Friday, May 6, 2016

The Y

This morning I passed the corner of 17th St. and Rhode Island Avenue NW, and was again surprised to see the YMCA closed, though it has been closed since the end of last year. The YMCA sold the property to a developer, which so far has done nothing with it.

When I moved to Washington at the end of the 1970s, this YMCA was in the news. It had just opened, and the membership fees were thought to be unusually expensive. The newspapers considered the question of who could afford it. Certainly I couldn't have, for I had very little money then. But a friend, an engineer who earned a good salary, found it more economical to sign up with the YWCA on 9th St. NW for his swimming. They had a men's locker room, and their rates were lower.

And now the YMCA hasn't been able to afford its old location. There has been an enormous increase in the number of gyms, presumably with prices better than the YMCA's, or perhaps with better or more focused programs. Shops have gradually vanished in downtown Washington, to be replaced largely by restaurants, banks, and gyms. The young professionals who would have been lifting weights or swimming at the YMCA are now doing cross-training or pilates at some smaller establishment, I guess.

I never stepped inside the building. I have always preferred running, for which Washington offers many excellent routes, to other forms of exercise. I will miss the children there for day camp in the summer. It was always good to pass by on a summer morning, and see young women and men of twenty or so signing in children of eight or ten who could hardly stand still for the excitement of being a child on a warm morning.

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