Greg Stiehl and Phil Kammann Jr. came of age at the Elks’ Westhaven pool in Belleville in the 1970s and ‘80s.
They could have never imagined that they would own it someday.
“We loved going there as kids,” said Stiehl, 56, who now lives in Austin, Texas. “Our parents would just drop us off and leave us all day. I have such fond memories — swimming on hot summer days, diving board competitions — and the snack bar was a great place to get a burger.
“It was just a fun, family-friendly, safe place to be,” he said.
Stiehl will return to Belleville in early June for the reopening of Westhaven, which closed in 2019 after 82 years of operation. Many people assumed it was permanent.
But Stiehl and Kammann, also 56, of Belleville, bought the pool and three tennis courts in February from Elks Lodge 481. They’ve been renovating and redecorating ever since, with help from family and friends.
“We still have plenty to do,” Kammann said Thursday. “It’s a work in progress.”
Plans call for at least one of the tennis courts to be converted into pickleball courts. That sport, which combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, has soared in popularity nationwide.
The club’s new name is Westhaven Pool and Tennis Club. Anyone can join, and day passes are available for guests accompanied by members.
Excitement for the reopening has been building in the neighborhood in recent weeks, according to Stiehl’s cousin, Patty Tippett, 56, of Belleville, who’s helping with renovations.
“People of all ages have stopped by here, and they’re so thankful that someone has purchased it and is bringing it back to life,” she said. “They miss having something on this side of town. People just loved it.”
Opening in 1937
Westhaven Pool and Tennis Club is at 1513 S. Illinois St. It’s just south of the old Elks headquarters, which is now a Quality Rental location.
Arthur Buesch opened the pool in 1937 as part of his Westhaven development, which started with a subdivision in the 1920s and continued with a nine-hole golf course, pool and six tennis courts in the 1930s.
The development’s name came from the prominent B.H. West family’s Westhaven estate in the vicinity, according to Belleville historian Bob Brunkow.
“Cut your living costs and keep your health by living in the country,” stated a 1928 newspaper ad for the subdivision, noting it had “electricity, water and a paved highway.”
Westhaven Pool opened on Memorial Day, May 30, 1937, when the holiday was still celebrated on Sundays.
A newspaper ad the day before invited people to “swim in the pure water of southern Illinois’ finest swimming pool” with “complete water purification every 7 hours.”
Admission fees were 40 cents for adults and 30 cents for children, with individual season tickets available for $10. Swim tickets cost $3.50 for adults and $2.50 for children.
The pool and tennis courts changed hands at least twice before the Elks took over in the mid-1960s, but Buesch descendants continued to operate the golf course until 2004, when a developer bought it to build Westhaven Meadows subdivision.
“We weren’t getting enough play from people in the area,” Ruth Buesch told the BND at the time. “The buyers are looking to use the land to build homes.”
Patio and four decks
Today, the historic Westhaven property is surrounded by mature trees that provide shade for people sitting at umbrella and picnic tables on the patio and four decks. Ornamental grasses line wrought-iron fencing and day lilies fill a landscaping bed.
Kammann’s mother, Nan Kammann-Judd, has been repainting colorful relief tiles on concrete walls and filling planters with flowers. Greg’s mother, Sheron Meyer, also is an active volunteer.
The club’s new logo is round like a tennis ball with an aqua-and-gold image of a “rising sun over calm waters.”
“We’re trying to add color and art,” Kammann said. “… We’re going to plant some more trees. We’re really going to try to make this an oasis. It will be a retreat.”
There’s a brick concession stand and covered bar, next to a bandstand with an old-world-style backdrop. A TV will broadcast St. Louis Cardinals and Blues games and other sports.
A brick and white-sided bathhouse has locker rooms downstairs and a bar upstairs with a wall of windows overlooking the pool.
“We’re going to start (at the concession stand) with a limited menu — pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, wraps — and then we’re going to expand,” Kammann said.
Westhaven already has a 2022 swim team with more than 80 members. Many are coming from King’s Point Sports Club, which closed last year. Belleville Township High School District 201 bought the building with plans to convert it into a vocational center.
The Westhaven Waves will be coached by Caroline Effinger and Brooke Junker, formerly of King’s Point. Coordinator Jeff Junker, Brooke’s father, noted that Westhaven’s reopening kept swimmers from scattering and joining different teams in the area.
“We have a good core group who want to stay part of a family,” he said.
Background in bowling
Phil Kammann is no stranger to the recreation business. He worked for his father, Phil Kammann Sr., former longtime owner of St. Clair Bowl, before running two of his own bowling alleys. He’s now an accounting manager for a window-and-door company in Glen Carbon.
Stiehl’s family owned and operated Stiehl drug stores in Belleville for decades. He left Illinois after college and now works as a chip architect for Apple in Austin.
Kammann and Steihl have remained friends since graduating from Belleville West High School in 1984. Over the years, they often talked about becoming partners in an entrepreneurial effort. Westhaven seemed a perfect fit.
“We think that by investing a little money in it and making some improvements, we can increase the value of it and also the appeal,” Stiehl said.
People can become Westhaven members by buying season passes, which cost $600 per couple or $360 per individual, plus $35 for each child ages 3 to 17 or $50 for each child ages 18 to 24. Day passes are available for $25 if guests are accompanied by members.
The more people who join, the easier it will be to keep membership costs low, according to Stiehl.
In recent weeks, the partners have hired contractors for electrical, plumbing and other infrastructure updates. They’ve cleaned up the grounds, painted the faded pool bright blue, installed new flooring in the bathhouse and otherwise worked to spruce up the place.
Kammann and Stiehl plan to open on June 4 if they can get all the necessary permits and approvals.
“There is still a lot to be done here,” said Tippett, Stiehl’s cousin, on Thursday. “But what we’ve already done — you wouldn’t believe it. The property hadn’t been maintained for three years. It’s so much nicer.”