The Paseo District has come a long way since its beginnings as Spanish Village, a shopping hub for the area in the early 1900s.
Most of the buildings have been updated, transforming Paseo Street into a colorful artists' village, filled with galleries, artist lofts, shops, restaurants and music venues.
But one building remains relatively untouched compared to its neighbors; The Plunge, which was Oklahoma's first community pool. The pool, which opened in 1933 as the Spanish Village Plunge, boasted pure, filtered water, a diving board and a large deck for sunning.
It was where John Belt, an attorney and revered community developer, learned to swim. Decades later, Belt would come to own much of the property on Paseo Street, and in 2009, he was finally able to buy The Plunge. He dreamed of reinventing the large building as a multiuse artsy space.
Belt died this year March 10, but his dream of transforming The Plunge will be carried on by Joy Reed Belt, his wife of 35 years.
“He told me before he died not to extend myself trying to do that,” she said. “But that's his only unfinished thing and that's a big dream he had, so I'm going to try to do it.”
Belt died somewhat suddenly. He'd been experiencing back pain but when his wife finally convinced him to go to the emergency room, it was too late. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and pneumonia. Doctors gave him only a few months to live.
“John, what are we going to do?” Joy asked her husband that day at the hospital.
“I was sitting by the bed and he took both my hands and he said, ‘Honey, we're so lucky. We have three months to get you ready.' And he said, ‘You are going to be great at all of this.'”
Immediately, John started dictating to Joy all the details of his properties, his will and his hopes for the future of the district. He seemed in a hurry. Perhaps he knew that the doctor's prognosis of three months would turn out to be three short days.
“It's part of life, and I've done everything I've ever wanted to do,” John Belt told his wife. “I've been reasonably successful at most of it. It's time for me to go.”
“He taught me how to die,” Joy said. “He was cracking jokes till the end.”
Joy Belt plans to commence with renovations of The Plunge — the couple already decided to keep the name.
The vision for the building includes adding artist studios and a cooperative gallery for those artists to show their work. A coffee shop is in the works and the basement of the building, which was once the pool, is a large, open finished space.
After the swim
The pool where Belt learned to swim changed names several times: once to The Jamboree Surf Club and then The Paseo Plunge. But the polio epidemic of the 1950s ended the Plunge — people thought the disease was spread through public pools. The pool closed forever. It was a Spaghetti Factory after that. The basement, where the pool was, was converted into cold storage for Sussy's pizzas.
The once-bustling little shopping district known as Spanish Village dried up with the pool and, over the years, deteriorated, a sad reminder of its vibrant past.