By Portia Williams
For many years, Dreamland Pool in Portsmouth served as the mecca for many for swimming, dances and a host of other recreational activities which many enjoyed for generations. Dr. John Lorentz, and his son Nathan Lorentz, are currently working on a film project concerning a story that it is not mentioned often as it relates to Dreamland Pool, and that is integration of the pool during the Civil Rights Movement.
“My father Charles Lorentz was the co-manager of Dreamland Pool for 37 years with Pat Mitchell. Thus, I grew up pretty much in Dreamland Pool. I learned to swim before I learned to walk,” Lorentz said. “What really set me off for doing a film on this was that someone started a thread on social media years ago, and that thread just kept going, and going, and going, and I contributed a few things to it. As I followed this, I began noticing that there were certain themes that seemed to just cross generations. The people from 50 years ago were saying the same things as the people that were in the generation just before it closed. So, I started keeping track of that and making note of that, and it became clear to me, well there’s a story there.”
Lorentz and his son Nathan worked on the film projects, ‘River Voices,’ and ‘Beyond These Walls.’
“My son Nathan and I work together as a team. I am the producer, and he is the director. He has all of the technical expertise, all of the equipment. He has a masters degree in Film and Video Production,” he said. “I come up with the ideas; I come up with the funding, the organization, and the developing the research and the background. He lives in Washington D.C., so then I call him, and we have these very intense work sessions where we will work for 16 hours a day for one weekend, for three or four days in a row. He was here twice this summer. Where we did some very intensive work. Right now, we are in between, I am putting things together for the next interview sessions, and continuing to do research.”
He said when his son is asked about what it is like working with his father he says, “It is a real bonding experience.
Lorentz made reference to an article that he wrote about Dreamland Pool in 1999.
“This was basically an overview of my view of what Dreamland Pool played in the social history of Portsmouth,” he said. “The theme that I basically wrote about was the Pool as a community center that played an important role for generation after generation for many people.
As stated in Lorentz’s article from 1999, Dreamland Pool, for much of its history, Dreamland Pool was a private segregated club, and not a public entity.
“The story that needs to be told and it will be told as a part of our film is the racial issues. This is a story that a lot of people are not even aware of,” he said. “We have already interviewed a good number of people, and have gotten various aspects of the pool as a community center, the swim teams, how marriages that evolved as a result of social interaction there at the pool. One of the things that I haven’t talked with anyone about yet, but would like to is someone that would be a good spokesman and has the memory of the time of the integration of the pool and give us the black perspective of that whole story.”
He mentioned McKinley Pool, which was established as the result of young black child before the times of integration, and swimming at Dreamland Pool was not an option for African Americans.
“Why did the McKinley Pool come into existence? Because of the drowning of the young Mr. McKinley, and of course that was the only option because blacks were excluded from the pool, because it was done as a private club, and you had to fill out a membership application form,” he said. “The truth of the matter was, if you were white, and could cloud a mirror, you could become a member in filling out the form. If you were black and filled the form out, somehow that never got acted upon, and that’s just the way it was. My own father was a part of all of that; he was the co-manager of the pool. I grew up with that, that is kind of the way it was. We never really thought about it all that much. It wasn’t until it got to the time of the Civil Rights Movement that this even entered the consciousness of the white community in Portsmouth at least.
“In any event, I would like to get the perspective of the black community in relation to the pool, and also talk to someone who is old enough to remember the event itself, but also someone that is younger that would be able to explain what it was like from the 1960’s up to the early 90’s, which is 30 years from when the pool was integrated,” he said.
He said he is aloof from what transpired at Dreamland Pool for 35 years, before his return to Portsmouth in 1990.
“During almost all of that time, except for the last several years, of course I came back in 1990, I’d left and gallivanted around the world. I went five years overseas, six years on the East Coast, 20 years on the West Coast, I was gone for almost 35 year years,” he said. “My father had retired, and they’d moved to Florida. So I really didn’t have any kind of connection to what was going on, I am having to fill all of that in myself. After the integration, there were quite a few blacks that came to Dreamland Pool, and that was true for a year or two, but then it basically sort of dropped off.”
He encountered various reasoning for minimal attendance by African Americans at Dreamland Pool after integration.
“What I hear from people, is that it was because there was McKinley Pool where the majority of the population went. That may be the reason, but I don’t know, but I would like to get the perspective and views. Why wasn’t there more black involvement with this pool after it was integrated? It was a pretty small number from what I understand.
There is no date for completion of the Dreamland Pool film project, just as soon as the are able to get the work done.
“Our hopes are to get it done as soon as possible, but the problem with that is that we both have day jobs,” he said. “We are not doing this for income. One of the reasons that this project is moving as quickly as it is, is that I have more time than my son does since I am retired. Originally, I had a host of responsibilities that had to come first, and we were just doing this on top of everything else, which really slowed things down. I am pretty much a multi-dimensional person, so I got interested in anything and everything, and have never had a dull moment in my life.
Funding for the Dreamland Pool film project is made possible through DVD sales from the Lorentz’s other film projects, which may be purchased by visiting: www.floodwallfilm.org www.river-voices.com.
To offer pertinent information regarding the Dreamland Pool project, contact Dr. John Lorentz at 740-357-8003, or by email at: [email protected]
Reach Portia Williams at 740-353-3101, ext. 1929, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.