Pandemics aside, it’s a well-known fact that many of the hottest musicians and brightest Broadway stars have flocked to Saratoga Springs during our steamiest summers. Tracking them down while they’re here, of course, is a little hit or miss. But if they happen to be playing at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) or Spa Little Theater, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find them taking a dip at the Victoria Pool (like Sheryl Crow did last summer with her kids before opening for Heart).
Named for a British queen and revered as a National Historic Landmark, the Victoria (which saw a shortened season thanks to Covid but was open July 3–September 7) isn’t your average public pool. A shimmering oasis in Saratoga Spa State Park, decked out with flowers and surrounded by graceful architecture, it’s both open to the summer sky and strategically hidden from the paparazzi. Louise Goldstein, co-founder of the Save the Victoria Pool Society and unofficial “Queen of the Pool,” rattles off some of its most famous dippers: jam band leader (and recent Saratoga Living cover star) Dave Matthews, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Tony/Emmy/Golden Globe–winning actor John Lithgow and Oscar-winning actress Liza Minnelli have all taken the Victoria plunge (Minelli even brought along famous friends William Hurt, Patti LuPone and Kevin Kline for the fun of it). Over the years, Goldstein and her friends have spotted countless other A-listers. “In bathing suits,” she says, “everyone looks alike.”
Even New York City Ballet (NYCB) dancers have been known to dip their talented toes in the pool. They’ve actually been patronizing it since SPAC opened in 1966 and legendary choreographer George Balanchine was their artistic director. Goldstein, who has been hanging at the pool for more than 60 years herself, remembers when The Vic had diving boards, and the dancers would do diving exhibitions. “Balanchine had a fit,” says Goldstein, “[because] they could’ve gotten hurt. But they were great swimmers and divers.” And when Russia’s famed Bolshoi Ballet performed at SPAC several years ago, the entire troupe trooped to the pool every day of its residency. Says Goldstein: “They would practically put on ballets on the chairs.”
When the elegant pool first opened in 1935, Saratoga was known as the “Queen of the Spas,” and people traveled from around the world to soak in and drink its bubbly mineral waters. After a thrilling day at Saratoga Race Course, well-heeled visitors could be found at nightclubs on Saratoga Lake enjoying fine dining, high-stakes gambling and stage shows by big-time entertainers like Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante and Desi Arnaz. Before he died, Leo Hoge, a prominent Saratogian and medical doctor, who worked as a lifeguard at the pool in the 1930s, described the scene to Saratoga Living some 15 years ago: “Saratoga was Vegas before Vegas,” he said. “We saw Al Jolson often.” As a lifeguard, the young Hoge rubbed elbows with Samuel “Subway Sam” Rosoff, who made millions digging New York City’s underground subway tunnels; and befriended Duke Kahanamoku, the three-time Olympic gold medal swimming champ from Hawaii who is known as the father of modern surfing. Seventy years later, when the retired doctor was in his 90s, he would visit the pool and reminisce about the famous people he met there. “Dr. Hoge came back every year, just to walk around,” says Goldstein. “One day, he showed me around: ‘Bing Crosby sat on this bench,’ he said.” Oh, to be a fly on the wall, poolside.