March 7, 2018

The Landmark Revival of a Los Angeles YMCA

  • By: Cheryl Weber
The exterior of the 28th Street YMCA.

photo by: Eric Staudenmaier Photography

Los Angeles' 28th Street YMCA served as a vital part of the African-American community for many years before its transformation into low-income housing.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Preservation magazine.

The architecture of Paul Revere Williams mined the borders between exclusivity and social responsibility. No doubt he would approve of the restoration and expansion of the 28th Street YMCA he designed in 1926, near Central Avenue in South Los Angeles. The first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects, Williams (1894–1980) designed more than 2,000 homes—many for Hollywood stars such as Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball—as well as schools, hospitals, and public housing.

For decades, the 28th Street YMCA offered the African-American community low-cost accommodations. The property became rundown over the years, though, and nonprofit developer Clifford Beers Housing Inc. acquired it in 2008. The company hired Koning Eizenberg Architecture (KEA) to restore key elements of the Spanish Colonial Revival structure and create 49 apartments for low-income tenants, including a mentally ill, homeless, and post-foster care population.

Working from fuzzy photos and drawings, the architects recreated the wood entry doors, balcony, grills, and message board, and stripped paint from the cast-stone arched window surrounds. Inside, the ground floor contains a refurbished gym, support services, and community rooms. A new reception area sits atop the vintage pool, which was capped and preserved in place, leaving its mosaic tile outline intact.

The LEED Gold-certified building, which won multiple preservation awards last year, cleverly plays old against new. Its two original wings link Williams’ landmark to a thin, modern addition wrapped in perforated metal screens. The addition holds a solar hot water system and photovoltaic panels.

The light, ephemeral addition is very different from its cast stone and concrete counterpart, “so people can tell where Paul Williams’ work stopped and where ours picks up,” says Brian Lane of KEA. The metal screen’s decorative scroll pattern is a riff on a bas-relief at the top of the old YMCA. Says Lane: “You can add on and still admire the greatness of that original building.”

By: Cheryl Weber

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