The Tidal Basin was once the site of one of Washington’s most popular beaches, featuring a diving platform and a cabana. In the 1880s, it was constructed out of the mudflats of the Potomac. Shortly after its construction, the Tidal Basin was filled with swimmers and bathers. In 1914, Congress voted to create an official beach on the Tidal Basin for white patrons. The Tidal Basin, surrounded by the Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the FDR Memorial, is part of West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C.. The basin itself is about 107 acres in size and 10 feet deep. It was not designed as a swimming area, but instead to function exactly as its name implies. It controls the flow of water from the tidal section of the adjacent Potomac River.
In the 1920s, the all-white beach was a popular spot in the hot summer months. Women and men hung out there, but there is record of police measuring women’s bathing suits to make sure they were not more than six inches above the knee. Black residents swam at a spot across the basin where there were no official buildings or diving structures. In the face of pressures from African American leaders to build a black bathing beach on the other side of the Tidal Basin, The Senate voted to close the white bathing beach in 1925. The area where African Americans swam never received any funding or buildings. Funds for a beach for African Americans were allocated and then repealed. The buildings were demolished and the sandy area was landscaped with a variety of plantings to hide its previous life as a beach. Today, swimming is not permitted in the Tidal Basin, but people of all races and from around the world are free to enjoy it as well as the monuments surrounding it.