Historic property nears 100 years, celebrates with upgrades
An historic Shreveport architectural icon has just undergone a two-year rehab project.
Built in 1924, the downtown YMCA is constructed in the Italian Renaissance style. It was designed by Clarence W. King and built for Shreveport entrepreneur Edward Jacobs, bearing a resemblance to Italy’s Villa Medici in Rome. Twin bell towers adorn the roof, which covers the triplearched entrance bordered by Corinthian columns.
In 2018, a property condition assessment by RECAP Real Estate Advisors of Boston, Mass., indicated the overall condition of the 43,000-square-foot building was fair, but it detailed some specific areas for attention.
Northwest Louisiana YMCA CEO Gary Lash said, “It’s a phenomenal building, but it needs a little upgrade here and there.”
To that end, the just-completed project focused on around $300,000 in updates and improvements. “We did some building repairs that you won’t see,” Lash said, but noted some areas where the changes will be obvious.
“When we started this revitalization program, we did the lobby first. See, the building was built in 1924, so I wanted it to look like 1920 when you walk in. Then you go into the rest of the building, and it’s new and updated. The walls are painted and everything, but they’re still the walls built in 1924. As far as equipment, it’s state of the art.”
Lash said the old equipment was probably 15 years old, some no longer working. Now, there are new cardio machines with TV monitors for health-conscious members to use.
Besides the all-new cardio equipment, there are new lockers in the men’s locker room, new carpeting in the ladies’ locker room, and the former social room has been transformed into a yoga/Pilates room. The facility offers a range of activities for members, and they can be found on the organization’s website at www.ymcanwla.org.
Besides its unique architecture, the YMCA shares a lot of history with its hometown.
“In 1923, there was a group of people who decided that we needed a YMCA in Shreveport,” Lash said. “We needed YMCAs, libraries, things like that. Preachers throughout the city were preaching sermons about (that) to enhance Shreveport. In 1923 in November, in eight days, this group of people raised $545,000 to build that Y. Isn’t that incredible?” In the early part of the 20th century, many of Shreveport’s major churches had their houses of worship in the downtown area, and the YMCA offered churchgoers an after-service destination: the basement cafeteria. “People would come out of church and go right into the Y cafeteria to eat. That was probably the only place down there,” Lash said.
Like the old Village People song says, you really could stay at the YMCA in the past. “Initially, the top two floors were rooms, 10-by-10, 10-by-12 rooms where people could rent a room by the week,” Lash explained. “In that day, a lot of corporate offices were here, and they would put their young executives in those rooms. Then, during both world wars, people came back and would stay in those rooms. USO dances were [held] down there, it’s got an incredible history tied in with the community of Shreveport.”
Inside the Downtown Y are a number of facilities not obvious from its Italianate exterior. The interior includes a fitness/ wellness center, a natatorium, gymnasium space, multipurpose rooms, locker rooms and various office/support-type spaces. In 1965, an addition to the original structure was completed for racquetball courts. Because it was a YMCA, there was no ladies’ locker room originally, but one was added in the mid-1980s. The last major project was the replacement of boilers in 2017.
The improvements are just beginning, according to Lash. “There are some other phases that we’re going to get to through some new market taxes or historic tax credits. Some HVAC, things like that, but that’s bigger dollars. We’re going to do some energy efficiency with SWEPCO (Southwestern Electric Power Company).”
The 95-year-old structure may be showing its age in a few places, but it is still a solid place, Lash said. Several years ago, when a windstorm blew through downtown Shreveport, knocking the steeple off First United Methodist Church, people ran into the building to seek shelter. He called it “a bomb shelter on land.”
Now, with the new paint, new equipment and amenity upgrades, Lash sees a bright future for the Downtown Y. “We’re trying to refurbish it and give it another hundred years.”