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Historic building to get new life

Former Anthony Bowen YMCA in Shaw

will become center for service and heritage

(Published February 22, 1999)


Staff Writer

It was home to Langston Hughes in the 1920s. It was where a young Thurgood Marshall met with his teacher and mentor. It was where the D.C. chapter of the NAACP was founded and where a high school recruiter spotted a young John Thompson playing basketball in the gym.

But the place where the poet, U.S. Supreme Court justice, civil rights organization and superstar coach got their start — Washington’s first full-service YMCA for black residents — was boarded up and empty for more than 15 years.

The former Anthony Bowen YMCA, a five-story brick building at 1816 12th St. NW designed by Booker T. Washington’s son-in-law William Sidney Pittman in 1908, is on its way to a new life.

A $6.2-million restoration project will turn the building into the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage, a 35,000-square-foot community center with offices for nonprofits, meeting spaces, social services, a gym and possibly a computer lab. Construction has been underway since September.

The Shaw Heritage Trust, a local nonprofit, and For Love of Children, a local adoption and foster care center that will rent much of the renovated space, have teamed up on the project.

While the building’s two-tone brick facade and portico with marble columns will be preserved, most of the interior — including the old swimming pool and dormitory rooms — will have to be gutted, said Norris Dodson, a local realtor and president of Thurgood Marshall’s board of trustees. One exception is the gym, which will be restored to its original condition, with wooden floors and two tiers of running track, he said.

But for now, workers are busy removing toxic lead paint and asbestos from the building.

Eventually, most of the first floor and center hall will be restored to their original condition. A "heritage room" on the first floor will house exhibits and displays about the history of the building and the surrounding Shaw neighborhood. One room will be refurbished as a replica of the dormitories where people such as Hughes once lived. Most other rooms will be used for offices and meeting spaces.

The project is funded through a combination of loans and grants from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. Other funding came from the Freddie Mac Foundation, Fannie Mae, and the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation.

The construction was financed by Franklin National Bank, the Metropolitan Life Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. DHCD contributed a $1 million grant and a $500,000 low-interest loan. The loans are expected to be repaid through contributions and rent charged to occupants of the building.

Dodson said he expects construction to be finished by the end of the year. He said his organization hopes to hold a celebration marking the turn-of-the-century in conjunction with the center’s opening.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator