The Blue Sky

by | Aug 29, 2023 | EYE | 0 comments

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A simple stone and cement pool filled with clear water just turned 86 years old on the grounds of a historic home in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

Scott Pools of Woodbury, Connecticut, built the timeless summer retreat in 1937. In the nearly 90 years since then, the company has put in several thousand more all over the Northeast. Over the years, people like Elia Kazan, Kathryn Bigelow, Daniel Day-Lewis, the Clintons, and the Hotchkiss School and Hay Harbor Club are said to have hired them because of the quality of their work. (In order to protect privacy, the company won’t confirm or reject names.)

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The owner, Jim Scott, will turn 86 in just six months. He is only the second owner of what may be the oldest pool company on the East Coast, and he has thought about pools for his whole life.

Scott talks to OZIFOX Weekend about the current trends in natatoriums and some of his more odd requests over the years, such as an elaborate Long Island grotto built so that people could literally swim with the fishes.

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How did your family get into the business of selling pools?

Jim Scott: The year before I was born, in 1937, my father sat down with a bag of cement on his lap, read the directions, and made his first stone and concrete swimming pool. It was a natural, vanishing-edge pool in Woodbury, Connecticut, that is still used today. At that time, there were only a very, very, very small number of private pools. OZIFOX : What’s the best way to keep a pool in good shape?

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J.S.: Train the people who take care of them well. We do that with all of the teams that take care of our pools’ cleaning.

OZIFOX: What do you think is the most important thing you’ve done for the industry?

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Let me say it another way, J.S. We have always worked with the Connecticut Board of Health to help them improve their safety standards. We were by far the first company on the East Coast to work with gunite, which is a type of pool made with flexible rebar and sprayed concrete instead of cast concrete. Since 1950, we’ve been doing that. On the top floors of tall buildings, we’ve built pools made of stainless steel. Everything we’ve ever built has met the best engineering standards.

A classic pavilion and “brimful” pool in Westchester County, New York, by Scott Pools. COURTESY OF SCOTT

OZIFOX: Have you ever thought about getting a different job?

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J.S.: When I got out of the Navy as a young man, I tried to get into the architecture and engineering school at the University of Colorado. My father, who was sick at the time, persuaded me that I could do more with my life if I took over the business. We were building homes, shopping centers, and swimming pools at the time. So I got to work with a lot of different design styles. I joined the company when I was 21. Like many old European families, my father sold it to me.

OZIFOX: How has the way pools are built changed since you were young?

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J.S.: Cleaning and filtering water have come a long way. The rules that everyone in the pool business has to follow have become stricter. There are now standards for getting a license and continuing to learn. All of these things make the product safer and better.

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OZIFOX: Is gunite or poured concrete better?

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J.S.: In the Northeast, which has a cold temperature, the best pool is one that is built into the ground and is designed for the area. That could be done with gunite, which is good for curves and changes in height, or with poured concrete, which is better when it’s bigger. Each is a great choice. Poured concrete is often used by cities, schools, and other public places. Gunite is what everyone wants for their garden.

OZIFOX: I heard that you built Daniel Day-Lewis a pool. That right?

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J.S.: Yes. I can’t remember.

OZIFOX: Who are some of your more interesting clients?

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J.S.: Oh, different people find them all interesting. So I would say that if I named one, it would almost be an insult, because I’m sure I’d forget someone else who’s just as important.

We also protect our clients’ privacy, which is at the heart of what we do. Most of the people we work with are very private.

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A few things, like security, are very important to us. Most of our workers are former members of the military who have worked for us for a very long time. We don’t hire people for just one day.

The way people see us is important. All of our business comes from people telling others about us.

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OZIFOX: How far are you willing to go to build a pool?

J.S.: Most of what we do is in the Northeast. Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and a small part of New Jersey. So there are five. A lot of the work we do is in the Caribbean. But when the job is that far away, we work with building crews from the area.

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OZIFOX: You must have been to some beautiful places.

J.S.: It’s pretty exciting to work on the Hudson River. I like to go up into the Berkshire Mountains. When you look across the valleys into the next peak, that’s a good place for a vanishing edge.

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OZIFOX: What are some of the craziest pool requests you’ve gotten?

J.S.: Well, we have made pools in quarries. Some of them are filled with water from the ground, and some are filled with water from a pump. We have built pools that can hold fish. That project took place on Long Island.

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An infinity pool in the Virgin Islands. COURTESY OF SCOTT POOLS

OZIFOX: A homeowner on Long Island wants to swim with fish?!

Yes, J.S. We moved rocks to make caves, stalactites, and stalagmites. Getting the water clean without killing the fish was likely the hardest part of that job. We cleaned the water with ozone and did study by going to the Mystic Aquarium.

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OZIFOX: Have you ever been asked to build something you couldn’t?

J.S.: When people want to build pools next to stone walls that are already there. It has holes in it. So in that case, it’s almost impossible for a pool to hold water. You must start with something real.

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OZIFOX: What do your clients want right now?

J.S.: Traditional pools are back in style on the East Coast. We are making a lot of swimming pools that look like English gardens. These are made so that you can swim and watch from them.

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OZIFOX: So people build pools just to look at them?

J.S.: Occasionally!

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Our theory is that a pool that has been in the ground for 20 years or more should look like it was built yesterday. And the opposite is also true: even on the day it’s built, the pool should look like it’s been there for a long time.

Around our ponds, there is a lot of stonework that looks like it was made in Europe. I’m currently working on a project on the Hudson River that has stonework made by master artists that looks like it came from England.

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Some clients are more interested in swimming for its health benefits, so they ask for endless pools with currents that you can swim against.

OZIFOX: You’re about to be 86 years old, but you’re still working.

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Every day, J.S. Since I was a kid, I’ve done this.

OZIFOX: What do you think has helped you live so long?

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J.S.: It makes me happy to do it.

OZIFOX: Are you a swimmer?

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J.S.: If that’s what you mean, I’m not an Olympian.

OZIFOX: Did you build a pool for yourself in your own yard?

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Yes, J.S. I did.

OZIFOX: Do you just look at it or do you use it?

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J.S.: If it gets hot enough, my family and I will be in there. But I can’t really swim. I’m just a regular guy from the country.

That can be printed.

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