The pool at Lafayette’s Bob L. Burger Recreation Center may soon be named for a former resident who was pivotal in founding the city’s original pool — an action that at the same time could atone for racist treatment of the woman more than 80 years ago.
To apologize for the initial incident that occurred in the 1930s, Lafayette City Council could issue a proclamation apologizing to a former Lafayette resident during a November meeting.
On Monday night, the city’s Human Rights Commission brought a story to City Council regarding a woman who was not allowed to use the city’s swimming pool in the 1930s.
The commission was created in 2016 to evaluate city programs and processes with a goal of fostering equity, social justice and freedom from the fear of persecution based on race, religious belief, country of origin, sexual or gender identity, physical ability or age.
‘White trade only’
In 1933, Lafayette officials decided to build a pool, but needed help from residents.
The city asked residents to donate bags of cement to help complete the pool. Rose Lueras and her family donated 10 bags, which according to records at the time, was the largest donation of anyone in the community.
The pool officially opened on July 31, 1934.
“We can only imagine Rose and (her daughter) Rosabelle Vargas are heading to and really looking forward to using this pool, to access this public amenity” said Denice Walker, vice chair of the Human Rights Commission.
When they got to the pool, however, they encountered a sign.
“The sign, by the way, is not described as unsubstantial. It’s described 20 inches by 30 inches,” Walker said. “The signs says ‘Fireman’s pool, we reserve the right to reject any and all persons without cause. White trade only. Lafayette Fire Department.’”
At the time, Lafayette City Council, under the guidance of the mayor, made a decision prior to the pool opening to lease it to the Lafayette Fire Department.
“At the time, the fire department was a private organization. As a private organization, they can make any decision they chose of who they could let enter the pool and who could not,” Walker said. “Instead of being able to enjoy the pool … they were turned away. Instead of accepting this as the status quo, Rose decides to fight back.”
Walker said depending on versions of the 1930s story, there may have been concern about white residents not wanting the Latino community to swim in the pool.
‘Willing to fight back’
“As I learn the story, I think this woman must have been amazingly courageous,” Walker said. “She’s standing up for herself in 1934 and willing to fight back.”
Lueras gathered donations to fund a legal challenge to fight against the city and fire department.
Lueras and 25 other families initiated a discrimination lawsuit, naming the city and the fire department and a handful of officials.
“They bring this lawsuit into Boulder District Court,” Walker said. “The claim they were making was their 14th Amendment (rights were) being violated.”
Walker said the action created tension in Lafayette.
During this time, the Ku Klux Klan had a very active presence in the city, and it led a march in Lafayette in August 1934.
“They start at the location of the pool and they march through the city,” Walker said. “They’re carrying torches and banners.”
Walker said a cross was burned on the lawn of the Lueras’ home on Chester Street.
“At that point, probably for concerns of her safety, Rose and her daughter relocated to California, while they were waiting for the case to go to court,” Walker said.
Shortly after, Lueras was struck and killed by a car while crossing a street in California. Her daughter returned to Colorado.
Attorneys for the city and fire department tried to dismiss the case, but the court denied the motion and eventually the case made it to court.
“Rosabelle, who was just 13 at the time, testified on her mother’s behalf,” Walker said.
The court ruled against the Lueras’ in 1935, and the attorneys appealed the decision in Colorado Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reaffirmed the decision in March 1937.
From the late ’30s to 1989, the pool was never reopened again. Instead, it was filled in with dirt and a softball field was built over it.
Story that needed to be told
In 1989, the Bob L. Burger Recreation Center was beginning to take form in the city. When construction began, the pool was uncovered by construction workers.
“It would be easy for her story to go away,” Walker said. “Fortunately, due to some amazingly detailed and diligent work by (local resident) Frank Archuleta, I’m standing here with Rose’s story. He brought the story to us.”
Melissa Hisel, director of the Lafayette library and liaison to the Human Rights Commission, said Archuleta started coming to the library in the summer with the story.
“He heard the story of the pool growing up, and he noticed it was omitted from local history books,” Hisel said. “He needed help researching. He’s a very determined man and he kept coming back with something new. I knew it was a true story and it needed to be told.”
She said she felt like it was the right thing to do to bring the story to the commission and then City Council.
“It would be important to get the support from the City Council,” Hisel said. “A lot of unfortunate things that happened were choices made by the council (at the time.)”
Thus, the commission brought a recommendation to City Council to name the swimming pool inside the Bob L. Burger Recreation center the Rose Lueras Swimming Pool.
“(It) is a critical part of our refusal here in the city to run from our own inexcusable history, the history that should be condemned then rectified,” Walker said.
Mayor Alexandra Lynch said she wanted to take the action while she’s still on the council . Lynch is term-limited.
“I would really be interested in crafting the proclamation so City Council can make some kind of apology,” Lynch said. “That should not be forgotten.”
Hisel said by naming the recreation center pool after Lueras, the city will be acknowledging her courage and her determination to expose racism and injustice.
“This pool dedication demonstrates that the city is sincere in our commitment to creating an inclusive community and building on efforts to right injustices of the past,” Hisel said.
Councilmember Nicole Samson said she would like to see July 31, the day the pool opened in 1934, become a day where kids younger than 18 can swim for free.
When the story was brought to City Council, it was during a work session, so the board could not take an any action. The commission could go back to council Nov. 4 for a proclamation.
The dedication could occur at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17.