Sun ‘n Fun Swimming Club in Springfield was an investment opportunity

There was a time after World War II when swimming pools in the United States were built not only for recreation, but also as investment opportunities. The Sun ‘n Fun Swim Club was one such place in Springfield.

Sun ‘n Fun opened in the summer of 1962 on farmland along Chatham Road, which was once part of the old South West Airport. The club’s backers included trucking company owner William “Billie” Cox, Walter Wagner, director of the Springfield Trade and Industry Association, Springfield Mayor Lester Collins, and others.

Cox, who led the development group, had a variety of business and political interests. He served as Springfield Airport Authority Commissioner, once owned the Lake Springfield Tavern, and ran for state senator in 1966, state representative in 1968, and U.S. Representative in 1970. Cox lost all three races.

The Sun ‘n Fun investment group hoped to build fee-based swimming complexes in Springfield and then expand the plan nationwide. As well as the Chatham Road club, the group also built a swimming pool on Ely Street northeast of Springfield.

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Sun ‘n Fun was organized as a not-for-profit entity and construction of the Chatham Road club began in the winter of 1961. Originally the developers hoped to profit from a proposed bond issue in the Springfield Park District to construct additional swimming facilities. District voters rejected the bond plan in April 1962, but the Sun ‘n Fun investment continued.

The Chatham Road Sun ‘n Fun was equipped with a children’s wading pool, a medium sized training pool and a diving pool. The initial pool cost $88,000 to build, or about $1.1 million in 2022 dollars. Memberships were $40 per year with an initiation fee of $125.

The city’s longtime swim coach (and former councilman) Irv Smith said Cox was “a good guy” but struggled financially when it came to running the club. When Cox put the Chatham Road Sun ‘n Fun up for sale in 1971, “we got a group to buy it, and I was in that group,” Smith said. Smith and the new owners renamed the complex Olympic Club.

“One of the main reasons we bought the Chatham Road property was so it could sit next to the Racquet Club,” Smith added. The Racquet Club, a tennis center, was built soon after the Olympic Club opened, and the combination of swimming and tennis in one location proved very popular, Smith said.

Additionally, the Westchester Subdivision was being developed just to the north, which helped attract members to the Olympic Club.

A teacher by trade, Smith has coached swimming at Illini Country Club and the YMCA and YWCA of Springfield. He also developed and coached a winning swim team in the Colony West Subdivision before being instrumental in building the Olympic Club team.

Smith also later purchased the Northend Sun N’ Fun; there was a 50 meter swimming pool, at the time the largest in the city. Smith ran the two pools jointly for some time, but the dual operation was unprofitable.

Smith sold the Olympic Club in the mid-1980s to what was then the Racquet Club and Fitness Center, but the swimming operation did not last.

“It’s hard to maintain pools and have an ongoing group of club members, and manage everything,” Smith said. The Olympic Club building and swimming pools lay unused and vacant, sun loungers stacked inside the club’s old entrance, in the summer of 2022.

The Park District purchased the Ely Street Pool in 1997 and renamed it Veterans Memorial Pool. Billie Cox moved to Port Richey, Florida where he died in 2005.

Written by William Cellini Jr. for SangamonLink, the online encyclopedia of the Sangamon County Historical Society. Want to write for SangamonLink? Instructions at SangamonLink.org.