Historic Structures

Twelfth Street YMCA Building (Anthony Bowen YMCA), Washington DC

Date added: October 25, 2010 Categories: Community Facility

President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone on Nov. 26, 1908. Following that event, fund raising activity continued. In 1911, for instance. President William Howard Taft "was greeted by a large and enthusiastic audience of colored men" who had gathered at the Howard Theatre to raise funds. Of the $100,000 cost of the building, $27,000 came from the black community, while John D. Rockefeller and Julian Rosenwald each contributed $25,000. The balance came from the YMCA Central Association of Washington.

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson opened the building on May 19, 1912.

In 1972 the structure was named for Anthony Bowen. Bowen (1809-1871), a free black man from Prince Georges County, Maryland, in 1853 founded the first YMCA in America for Blacks.

The $100,000 four-story and basement building was described 1n 1912 as "the most conspicuous edifice north of F Street ... Its four granite columns at the entrance stand as four stalwart sentinels extending a cordial welcome to all who approach."

Facilities included a heated, fifty by twenty foot swimming pool of 42,000 gallon capacity, shower and locker facilities, barber shop, Turkish bath, social rooms, bowling alley, gymnasium, billiard room, reading room, and a "home parlor with open fireplace." Fifty-four sleeping rooms were located on the top three floors.

Over-all dimensions: 63' -9" across the front and rear by 167' 4" in depth. Along the north side is a recessed ventilation and light shaft. The building is bordered on the south and west by alleys.

The over-all structure is divided into three adjoining sections. The front portion, which measures 63'-9" x 22'-4", is four stories above a partially exposed basement. The front facade is three bays wide with the windows in the upper three floors grouped in pairs.

Adjoining the front portion is a middle four story and basement section that conforms in floor levels to the front portion. Its south wall, extending 89' along the alley, is flush with the south wall of the front portion, while the north wall is set back to form a light shaft.

At the rear is a third portion with basement and high second (gymnasium) floor. The north and south walls of this rear portion conform to those of the front portion of the structure. The rear portion measures 59' along the alley.

The basement is reached from the outside by means of a front entrance located to the left of the building's main entrance, as well as via interior stairs located near the center of the building, and stairs at the rear of the middle portion.

Some of the original basement spaces have been much altered. The bowling alley that extended along much of the south side has been divided into two rooms. A "Log Cabin Room," the decor apparently dating from the 1930s, with false brick fireplace with arched stone opening, is located in the northeast corner. A long central passageway leads to the rear portion of the building where the locker and shower facilities and the boiler room are located. From this rear portion there is access to the swimming pool. The concrete-sided pool-- unused for many years -- runs east and west in the north half of the center portion of the building. The pool, which is located in a room with a low ceiling, originally received natural light by means of sky lights on the north side (the outlines of which are still visible on the ceiling).

On the first floor, an entrance vestibule, 8' by 9', with three steps, leads into a large lobby. To the right, on the north, is a large social room,21' by 36', that was originally known as the "Home Parlor." This room originally opened fully onto the lobby, but a modern partition separates them. To the left of the lobby are two rooms which probably originally matched the open arrangement and size of the "Home Parlor," and which originally may have been the reading room and/or billiard room.

Opening into the north side of the lobby is an open-well three run stairway that provides access to the basement and all upper floors. Across from the stairway, on the left hand side of the lobby, is the clerk's desk, a replacement of the original.

Through the middle of the first floor is an eight foot wide corridor. To the right of it is the kitchen and dining room. Because of the inconvenience of the kitchen to the outside exit (across the corridor), the dining room and kitchen may not have been a part of the original design. The Bee of Aug. 10, 1918. mentioned that new YMCA cafeteria "will be ready soon." Apparently there was originally a pantry between the two rooms.

To the left of the center corridor are four offices and a stair hall, all of which apparently conform to the original plan.

At the rear of the corridor, double doors lead into the 42' by 61' gymnasium with 29' ceiling. Completely surrounding the gymnasium are two flat balconies, the upper one narrower than the lower.

First floor ceilings, excepting the gymnasium, are thirteen feet high.

The second floor generally follows the layout of the first floor. The front portion is divided into five rooms, three of them facing the street. A meeting room, 52'-10" by 25' -4", corresponds to the area of the dining room kitchen and center corridor of the first floor. Judging by the arrangement of doors in this room, it may originally have been divided into more rooms. Running east and west is an off center corridor. To the south of this corridor is a series of sleeping rooms. At the end of the corridor are short flights of steps leading upward and downward to the two gymnasium balconies.

The third and fourth floors are identical. Each floor has twenty-three sleeping rooms, eighteen of which are along both sides of a long eight foot wide corridor running east and west. The remaining six rooms face Twelfth Street and open onto a dog-legged cross hall that is four feet wide. Typical rooms are 8'-6" by 19', 9'-6" by 21', and 7'-6" by 21' (including large closet space in each room). Ceilings on both floors are nine feet high.

At the south end of the cross-hall and the west end of the main corridor are fire escapes. On each floor also is a room with bathing and toilet facilities, storage room, and linen closet.

The YMCA closed in 1982. In 1998, after falling into great disrepair, the Thurgood Marshall Center began restoration of the building, which was completed in 2000.