The facility we know today as Lombard Swim Club was built in a brisk ten weeks in the spring of 1961.
It opened that summer on June 25 as Rittenhouse Swim Club and was keenly promoted by its first president, John B. Kelly Jr, four-time rowing Olympian, President of the United States Olympic Committee, and Philadelphia City Councilman At-Large.
Behind its nondescript wall, two budding architects, B. Frank Schlesinger and Tim Vreeland Jr, designed a midcentury-modern gem. Influenced by their friend Louis Kahn, they built the Club with no interior doors, but rather with carefully planned shifts of alignment to allow for privacy as well as unrestricted flow. They derived the Club’s patiently sloping stairs from Le Corbusier, whose stepped ramp he fitted for the United Nations. The Club’s most distinguishable feature—the series of locker room portholes that liven its underground walls—the associates borrowed from an unbuilt project titled “House for Josephine Baker,” designed in 1928 by Adolf Loos. These attributes and others led Progressive Architecture to feature the Club in a special section of its July 1962 issue, called “The Architecture of Leisure,” in which it notes the entire facility was completed for a mere $194,000—$6,000 under budget.
Unique not only for its midcentury-modern design, but also its small size and downtown locale, the Club transitioned from Rittenhouse to Lombard in 1979 when it was sold to local residents who converted the venture into a not-for-profit 501(c)(7) corporation. Lombard’s first president, the beloved Al Toplin, served dutifully for ten years.
In 1980, Toplin and the nascent Board hired Lombard’s first general manager, Carol Kaplan. Kaplan began consulting for the Club the year prior, then succeeded Rittenhouse’s manager, Tom Kilmer, and methodically developed a vibrant, openhearted community that championed aquatics, inclusivity, and camaraderie. Kaplan retired in 2021, after 42 years of leadership. She has been succeeded by one of her earliest “children” and protégés, David Hildebrand.
Since its inception, the Club has been graced by a wide array of members, including politicians, restauranteurs, architects, television personalities, surgeons, journalists, professors, musicians, artists, judges, chess masters, professional athletes, Olympians, and more. For all its members, summer after summer, the Club has remained their Center City oasis.