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New Anthony Bowen YMCA Opens to Great Acclaim; Enthusiastically Welcomed to the U Street Area With Appreciation for its Beauty and Offerings

Images accompanying this feature can be viewed in the current issue PDF

Ben Lasky*

The new Anthony Bowen YMCA has now opened its doors for good. Located just above U Street and east of 14th at 1325 W Street, the Y held its grand opening, including a ribbon cutting ceremony on September 9, 2013.

One sentiment that was expressed throughout the day was that this facility is for everyone. It is not just for the well-to-do or for the young; it is for the entire community.

“At the end of the day, we’ll be serving tens of thousands more people in this community, creating more jobs and subsidy, and fulfilling the legacy of Anthony Bowen,” Pamela Curran, the Metropolitan Washington YMCA’s chief operating officer, told this reporter.

It was no easy task to open this facility. With a bad economy and issues with financing, there were certainly hiccups along the way. However, for those like Curran who have worked for nearly 10 years to resurrect the historic Anthony Bowen YMCA, originally on 12th Street just south of U, to see their vision come to fruition makes it all worthwhile.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Curran said. “The community really coming out and saying it’s exactly what they want. I think I’m going to go on a little vacation, then start my real job again as being the COO of the rest of the organization.”

One of the decisions that had to be made in those 10 years was how to build a state-of-the art facility while also telling the story of the Anthony Bowen Y. It is safe to say that they succeeded. (For a short overview of the history and legacy of this first ever YMCA to serve an African-American community, visit http://tinyurl.com/ajoesbt.)

As Angie Reese-Hawkins, the Metropolitan Washington YMCA’s president and executive officer told this reporter, “I wanted to makes sure that kids when they walk around this building, adults when they walk around this building, can remember how this all got started.”

There is a large, prominently displayed mural by well-known neighborhood restaurant owner Andy Shallal depicting Bowen and other important figures from U Street’s past. Also, by the stairway leading to the upper level is a painting of Bowen hung next to a seated wax figure of Abraham Lincoln.

“Its namesake inspires us all,” referring to Anthony Bowen, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham told this reporter. “Here is somebody who was born in slavery, saved the money to buy himself out of slavery, and his wife out of slavery. And so those of us who are facing adversity, which is nearly about everybody, you can look at somebody like this and say, ‘I can do it.’”

Reese-Hawkins also said that she hopes that if Bowen were alive today he would say, “This is the new YMCA for the new times that we live in, and bravo.”

Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, we reported on the progress of interior construction and described a few of the facility’s main features. (See, “Historic Anthony Bowen YMCA to Move Into Exciting New Space,” March 2013 issue PDF page 1; http://tinyurl.com/pfo2svr).

*Ben Lasky, a contributing writer for The InTowner, studied

communications and journalism at The American University.