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Taft Midway Driller - Taft, CA
  • Remembering Lierly's Plunge

  • Mable Mitchell doesn't want this part of Taft's history to disappear completely
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  • Mable Mitchell is on a mission.
    A Taft native who was born and raised on oil camps on the outskirts of town, she wants to preserve a slice of local history that conjures up particularly vivid memories.
    Mitchell would like to see a groundswell of support to preserve the remnants of the Westside's favorite swimming hole back in the twenties and thirties.
    Lierly's Plunge six miles northeast of town was an impressive 40 by 100-foot structure with three springboards and two diving platforms, a kiddy pool, spacious snack bar with ceiling fans, two slot machines and Oriental lanterns, dressing rooms and spectator area.
    The pool regularly drew large crowds during the hot summer months and also had a horse racing track with wagering windows and a grass infield where some of the town's sporting gentlemen played polo.
    The plunge even hosted beauty pageants.
    "That has a sweet place in my heart," Mitchell said. "That's where I learned how to swim. No one taught us; we just wallowed around in the water and taught ourselves."
    She would like to see what's left of the place preserved.
    "I think it's a part of Taft's history that should be preserved," she said, after making a visit to the site this week.
    All that's left of Lierly's Plunge are the concrete pools, steps and railings.
    The diving boards and platforms are gone.
    So are all the structures, including the one-bedroom summer cottage that the Lierly family lived in during the halcyon days of the plunge. In the off-season Ray Lierly and his sons ran the livery stable in town.
    The pool was a magnate for hordes of people seeking respite from the oppressive heat.
    "People came from all over," she said. "It just wasn't Taft people. They came from Buttonwillow and Wasco. Oil workers came from as far away as Wheeler Ridge. There were covered picnic grounds."
    The horse races were especially popular, she said. People came from far and wide to bet on the ponies.
    For Mitchell, who lived in a Texaco Oil Company lease house near the plunge, the horse races were fun to watch but no match for the occasional Sunday polo game.
    "As a young girl I was so impressed," she said. "Those men – I think they belonged to a businessmen's club in town – would come out dressed all in white and play polo. I'll never forget that."
    Mitchell recalls how eager she was to learn how to swim and graduate from what she called "the baby pool" to the much larger adult pool and its enticing diving boards.
    Page 2 of 2 - She became an accomplished diver and a favorite with spectators.
    "I remember a lady who liked to watch me dive. She would give me a penny for diving off the high board. I made five pennies so I could buy a Red Cap candy bar."
    It was at Lierly's Plunge that Mable met her husband Neal.
    She caught his eye when she dove off the high board from the shoulders of George Laurence, a Taft banker and one of her favorite polo players.
    Neal remembers working up enough courage to try the high diving board.
    "I climbed up there, walked out on that board, looked down and then climbed back down," he recalled with a chuckle.
    Lierly's Plunge is long gone but the Mitchells cherish the memories.
    The plunge opened in August of 1920 and closed the year before the Taft Natatorium was dedicated April 29, 1938 as Taft's first public swimming pool.
    "I think the Lierlys figured that with a new pool in town people wouldn't want to make the trip out there," Mable Mitchell said. "That was sad."
    You can still see what it once looked like, though.
    Mitchell's brother, Ted Lewis, constructed a detailed scale model of Lierly's Plunge that is on permanent display at the West Kern Oil Museum.

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