The Robert Kiphuth Memorial Exhibition Pool, also known as the exhibition pool (or the ex-pool, for the cool), in Payne Whitney Gymnasium is named after Bob Kiphuth, the winningest coach in Yale swim history. Bob Kiphuth coached Yale Swimming for 41 years, with a lifetime record of 528–12. The eponymous stadium was built in 1932 and is absolutely gorgeous. For anyone who has ever been lucky enough to watch a race there (or even better, swim there), the pool is special. The six-lane, 25-yard pool is surrounded by large, steep stands that harken back to the glory days when the Yale men’s swimming and diving team drew crowds that could fill the 2,000-plus seats. The wooden stands are beautiful and the acoustics mean that the stadium roars and fills the crowd with excitement even when races are not well attended — which unfortunately has become the norm. The stands are sparsely populated on even the best days.
By today’s standards Kiphuth is a dinosaur. Most of the universities Yale competes against have full-on swim facilities with several Olympic-sized pools (50 meters in length, with eight lanes) on the same floor. Yale is due for a similar upgrade. Although we do ourselves sport the third-floor pool, which fits the functional bill, Kiphuth, taking up lots of space and delivering very little in value, is on the chopping block.
The pool seems unjustifiably archaic and may well be hurting the swim program. For this reason, Yale recently announced plans to renovate Kiphuth. Because the pools at Yale are open to the public, not just athletes, the University will not build a separate swim complex out by the Yale Bowl. Instead, the renovations and construction will come at a higher cost but deliver value to the broader community of Yale students and New Haven residents, who have daily open-swim hours. Kiphuth pool and stadium will be replaced with a more justifiable use of space; there will be an expansion of the pool to eight or ten 50-meter lanes, and stadium will shrink to make room for the ever-expanding needs of Yalies.
In 1963, a similar demolition took place. New York’s Penn Station, which used to rival Grand Central in grandeur and beauty, sold its air rights, claiming that the prohibitive costs of maintenance outweighed the intangible benefits of its beauty. While a small protest was had, ultimately the demolition proceeded. To quote a preeminent Yale architecture professor, Vincent Scully, on the change at Penn: “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”
I fear the same will happen with Kiphuth. There is no question that Yale’s swim facilities are not on par with our peers or that Yale Aquatic Athletics does not attract the kind of crowds that justify the size of Kiphuth stadium. That said, we should be cautious about sacrificing beauty and tradition in the name of progress. Largely in response to the destruction of Penn Station, New York City began implementing a system of designating historic landmarks. These landmarks meant that New Yorkers would not lose out on further pieces of beauty and significance.
Universities are places that pride themselves on the intangibles: reputation, prestige, tradition and history. We should be sure that we don’t trade the tradition and beauty of Kiphuth for the needs of today without weighing what we will be losing.
It’s obvious that in order to do what is best for Yale and Yale swimming, we need to upgrade our facilities to allow our team to recruit and compete at the highest of levels. Still, I hope that the solution to the problem can preserve the character and history of Kiphuth while at the same time allowing Yale to compete in the 21st century. Kiphuth should be preserved and the construction of new pools to augment rather than replace it should be prioritized.
Sam Sussman is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .