You can certainly see the result of residential growth when driving around downtown Indianapolis and encountering numerous construction sites. All of these new people will certainly need more places to shop, eat, and play. A brand new recreational facility is under construction at the corner of South and Delaware Streets. However. the YMCA is hardly a new name to the downtown community. The Young Men’s Christian Association has a history in Indianapolis dating back to 1854. Did you know that the organization’s flagship facility once sat at 304 North Illinois Street?
A bold move was in the works in 1907. Having outgrown its current building at 33 North Illinois Street, a motion to approve construction of a new facility was made by YMCA President J. K. Lilly at the annual banquet held at the Claypool Hotel. The campaign was to benefit the construction of one of the finest facilities in the nation at a cost of 250,000.00 and mirrored a recent proposal in nearby Dayton, Ohio. Plans called for a spacious dormitory as the primary mission for the YMCA at the time was housing men 18-25 years of age who had come to the city for employment without the luxury of having family for support. However, plans also included construction of the “largest and finest” gymnasium in the state.
Development of the project came slowly. Due to lagging donations, the building was scaled back, shrinking from six stories to five. The final product featured considerably less ornamentation. That said, the new YMCA wasn’t without positives. The location at the northwest corner of Illinois and New York Streets was among some of the more luxurious flats being occupied by many young professionals of the day. Special care was given not to disturb the residents with noise from athletic facilities. A bowling alley and swimming pool were constructed at basement levels and separated by soundproof concrete. The offices and gymnasium were placed adjacent to the lobby. Separate facilities for boys under the age of 18 mirrored those intended for the older crowd. A January 1909 article boasts simplicity and function and that the city would not need another facility for years.
The prophecy of the 1909 article rang true. The Illinois Street YMCA served the city for over sixty years. A changing mission and population would lead to its downfall. After World War II, the YMCA focused on construction of suburban recreational centers. Many of these focused on athletic programs and did not feature dormitories housing young men. The YMCA on Illinois closed in 1971 and was demolished for parking. Today this stretch of Illinois Street that once featured grand structures such as the Y, the Maennerchor, and Saint Paul’s Episcopal Episcopal Church consists exclusively of towering concrete parking garages.
Indianapolis Star, February 6 1907
Indianapolis News, October 20 1908
Indianapolis News, January 14 1909
Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1994
I learned to swim there…