Flashback to splash: Spas and Jacuzzi hot tubs defined backyard culture
These were the spots where friends gathered, where families made memories, and where relationships got a little stronger, one soak at a time.
But it’s not just about looking back; there’s inspiration to be found in these classic backyard scenes. From the way they shaped social life to how they set the stage for relaxation, these vintage backyard hot tub setups have a lot to tell us about creating the perfect backyard oasis today.
See some old-school Jacuzzi hot tubs and spas back from when this trend just started taking off and how backyard hot tubs ushered in a whole new way to entertain friends.
A hot time in the ol’ hot tub (1977)
From an article by Barbara Anderson – Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska) August 28, 1977
We came home from a Colorado vacation singing the praises of mountain peaks, ghost towns, and gold mines, cool, dry, invigorating air… and hot tubs.
Hot tubs? What’s a hot tub? That’s what I asked when friends in Colorado wrote last winter that they are selling and installing them.
Their hot tubs were round redwood vats equipped, like a tiny swimming pool, with a heater, filtration, and chlorination. Ranging from four to 10 feet in diameter and about four feet deep, the tubs usually include a whirlpool bath feature.
I thought to myself — what does a hot tub have that a bathtub equipped with a Jacuzzi doesn’t? On our family vacation, we visited our friends’ home and place of business and found out.
Hedon Hot Tubs, Evergreen, Colorado, is on a 20-acre farm in a mountain meadow 20 miles west of Denver near Lookout Mountain. Behind the redwood-sided farmhouse, just a few steps from the rustic, paneled living room, is a raised deck enclosed with rough-sawn pine walls about five feet high.
The five-foot-diameter, four-foot-deep hot tub nestles within, bordered by planters spilling petunias and geraniums. A shed attached to the deck houses the pump, heater, and other equipment. A two-piece round lid covers the hot tub when not in use.
The owner of Hedon Hot Tubs is Jerry Pyper, a former art teacher, stained glass window maker, and, most recently, manager of a propane company in the Evergreen area. He included the deck and tub in the tour of the farm we took soon after arrival.
That afternoon, the children were the first into the hot tub. “It’s really neat, Mom,” said Jill, 10. Then that night, after dinner and bridge, we four adults stepped into the hot tub… and I became a convert.
Picture this: Cool Colorado night, stars almost within reach, a breeze redolent with the smells of pine, aspen, and wildflowers… and our travel-weary bodies immersed to the neck as we sat on the little benches in the tub’s 105-degree water.
I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Three jets of water created a whirlpool effect to coax even the most stubborn muscles to relax.
I sighed with contentment and accepted the glass of wine Jerry poured. We settled back to watch the stars, enjoy each other’s company, and talk about hot tubs.
Communal bathing is not new. History reminds us of the Roman baths, the Turkish baths, the saunas of Scandinavia. The Japanese have used both private and communal tubs for centuries. Their indoor teak tubs are probably the hot tub’s most direct antecedent.
In the United States, hot tubbing began in California (where else?) and was a do-it-yourself undertaking often involving the use of vats discarded by wineries, rigged with heaters, but seldom, at first, involving pumps and filters. The water was used a few times and then siphoned off to the garden.
Today, hot tubs are finding their way across the country. Jerry raised himself out of the water to sit on the tub’s edge. “It feels good to get out a while,” he suggested. Dianne agreed, “The cool air feels great.”
I had doubts about that. I shiver easily. So I raised my shoulders out of the water with great reluctance. And then discovered that the breeze felt more like velvet than ice.
My husband reported the same sensation. How could this be? Jerry said the warm water and the agitation stimulate circulation and bring blood to the surface, much like the effect of vigorous exercise.
The simultaneous feelings of tingling aliveness and utter relaxation, the warmth of the tub water on dangling legs contrasted with the coolness of the mountain air… all these things combined to offer the delightful sensations that have made hot tubs a year-round pastime.
Seasons do not affect tubbing. In fact, some say winter is the best time. Skiers, for example, after a hard day on the slopes, may head for the steaming outdoor hot tub instead of the smoke-filled bar. Dianne’s 12-year-old son, William, said, “It’s really fun when it’s snowing.”
Is it hard to keep the tub warm in winter? Jerry and Dianne said propane costs an average of $20 a month year-round. Other energy sources may be used, including natural gas, solar energy, and electricity. Electric heaters require special insulation to reduce the hazard of shock. “The lid holds in the heat amazingly well,” Pyper said, “and redwood is noted for its thermal qualities.”
We got around at last to the nitty-gritty question: Do they or don’t they wear swimsuits in the tub? Jerry, Dianne, and the kids don’t. “That’s comfortable for us,” Jerry said. “But it isn’t written in stone anywhere that you have to, or that you don’t. It’s up to the individual and whatever feels best for him… or her.”
But the hot tub isn’t just a family affair. How do you handle it when you have guests and everyone decides to socialize in the tub? (We asked Jerry about their tub’s capacity and he replied, “Eight people… eight friendly people… can fit comfortably.”)
Dianne laughed about her initial feelings about nude bathing with friends. “It was embarrassing at first,” she admitted. “I suppose if you look like Raquel Welch, it’s no problem. But if you’re a normal person with moles and a few sags and wrinkles, it’s maybe a little hard to get used to. Once you get past that which takes about one session… it’s a comfortable feeling.”
