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Beverlywood Swim School

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As we continue to explore the neighborhood of South Robertson, it's important to take note of people and businesses that have served an important role in the community over the years. One such place is the Beverlywood Swim School. A place of tradition with a unique methodology, the swim club teaches students by focusing on the individual while at the same time encouraging them to be part of a community.

We recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Lonnie Deckel, the General Manager of the Beverlywood Swim School.

Tell me a little bit about the Beverlywood Swim School.
The Beverlywood Swim School was established in 1951 -- we are actually the oldest active swim school in America. The school was founded by Crystal Scarborough, a woman whose methodology we still use today. Her mission was to teach children who had failed out of other swimming programs how to swim. Crystal was all about instilling confidence in the kids and making them really love the water. We want the kids to feel comfortable here -- that is why you see lots of toys and murals when you walk into the facility. It is a very friendly environment, not a sterile one.

My family bought the swim club back in 1979 and we have been operating and maintaining the environment ever since. I'm also proud to say that we've been able to uphold the original conditions and methodology of Crystal over the years. We are very involved with the community; we actually own the block of property behind the swim school that leads to Beverlywood Street.

Who comes to the Beverlywood Swim School?
We see all kinds of people here. We've taught families, nannies, doctors, lawyers, actors, actresses -- you name it. We've taught several notables, as well as everybody in between. And quite frankly, everyone is just another student to us. Equality in teaching is very important. We've also carved a niche for teaching students with special needs. As of two years ago, we were teaching between 125-150 children with autism, per week. But unfortunately due to recent budget cutbacks, the regional centers can no longer afford to help out with those lessons, so some of those numbers have decreased.

Are those classes integrated with the other classes?
The Beverlywood Swim School operates chiefly using private lessons, but yes these lessons are taking place while other children are in the pool as well. It's a big integration program where we essentially have every student mainstreamed in the same class.

What is the typical age range of students here at the Beverlywood Swim School?
It's pretty broad, but on average we usually teach children ages three to five. Our motto at the school is "From the Womb to the Tomb." We actually teach some infants as young as three months how to swim. We also teach adults here -- there's probably one in the pool having a lesson as we speak. So although children three to five are our primary focus, we definitely extend both directions on a regular basis.

The infants are just amazing -- they can actually breathe in the water naturally at as young as five months. They know to close their throat when they are underwater and to breathe once their nose touches the cold air. There are tricks to it though -- it's not quite that simple. Adults are another story entirely. We have some adults that come in here that have 50 years of fear built up inside of them. So with adults, it is all about coaxing them into the water and making them feel comfortable before we can teach them to swim.

Can you tell us more about Crystal Scarborough and her involvement in the community?
Crystal Scarborough, originally from Florida, brought her methodology to Los Angeles in the 1950s. She actually lived in the house that is still on the property of the swim school. Originally there was only one pool here at the school -- which was probably considered a backyard pool at the time. As the years progressed, the club grew and Crystal was able to build a locker facility to house people as well as an additional pool. She also began bringing in swimmers from all over the world to study her methodology -- most notably from Germany and Japan. As far as Crystal's investment in the community was concerned, I think she really started the involvement in the 1950s by opening up this school when there wasn't much else around in this area.

How would you describe the Crystal Scarborough methodology?
The primary focus of Crystal's methodology is breathing. Popping your head up, taking a breath, putting your face back underwater, and blowing bubbles. It is all about blowing bubbles. If you can breathe and blow bubbles, you can do anything as far as swimming goes. Her focus was teaching rhythmic breathing from day one, in addition to making sure the children felt comfortable in the water.

Student getting a high five from his instructor | Photo by Sarah Silcox
Student getting a high five from his instructor | Photo by Sarah Silcox

How do people know to bring their kids to the Beverlywood Swim School?
We have third and fourth generations of families coming here to the Beverlywood Swim School. People who took lessons here when they were three years old are now bringing in their children -- or even grandchildren -- to take lessons here at the school. I really enjoy seeing that. We hardly advertise the school at all, so most of our business comes from positive word of mouth recommendations.

Why is it called Beverlywood? I was told that the swim school is actually in Reynier Village, which is a much different community than Beverlywood.
Well, Reynier Village is a much newer community. The west side of Robertson is actually considered to be part of the small incorporated city of Beverlywood. Back when we bought the school in 1979, Crystal wouldn't let us keep the name [The Crystal Scarborough Swim School] so we had to change it. Even though this is technically the city of Los Angeles, we are at Beverlywood Street so it just seemed local to the community and the street.

How new is Reynier Village?
The actual named area of Reynier Village is very new in the whole scheme of things -- only about five or six years old. This particular area has always been considered to be the border between Culver City and Los Angeles. I actually think the Culver City Police Department serviced our area instead of the LAPD. But it's still considered to be part of the city of Los Angeles at the end of the day.

Student swimming with floaties | Photo by Sarah Silcox
Student swimming with floaties | Photo by Sarah Silcox

Do you get a lot of kids coming to the club from walking distance or do you get more kids coming in from outside areas?
That's a great question. The majority of our clientele come from the city of Beverlywood and the local surrounding areas. However, we have clients that come from Redondo Beach, Huntington Beach, Bakersfield, Lancaster, and Pasadena because they know the quality of the school and what we have been able to achieve over here. It is interesting because the demographics in the area of Beverlywood are fairly well-to-do, so many of them end up doing other programs before coming to our school.

Does the Beverlywood Swim School have any future plans for growing?
Honestly, probably not. The swim school and the property have been around for a number of years and our biggest trick is just maintaining the space that we already have here. Some of the buildings on the block are run down and vacated quite frankly, so its not so appealing to the community as a whole. But people have actually been stepping up in SORO and fixing up their properties. A couple of stores down the street have recently updated the front of their properties which is nice.

Editorial Note: Seeing as the compilation of South Robertson is very new, the neighborhood still continues to undergo many changes. In actuality, the area of South Robertson is really a group of smaller diversified neighborhoods bound together. Hopefully as the neighborhood continues to grow and change, the Beverlywood Swim School will remain an important asset to the community.

Lonnie Deckel, the General Manager | Photo by Sarah Silcox
Lonnie Deckel, the General Manager | Photo by Sarah Silcox
Girls laughing as they wait for their lesson to begin | Photo by Sarah Silcox
Girls laughing as they wait for their lesson to begin | Photo by Sarah Silcox

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