Losing a landmark

Locked behind a rusted gate in the shadow of Death Valley lies an abandoned piece of LSU history.

The Huey P. Long Pool once provided a place where students gathered to escape the classrooms.

In August 1944, The Daily Reveille described the Huey P. Long Pool as a place, “where old friends gather, new friends meet, dates are made, and sometimes broken.”

Since its closure in 2003, it has deteriorated to a shell of its former grandeur.

Moss grows through the cracks of the old running track, graffiti stains the walls of the locker rooms, and algae thrives in the rain water that accumulates in the pit that was once a symbol of Longism.

However, a student organization is pushing to restore the pool to its former glory and reincorporate it into the culture of LSU.

LSU student Michael Finkelstein founded Landmark LSU in 2008 as a campus unification project to restore the university’s historic landmarks.

In 2009, Landmark LSU called attention to the decaying Greek amphitheater near the LSU Performing Arts Academy.

“Landmark held a pretty visible campaign for the amphitheater, gathered student support, and developed a bunch of proposals to the university,” he said. “LSU eventually picked up the project somewhat and restored the seats and power washed the entire venue, as well as re-landscaping the area.”

After the Greek amphitheater, Landmark LSU turned its attention to the Huey P. Long Field House and Pool. Finkelstein described the project as an “ambitious goal” for the organization.

However, university budget cuts caused by decreased state higher education funding beginning in 2008 hampered the initiative.

The organization did not feel comfortable petitioning to renovate a pool when professors were being laid off because of budget cuts, he said.

Landmark LSU resumed operations last fall and focused its efforts on what Finkelstein described as, “the one project that got away.”

“The pool is not getting any younger, and there are whispers” that the pool might be torn down to build a parking garage, Finkelstein said.

LSU architecture professor Michael Desmond said LSU needs to make a decision about the pool.

“A choice has to be made: either renovate the facility as a pool, or find some other use,” Desmond said.

The $84.75 million UREC expansion and the LSU Natatorium eliminate any need for another pool on LSU’s campus, Finkelstein said.

However, he has a different vision for the abandoned facility.

“Imagine a Huey Long Student Center,” Finkelstein said. “The space could serve as an extension of the student union.”

To cover maintenance costs, the university could use it to hold concerts or rent to local businesses, he said.

“Because the facility is so close to Tiger Stadium, the university could use the space for tailgating on game days,” Finkelstein said. “The university understands the significance of the site. The project just needs to be made attractive.”

In 2011, the pool served as one of the multiple locations on campus where the movie “Pitch Perfect” was filmed.

“The pool presents a unique case,” Desmond said. “It is a thorny issue. Because of the budget cuts, only outside funding would be viable. The university will not take notice until someone with money steps up.”

Finkelstein said that Landmark LSU is working with private donors but is exploring the possibility of using crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter.com to raise money for renovations.

Landmark LSU is also turning to social media to spread its campaign message and build a base of support of students and alumni. That campaign includes websites such as: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

“Currently Landmark is trying to get a mass following while planning its next steps,” said Landon Watts, Landmark member and LSU business senior.

Both Facebook and Linked-In have been effective at informing alumni about the pool campaign, he said

Landmark’s Facebook page, launched in 2009, has become a centerpiece in the outreach campaign, and Landmark LSU launched its official website, http://www.landmarkatlsu.org, on April 16.

It provides another in a string of stories written about the Field House and pool.

In LSU Alumni Magazine’s fall 2011 edition Laura A. Leach said that in the 1950s and 1960s the Field House was the gathering place for students. It had a cafĂ© and housed the post office boxes. On the opposite side was, and still is, the Huey P. Long Swimming Pool. And, of course, it was bigger and better than an Olympic-size pool.”

“When I first saw the pool, I felt connected to the past: physically and emotionally,” Landmark COO Lekorde “Trey” White said. “To actually stand in an area where so many memories were formed and shared was overwhelming.”