Jerry said, “Really, we’re too conditioned to be clothed, even with our kids, so it’s hard to take off your clothes with friends. But at night, when you can’t see much anyway, it doesn’t make that much difference… For me, the big thing about it is the privacy and relaxation. It’s not always necessary to talk. Just relax and feel the contrast between air and water.”
Hot tub enthusiasts claim therapeutic benefits for the water. Leon Elder, in his book “Hot Tubs,” says, “It relaxes muscles, dilates blood vessels, and helps circulation.” (He cautions, however, that those with hardening of the arteries should abstain from soaking).
Jerry said, “My mother, who has arthritis, used our tub and was impressed with the soothing effect. She said she woke up the morning after with much less pain than usual.”
Still, for Jerry and Dianne, at least, the tub satisfies psychological needs as well as physical needs. Jerry said, “Look at it this way. You come home at night, uptight, tired. Sure, you could mix up a pitcher of martinis, tell the kids to shut up and park in front of the TV set for the evening.
“I prefer to pour a glass of wine and sink into the tub with my family, friends, or alone. I lean back and let the tension soak away. I sleep like a rock after a good soak.”
Joseph, at 7, feels no particular aches, pains, or psychic tensions, but “the bubbles feel good, and I like it when my sister picks me up and drops me into it.” Jerry pulled the red towel that is practically a Hedon Hot Tub trademark around his shoulders and added a word of warning: “It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to take baths.”
It seemed natural to us to tub it up with our Colorado friends, but was it merely a case of “going native” as in a distant part of the globe?
I couldn’t help but wonder: Would a Midlands farmer shuck his overalls and hop into a hot tub after 14 hours on a John Deere? Would a LaVista hostess invite dinner guests to take their after-dinner drinks in a hot tub rather than in the living room?
Who knows? But hot tubs are spreading. Jerry has fielded calls and letters from Louisiana, West Virginia, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas — even Alaska. He feels hot tubs can fit just about anybody’s lifestyle.
“Especially now, when so many people are concerned about physical fitness and taking better care of their bodies,” he said.
There’s a catch, though. Hot tubs don’t come cheap. A 5×4-foot hot tub kit for a do-it-yourselfer costs about $1,100. The price goes up from there, depending on installation and the size of the tub.
The tubs can be installed as freestanding units or as part of a deck or enclosure. Some companies sell fiberglass models in square or rectangular shapes.
Jerry’s tubs, which come from Oregon, are round. “Nobody gets cornered in a round tub,” he grinned.
Personally, I can think of a number of times I could have used the soothing waters. The Blizzard of ’75. Right after the Tornado of ’76 missed our neighborhood. And the day last month when the mechanic said: “Well, I’m not dead sure, lady, but I think she needs a new transmission.” I’m ready.
Even stars loved hot tubs & backyard spas
Here’s Charlie’s Angels actress Cheryl Ladd in her 115 degree hot tub next to cold plunge swimming pool (1978)
Louis Gossett Jr in his home spa hot tub (Ebony 1982)
Backyard spa Circa Jacuzzi hot tub (1981)
The Circa: Expertly engineered, delivered fully-assembled and pre-tested. We leave the rest for you.
To enjoy the restful stimulation of the Circa Whirlpool spa, situate it above or below ground, make one very simple electrical connection, and fill it with water from a garden hose. There is absolutely nothing to assemble, except perhaps a few very appreciative friends.
It’s spa installation at its easiest. And because the Circa is made by Jacuzzi Whirlpool Bath, it’s the spa experience at its best. Six adjustable Whirlpool inlets provide unparalleled massaging action all along the comfortable contour seating. The controls are easy to use, accessible from inside and outside, and like all our models (but no one else’s), the Circa is UL listed. Discover all the features that make the Circa luxurious by nature, superior by design.
80s Quanta built-in Jacuzzi hot tub (1984)
Vintage 80s Caressa Jacuzzi portable backyard hot tub (1985)
Jacuzzi hot tubs: Kohler Sojourn portable whirlpool hot tub (1987)
The Cambio Jacuzzi tubs from the ’80s – Portable spa
The Cambio. One portable spa that won’t leave you wondering where the action is. Just plug it in, and feel that powerful pressure surge through four whirlpool inlets.
Use it outdoors. Use it indoors. Get into the Cabrio wherever you have an outlet. Take it with you whenever you move. And enjoy it every chance you get. The Cambio is roomier than most portables.
80s Quanta Jacuzzi whirlpool bath outside (1982)
Vintage Jacuzzi Avanza inset hot tub (1982)
You’ll get a massage no one else can match — because no one else can give you our patented whirlpool jets. In short, you just can’t find a better whirlpool bath.
And with the Avanza, you’ll get a whirlpool spa, too… you can fill and drain it each time, because it’s a bath. Or leave it full, because it’s also a spa. The filter keeps the water clean, the heater keeps it hot. And you get the best of both worlds.
1980s hot tub designs and interior configurations
The Madison, Galilee, Wickford, Brentwood, Little Compton from Continental Spas in 1987
Inside/outside hot tub within a screened-in porch