By Brandon HENSLEY
Back before there was the Verdugo Hills Hospital or the congested shadow of the 210 Freeway, Montrose had its own little slice of Americana in the form of the Indian Springs swimming pool.
The pool has long since been buried under 12 feet of rock and concrete, the area off of Verdugo now occupied by a shopping center with a Vons and a Radio Shack among other stores.
But from the early 1920s to the late 1960s, it was home to swim lessons, families and summer fun; it was an era the movies might refer to reverently as “simpler times.”
No person was a greater symbol of elegance, beauty, and success during the Indian Springs era than the famous diver Victoria Manalo Draves.
Draves won two gold medals in the 1948 Olympics in London, in the three-meter springboard and 10-meter platform competitions. She was the first woman ever to win two gold medals in Olympic diving and the first Asian-American to win an Olympic medal.
On April 11, Draves passed away at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs due to complications of pancreatic cancer. She was 85.
“She was unbelievably charming. Just more than gracious,” said longtime friend Patricia Nielson.
Draves was born in San Francisco, but in the 1940s she became Montrose’s hottest commodity.
Nielson said while Draves was seeking a trainer at the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland, a coach told her she wasn’t big enough to make an impact on the diving board. “She made a Barbie doll look thick, I mean she was so cute,” Nielson remembered.
Overhearing that conversation was legendary coach and Vicki’s future husband, Lyle Draves. Lyle told Vicki he could coach her, and so it began. They married in 1946.
They came to the Southland in the middle of that decade, and it was at Indian Springs where she trained with Lyle.
That was the era of Jackie Robinson, and Draves endured her share of isolation due to the fact that her father was Filipino and her mother was English.
“If you had brown skin, you weren’t allowed to swim in some pools,” said Mike Lawler, president of the CV Historical Society. “So she was fighting a little bit of prejudice.”
By the time she competed in the Olympics, Draves had been the national platform indoor springboard champion three years in a row. After the Olympics, Draves turned professional. She joined Larry Crosby’s “Rhapsody in Swimtime” aquatic show at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1948 and toured internationally with Buster Crabbe’s “Aqua Parade.”
Nielson swam with Draves in Europe, and recounted a time at Wembley Stadium in London when several women were planning on throwing Draves in the pool, but she overheard.
“So she greased herself with baby oil or something, and of course she had on a swimsuit,” Nielson said. “We would try and catch her and we’d just grab a hold of an arm or a leg and she’d just wiggle out and laugh and scoot behind something.”
Draves and her husband began a family and taught diving and put on swim shows at Indian Springs in the 1950s before moving to Encino. In 1969, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In 2006, a two-acre park in San Francisco was dedicated to her.
By the mid-1960s, the pool at Indian Springs had developed a crack, and when the Verdugo Hills Hospital was being built in the late 1960s, the area became a dumping ground for dirt. Paradise was paved, but the memories still remain.
“It was just a magical little place,” Nielson said.
“Every summer, all the kids in the valley spent their entire summer at the pool,” said Lawler. “There was a pool, there were tennis courts, there were riding stables, there were jukeboxes.”
And, of course, there was Vicki Draves.
“Everyone knew about Vicki Draves,” said Lawler. “She was kind of the darling of the Olympic world there for a while and here she was right in Montrose and you could get swimming lessons from her.”