When the doors of Bon Accord Baths opened to the public on August 30, 1940, Aberdeen was still reeling from its first raids of the Blitz.
Now, 80 years on, the charity working to save the historic building hopes inviting the public in once more will act as a new symbol of hope amidst a traumatic 2020 for the city.
Bon Accord Heritage is planning – coronavirus guidance allowing – to open the doors next month and allow the city’s people a first view of the inside of the Category B-listed baths for more than a decade.
Limited tours could be offered of the much-loved Uptown Baths in September, centred around the view of the drained tiled swimming pool – currently more full of fridges, scrap wood and rubbish than it is of water.
The art deco pool hall has been blighted by vandalism in recent years, which trustees report has increased “exponentially” during lockdown.
Broken glass from bricked windows litters the floor while racist graffiti has been daubed all over the iconic pool hall.
It is hoped, however, that by opening the doors the charity can encourage renewed interest in the building and its future.
Town planner Bruce Strachan, who sits on the board, said its original opening in 1940 was seen as “an act of defiance” in the face of adversity.
“The way things are, our project could be a cause of optimism and a catalyst for regeneration,” he said.
Fellow trustee Steven Cooper added: “When the baths opened, Aberdeen was going through a really difficult time – it was a symbol of hope, something really positive for the city.
“In 2020, we’ve again had been through a horrible year, with lots of difficult things to deal with, so we hope opening the doors again some positivity about what could happen in the future here.
“But we have been trying to keep public expectations realistic. This is a longer term project and we can’t fill the pool with water tomorrow.”
The pair have been among a squad of trustees who have been given seven weeks’ unfettered access to the historic building, without the need for council supervision.
They spent this last weekend cleaning the dilapidated front of the building with a view to making it safe for the public to enter.
The local authority still owns the Justice Mill Lane building, which was mothballed in 2008 due to budget cuts.
Bon Accord Heritage wants to one day have people back enjoying the unique pool but admit that prospect is still years away.
In the more immediate future, they want to use the front of the building as community facilities to help raise funds for the project.
But before any of that, they face a bill amounting to tens of thousands of pounds to make the listed building wind and watertight
Trust counting cost of vandalism
Vile racist graffiti, fire damage and broken glass scars one of the city’s historic gems.
And the heritage trust charged with one day reopening the Bon Accord Baths claim lockdown has increased their problems, with unwanted visitors clambering up 80-year-old ladders and rusty drainpipes for entry.
Bon Accord Heritage trustee Steven Cooper told The P&J: “They are determined to get in.
“Even walking or running around the pool, if someone falls in they won’t survive without multiple fractures and it could be potentially fatal.
“The first order is to get it cleaned up and made wind and watertight, without people coming in and smashing things.
“Fires have been started and it’s disappointing to see more vandalism every time we arrive – like the ice cream freezer from the cafe now in the deep end, which we have no idea how to remove.”
The damage has forced the cost of the restoration project up “exponentially” with concern some original art deco features destroyed are irreplaceable.
There is also concern trespassers could have exposed themselves to harmful asbestos, as they tried to bash their way through to the boiler room – despite warning signs.
The trust’s problems have only worsened since a so-called urban exploration video of the interior was shared online, prompting scores of copycats.
Mr Cooper added: “If the urban explorers are really passionate and keen on the building they should get in touch and volunteer to help us save the building.”