Vicki Draves – How Olympic Gold Came To Montrose
Indian Springs Resort was a well-loved recreation area in Montrose from the mid-1920s through the 1960s. It featured picnic areas, snack bars, tennis courts and riding stables, but its main attraction was an Olympic sized swimming pool with a high dive. Before everyone had a pool in their backyards, Indian Springs was the summer hangout for generations of valley-ites.
In the late ’40s and ’50s, the pool gained super-star status when Olympic diver Vicki Manalo Draves and her husband/trainer Lyle Draves made their home base at the pool.
Vicki Manalo was born in San Francisco to mixed-race parentage, an English mother and a Filipino father. In that era, her brown skin was a disadvantage. As a teenager she began to get interested in diving, but sadly she wasn’t allowed into some pools. Thankfully her natural grace, beauty and talent opened doors for her anyway, and she began to attract the attention of serious diving coaches.
During WWII she met professional coach Lyle Draves who was already coaching other Olympic hopefuls. The two hit it off romantically and they married in 1946.
Training at various pools including Indian Springs, she won five U.S. championships as she worked up to the ’48 Olympics in London. There she swept her field, winning gold in the 3-meter springboard and the 10-meter platform. Along with fellow diver Sammy Lee, a Korean-American, they racked up the first Olympic medals ever for Asian-Americans.
Vicki was now a sensation. She was beautiful, a winner, and America was in love with her. Life Magazine named her and decathlon winner Bob Mathias its “Athletes of the Games.” She did a tour of the Philippines, where she reached celebrity status.
After returning to CV a star, she decided to go professional, and along with some friends from Indian Springs, she joined several of the “water shows” that were popular in that era. They traveled to Chicago for the “Rhapsody in Swimtime” and toured Europe with Buster Crabbe’s “Aqua Parade.” She got movie offers from Hollywood, but was not willing to lower herself to the “simple South-Seas Island girl” roles they offered.
By 1951, Lyle and Vicki were ready to settle down to start a family, and they took up permanent residence at Indian Springs. They opened the Vicki Draves School of Aquatics, offering lessons to local kids from a “real Olympic star.” Lyle continued to coach Olympic divers at Indian Springs and had a string of winners, including Pat McCormack who won gold in the 1952 and ’56 Olympics. This was a huge draw for the aging pool, which now advertised itself as the “Training Spot of Olympic Champions.”
As the years progressed, Vicki settled into a role as mother to four sons. In the late ’50s she and Lyle moved their swim school to a newer pool in Encino and Indian Springs, built in the ’20s, began to decline. By the late ’60s it was over for the old pool.
The resort and the little oak-filled canyon it sat in were filled to the top with material excavated from the construction of Verdugo Hills Hospital. Today Vons and CVS Pharmacy sit on fill dirt 50 feet above the foundations of the old resort in the Indian Springs Shopping Center.
Vicki and Lyle retired to Palm Springs where they both continued to occasionally be interviewed or invited to speak as stars of the past. Vicki was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969. In this last decade they revisited the Crescenta Valley on two occasions, speaking before the Historical Society and attracting scores of aging baby-boomers that had been taught swimming or diving by the couple.
Vicki continued to be a legend in the Filipino community and in 2005 a park in San Francisco, in the historic Filipino neighborhood she grew up in, was named after her. She died in 2010.
Today, you can view photos of Vicki and the Indian Springs pool on a sign in front of Vons just off Verdugo Road. You’ll be amazed that Montrose was once the home to Olympic Gold.