WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Charles McAfee pool at McAdams Park is one of eight sites in the country to receive funding from the African American Cultural Heritage Fund to preserve work by Black architects.
The pool is named after renowned architect Charles McAfee, who designed it in 1969. The 90 year old says the preservation efforts should go beyond expanding the aquatic center but also its history.
“We had no place when I was growing up, no place else to swim except for the one that got destroyed by the roadway. So it was a special project for me,” explained McAfee.
He says the pool was the only park that Black kids could play at due to segregation.
“That park was the only park that we could play baseball in. It was even a gold course, a 9-hole golf course, and the baseball diamond that we all grew up playing baseball in. That was our recreation facility in the community, so it was a very special park,” said McAfee.
His design was done strategically to prevent the facility from getting burned down.
“Everything I used was a permanent material. The brick we used, the concrete slabs we put in, the concrete roofing system we put in, and everything. That’s the only thing I could think of that wouldn’t burn,” said McAfee.
McAfee says the pool was the first in Kansas that African Americans could compete in with the correct measurements. His only goal when investing in the six-month project was to create a better place than he had for his daughters to grow up in.
The $150,000 gifted to McAfee pool ensures its legacy in Wichita.
“$150,000 is a lot of money for us to put in to help with some of the design, help with some of the repairs, but to also really catalog the history of the architecture from Mr. McAfee,” said Wichita Park and Recreation director Troy Houtman.
Houtman says the City plans to upgrade the pool house and entryways with the funds. The project is expected to begin next winter.
“There was a point in time where Mr. McAfee probably didn’t get the respect he deserved. For sure didn’t get the respect he deserved. We want to make sure his legacy is honored here in a better way than it has been before,” said Council member Brandon Johnson.
The pool is one of many projects Charles McAfee has done in Wichita. He wants more young black people to become architects. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards reported in 2022 only 2% of architects in the U.S. were Black.
“We’re just trying to get more of them,” said McAfee, whose experience entering the field was difficult. “The last office I worked at before I started my firm, they all belonged to Wichita Country Club and Crestview Country Club, and when they would have meeting, I couldn’t go because they wouldn’t let me in.”
Living his dream, Charles McAfee is helping others realize theirs. He says he has awarded scholarships to many minority architects and was one of the founders of the National Organization of Minority Architects.
His daughters were also inspired to follow in his footsteps, one of whom is Cheryl McAfee, who led the construction and design of sports venues during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
The City wants Charles McAfee’s impact to reach people at the pool.
”As all those kids come to play and swim and splash around, they’re splashing around in a pool named after somebody who’s a local legend. A hero. And I hope they look more into what he did, and maybe they’ll think about architecture as well,” said Johnson.