HOUSTON – In an area that’s tight on space, the idea of having a new pool facility in the Heights is welcomed by many.
It’s one reason why SPJST Lodge 88, a fraternal benefit society, has proposed reopening its pool, which shut down in the late 1990s, but some members feel that not everyone would be able to use it.
Some members of the society believe those in charge of the plans for a new swimming hole want to keep it exclusive and only accessible to those who help fund it. However, the organization said nothing is set in stone and they’re still ironing out the mechanics.
"A pool is great for the community, and great for SPJST, but an exclusive pool for just a small amount of people is going to kill the SPJST,” said Kathlyn Curtis, who is a member.
She joined in 2017 because she loved the family-friendly environment and wanted her 6-year-old son to be part of the youth programs, which teach Texas history and Western dance.
"I feel like everything that I researched about what the organization has stood for has been violated by the way that this pool plan has gone about it,” said Curtis.
According to Lodge 88's website, members can pay $6,000 to join the swim club and pay $1,000 in annual dues, but all 360 spots are already reserved and there is a wait list.
Curtis said she's concerned that means the rest of the 4,000-plus members won’t be able to use the pool and possible future members wouldn’t want to join the organization.
In a statement, SPJST Lodge 88 President Janice Janns said, “SPJST Lodge 88 has been a vibrant part of the Greater Heights Community since 1910 and at our current Lodge facility since 1965. In an effort to better connect with our local neighborhood, this year membership overwhelmingly agreed to launch an effort to re-install a pool at our Lodge. All members were given the opportunity to purchase pool memberships and many opted in. Given the expense of building and maintaining a pool, we did not feel it was appropriate to force uninterested members to share in its costs. We are excited about the future of Lodge 88 and the increase in membership and fraternal activity that the pool has brought this year.”
Curtis alleges many members are not aware of what’s going on and wouldn’t approve.
“This is out of line with their mission statement, out of line with over 100 years of practice and it’s violating the rights of the 4,500 members currently of the Lodge. We all own the land together, and we are being blocked from our own land without even notice,” said Curtis.
She ultimately believes dozens of people who were part of a former group called the Heights Swim & Social Club joined
the Lodge 88 to campaign for a new pool.
In July 2017, The Leader News, a local community newspaper for the Heights, published an article about the Heights Swim Club's efforts to gain members. According to the article, the concept of the idea was to have an old-style country club.
The Heights Swim & Social Club’s website no longer exists, but Lodge 88 said there has been confusion about the former group and said they have nothing to do with Lodge 88 efforts to build a new pool.
“Some of its former members likely decided to join the Lodge when they heard about our pool plans. We are happy to have them as a part of Lodge 88,” explained the Houston organization in a statement.
Curtis said the leader from the Heights Swim & Social Club is the same person spearheading the proposed swim club at Lodge 88. SPJST confirmed that individual is one of the Lodge 88 members helping bring the pool back to the facility. Curtis said she’s skeptical they want to make the pool a private club within Lodge 88, which is a 501c(3) nonprofit.
“I do appreciate what he’s trying to do and build a pool, but I just think this country club model of the expensive bonds only limited to a few families is going to destroy our organization,” said Curtis.
Shelley Rice, a well-known community member, said she was originally part of the Heights Swim & Social Club but found herself on a wait list for the swim club at Lodge 88, even though she’s not a member of the organization.
“Most of those people on the wait list are from the Heights Swim & Social Club mailer list,” alleges Curtis. “They sold out the membership in less than four hours without giving notice to members.”
SPJST Lodge 88 is part of a fraternal benefit system and was formed 108 years ago by Texan pioneers of Czech descent.
Across Texas, there are 104 lodges with about 40,000 SPJST members.
The Houston Lodge has the largest membership in the state with about 4,500 members, according to the organization. It originally started in 1910, but in 1965, the Houston chapter acquired 12 1/2 acres of land and has resided at 1435 Beall St. ever since.
Fast forward 53 years, and the land it sits on is nestled between brand-new high-end townhomes on a piece of valuable property.
There used to be an Olympic-sized pool, but it was filled in due to the expense of maintaining it, according to the SPJST Supreme Lodge.