International Swimming Hall of Fame Could Move to California

The International Swimming Hall of Fame, currently located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, may be relocating to Santa Clara, California once the lease for its museum, first opened in 1965, expires in 2015.  Hall of Fame officials are dissatisfied with the planned redesign of the aging Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex and its swimming pools, citing it would move the museum to an unappealing building in a poor location, and would fail to attract more visitors to the site.

“It has been a disappointment to see that the city of Fort Lauderdale does not think we have value.  We love Fort Lauderdale and would like to stay, but I have a fiduciary duty to put it where it can thrive and fulfill its mission, and that requires a business model that works.” — ISHOF president and CEO Bruce Wigo.


The site was a long-time destination for numerous national and international competitions, but the outdated facility has recently struggled to secure major events or draw significant traffic.  In September 2012, after years of battling over financials, the City Commission gave the critical go-ahead to move forward with a $32.4 million renovation of the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex, which includes a massive overhaul of the facility’s two Olympic-size pools, as well as relocating the diving pool atop a four-story parking garage.  Wigo and other officials, however, believe the plans aren’t enough to keep up with community desires.

“We are still exploring our options, but it isn’t going well with Fort Lauderdale and hasn’t for years.  Is it time to move on and make it new again? We want to find a place where it can work.” –Bruce Wigo


He has a point; when the aquatic complex first opened in 1965, it was easily the best facility in the region, with a location that couldn’t be beat.  Today, there are 18 50-meter pools in Broward County alone and the population center has shifted further west, and FLAC couldn’t maintain its popularity.  The result: an average $1.2 million-per-year loss in recent years.

When Wigo was hired in 2005 after rescuing USA Water Polo from near-bankruptcy, the nonprofit ISHOF was on the brink of failure, with many former aquatic stars (including Mark Spitz and Donna de Varona) asking for their memorabilia to be removed from the neglected museum.  In his eight years at the helm, Wigo has streamlined the budget down to $600,000 (about half of what it was) and secured significant funds from numerous donors.

Santa Clara–spearheaded by Santa Clara Blue and Gold Ribbon Commission co-chairs Patrick Yam (founder of the Menlo Park, Calif., venture capital firm Sensei Partners) and Gideon Yu (49ers president and former Facebook CFO)–has pledged to raise $10 million for ISHOF’s relocation, as well as offer a $2 million endowment.  One of the commission’s primary goals is to upgrade the George Haines International Swim Center, home pool to highly-competitive swim, dive, and synchronized swimming teams, as well as the host to a yearly USA Swimming Grand Prix meet.  In its heyday, the pool was the training facility for a number of legends, including Legends de Varona, Spitz, Don Schollander, Pablo Morales and Mike Bottom.

The Hall holds a massive collection from all aquatic sports, including exhibits on Johnny Weismuller, Buster Crabbe, and Greg Louganis.  Memorabilia, such as Spitz’s starting blocks, Jenny Thompson’s medals, uniforms, antique swimwear, and loads of archival material are also present in the Hall.

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8 years ago

Sounds like a great idea! Go for it!

8 years ago

It really does need to move to a location where at least one, if not mutliple, major meet events are held. Few people other than swimmers, ex-swimmers, coaches, and those affiliated with swimming have a desire to visit a swimming museum. Santa Clara is a good choice, so would a place like Indianapolis.

Similar reasoning why the International surfing museum is located in Huntington Beach, CA, AKA Surf City USA. Right in the heart of the surfing community with the major US Open each year.

I swam in the Ft. Lauderdale pool in the early 80’s and it was outdated then! Spring break used to be fun there too…

8 years ago

This sounds like good news all around — the Ft Lauderdale pool is getting upgraded, the Santa Clara pool is likely getting updated and the ISHOF will get new digs and an endowment behind it.

cynthia curran
8 years ago

In its heyday, the pool was the training facility for a number of legends, including Legends de Varona, Spitz, Don Schollander, Pablo Morales and Mike Bottom. Mark was born in Modesto and father Aaron first went to Hawaii, not certain why dad didn’t take Mark to Santa Clara. first. Santa Clara was growing fast in the 1960’s everyone in the midwest moved out there which means Santa Clara could choose from a lot of good swimmers, and in 1964 and in 1968 Santa Clara placed several people on the olympic team which you don’t see today with club teams. Spitz and his sister Nancy finished their careeers at Arden Hills in the Sac area. Debbie Meyer the Great Freestyer in… Read more »

cynthia curran
8 years ago

Gidget is a fictional character created by author Frederick Kohner (based on his teenage daughter, Kathy) in his 1957 novel, Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas. The novel follows the adventures of a teenage girl and her surfing friends on the beach at Malibu. The name Gidget is a portmanteau of “girl and midget”.[1] Following the novel’s publication, the character appeared in several films, television series and telemovies from wikipedia This was the first sign of the popularity of surfing to flim and TV and Gidget was innocent stuff.

8 years ago

It’s sad that the city of Ft. Lauderdale doesn’t seem willing to work with ISHOF. I went on training trips there in college and as recently as a year ago took my club swimmers there for a training trip. The city has worked hard to clean up the surrounding area, so it would be a great opportunity to keep ISHOF in it’s current location with better facilities.

The museum is a must see for swimmers and the city forcing a move away from where meets would be held is a mistake. But I guess Ft. Lauderdale’s loss would be another city’s gain.

About Morgan Priestley

Morgan Priestley

A Stanford University and Birmingham, Michigan native, Morgan Priestley started writing for SwimSwam in February 2013 on a whim, and is loving that his tendency to follow and over-analyze swim results can finally be put to good use. Morgan swam competitively for 15+ years, primarily excelling in the mid-distance freestyles. While …

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