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Historic Anthony Bowen YMCA to Move Into Exciting New Space

By Ben Lasky*

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

One of the most historic YMCAs in the country, the Anthony Bowen YMCA, will be reopening to serve everyone in the U Street community either late this month or in April in a state of the art facility which is part of a mixed-use commercial, retail, and residential development at 14th and W Streets, NW.

From the spacious W Street lobby area dominated by the staircase connecting all three levels through an open atrium, one enters into the expansive main floor from where one can will proceed to the swimming pool at the Florida Avenue side of the building. Just above the main entry area is a large outdoor terrace that is accessed directly from the Y’s third floor space in the portion of the building set back from the street.

Anthony Bowen, a former slave who bought his freedom for $425, formed the first African-American YMCA in the world in 1853. According to the YMCA’s website , it was essential to Bowen that African-Americans prospered socially and educationally.

Today, those principles remain the same at the Anthony Bowen YMCA, not just for African-Americans, but for everyone.

Chief Operating Officer Pamela Curran stresses that anyone who wants to be a member will have the opportunity, regardless of financial situation.

“That was a concern of the community. ‘Are you just gonna come in and push people out that have been here?’ And the good thing is we’ve made it very affordable. We have financial assistance and nobody will be turned away,” Curran told The InTowner.

Along those same lines, another issue that some in the community were wary of was the contrast of people living in the area, and whether the YMCA would be geared more towards the younger and more affluent generation. Yet Curran insists the Y has something for everyone, from personal training, to poetry readings, to cooking and art classes, to talent shows.

And it seems as though those at the Y have done a good job easing those concerns, as, according to Curran, half of the members that have signed up so far are family members.

When Curran says that there is something for everyone, it is because basically there is. The 50,000-square-foot facility features an indoor heated pool, a two-story high rock climbing wall, various exercise rooms for classes, a large rooftop patio and many other cutting-edge features.

Some facilities will also be open to schools in the area that do not have playgrounds for students to use during recess. One aspect that sets Anthony Bowen apart from other YMCAs is that they have a unique concept when it comes to youth development.

“The thing that I think is different for us is that even though we’ve always offered childcare, now we’re coming back with the different concept. We weighed closing the achievement gap and STEM and the issues that plague the city and plague our children. . . . And we’re going to partner with the city with what they need as well,” Curran told this reporter.

The Y will also work to pay homage to U Street’s past, and that of the organization. “What we’ve chosen to do is to weave the history of the Y and Anthony Bowen throughout the entire space, as opposed to having an independent exhibit space, it becomes part of the architecture,” said Diane Taitt, the architect for the project. The building will also be a tribute to Langston Hughes and Dr. Drew Jarvis among others.

When talking to those involved with this project, there is no doubt that the YMCA is not just in this space in order to maximize profits.

“The plan is to serve the community as well as celebrate the Y,” Taitt said.

*Ben Lasky, a contributing writer for The InTowner, studied communications and journalism at The American University.