five months—it was no small undertaking.

Fortunately, five households, Underwriting Charter Members (honored with a plaque at the pool), stepped forward and assumed the full financial risk of paying for the engineering and necessary permits ($25K).

With that financial risk eliminated, the community embraced a strategic charter/regular membership financing strategy. Seventy-nine families opted to purchase 30-year Charter Memberships, and eventually another 75 households purchased Regular Memberships.

By the end of that first summer of partying at the old pool, the community had raised more than half of the estimated $800K cost of our new pool. Between Bay Ridge and Annapolis Cove participation, things were looking up.

Original BRPA logo created in 1998. Source: Diana Rode.
Original BRPA logo created in 1998. Source: Diana Rode.

Along the way, a separate corporation, the Bay Ridge Pool Association, Inc. was formed. The initial board was made up of five truly committed, creative residents: Kurt Karsten served as president—responsible for all negotiations and oversight; Bill Davidson (Bancroft Ave), who had chaired the project for BRCA and developed the financing, served as VP; Bruce Owen (Bay Drive) was the board’s COO, responsible for all the engineering and overseeing all the contractors; Diana Rode (Hull Ave), the marketing and awareness-generator; and Keith Porterfield (Bay Dr.), who was instrumental in nearly all efforts and activities. Energetic and dedicated block captains fanned out with visionary marketing notebooks and secured checks.

Mission accomplished.
Groundbreaking took place in a snowy December. And, like clockwork, the new Bay Ridge pool opened by Memorial Day of 1999. The second floor of the poolhouse opened in August that same year. Boom!

Herndon Ave in the Fall. H. Moring.
Herndon Ave in the Fall. H. Moring.

The bigger picture.
This remarkable project provided Bay Ridge and Annapolis Cove a new pool, provided the CBF a landmark new home, and conserved the surrounding waterfront acreage.

But its reach extends further—this pool project served as a stepping stone to conserve a much larger landscape—a vitally important resource—the Big Woods. Just two years later, this very conservation model was recalibrated to help preserve our woods, the watershed, and environmental harmony in Bay Ridge. (And that is a powerful story for another day.)

It’s profound, really.
What a testament to the power of community spirit, fortitude and foresight. The sharing of talents, resources, hard work, innovative ideas and perspectives combined to make great things happen. The woods, the marsh, and the open waterfront were preserved. At the same time, a new summer home was created, the iconic Bay Ridge pool: a beautiful place for swimming, friendships, and the creation of treasured memories.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling it. 100 years of community, right here on 2 Herndon Ave. Let’s get together this Saturday, raise a glass, toast to all the heroes who have made it all possible—and all the heroes who keep it going well into the future.



 Authors note: A huge thank you to Bill Davidson, Alex McCrary (providing details while overseas, no less), Kurt Karsten, Diana Rode, Dave Gendell, Kathleen Wills, Bruce Owen and Jane McWilliams for your time & information. This story is rich with fantastic details. I’ve tried to capture a top-level overview here, but welcome any thoughts, edits and details I may have missed. Comments welcomed below or send them to hmoring at gmail. See you Saturday! 

By Holly Patterson Moring

Hello, community! I grew up here in BR, moved away and came home. Literally. To my parents back yard. I live here now with my husband and daughter--happily bookended my family on both sides.

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