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Jimmy Stewart Took the Plunge Here: the Swim Gym from “It’s a Wonderful Life” is Alive and Well in Beverly Hills 84 Years After Construction

One of the most captivating moments in “It’s a Wonderful Life” is when George and Mary share a dance at the high school graduation party. Little do they know, mischievous teens have tampered with the mechanized gymnasium floor, causing it to divide and reveal the pool beneath.

While dancing the Charleston, George and Mary unknowingly approach the edge, teetering on the brink of falling into the water.

As spectators of the film, we anticipate their imminent plunge, and the camera captures their smiling faces in a close-up shot before they take the plunge.

In a subsequent scene, George professes to Mary, “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word, and I’ll lasso it and bring it down.”

With that pool scene, however, the main characters, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) and Mary Hatch (played by Donna Reed), danced their way into cinematic history. 

The scene represents those moments in life where the ordinary can turn extraordinary and captures the magic and whimsy that Capra often infused in his films, reminding viewers of the power of imagination and the potential for unexpected surprises.

Moreover, the dance-into-the-pool scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” has become an enduring symbol of the film itself. The image of George and Mary dancing into the pool has been etched into popular culture and is often referenced when discussing the film.

And did you know the gym/pool is real? And that it’s  fully operational in 2024?

Known as the Swim Gym and located at Beverly Hills High School (where the famous scene was shot) this mechanical beast is now a cultural and historical landmark as well as a fully operational gymnasium, basketball court and swimming pool.

It continues to play a significant role in the world of film and remains fully operational today, serving both the students and the community.

Designed by Stiles O. Clement and built in 1939-1940, the Swim Gym combines wood and water, a combination rarely seen in a typical gymnasium.

Even today, the sight of the gym floor opening up to reveal a pool is impressive, especially considering that it was completed in 1941 and “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released in 1947.

The Swim Gym’s design allows the floor to split in the middle and retract underneath concrete bleachers with a simple turn of a key, transforming the basketball court into a swimming pool.

Despite its age, the Swim Gym is still enjoyed by both Beverly Hills High School students and locals (and maybe a few visiting film buffs) thanks to the various aquatic events and classes that take place there.

The gym’s unique combination of wood and water continues to make it a distinctive in the world of high school gym floors. 

To learn more about the Swim Gym and its rich history, the Beverly Hills Historical Society has created a video that provides an in-depth look at this iconic local landmark. The video showcases the gym’s impressive design and highlights its role in various films, including the famous scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of the Swim Gym and its importance to the Beverly Hills community.

While the Swim Gym has faced some challenges over the years, such as a flood that warped the basketball floor and a motor that gave out, it remains a cherished part of Beverly Hills High School. However, some believe that it may have outlived its usefulness. Despite any potential shortcomings, the Swim Gym’s charm, character, and historical significance make it a cherished facility in the community.

The Beverly Hills High School Swim Gym has a rich history and continues to be a significant part of the school and the community. Its innovative design, combining wood and water, sets it apart from typical gymnasiums.

Just remember to mind the gap!

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