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Downtown L.B. to Get Back in the Swim : YMCA Hopes Pool Will Boost Business, Help Inner-City Youth

January 23, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — There are longtime residents of this city who can't drive by the corner of 6th Street and Long Beach Boulevard without imagining the smell of chlorine.

For nearly 60 years at that site, the old downtown YMCA, then open only to males, attracted thousands of young boys to its imposing 70,000-square-foot brick building. Many learned to swim in the 25-by-60-foot tiled swimming pool that had graced the building's basement since its construction in 1922.

"It played a very significant role in the upbringing of many people who are now important men in the community," said Tom Clark, a Long Beach City Councilman and former mayor who remembers swimming in the pool as a boy. "You'd walk into the heat and the chlorine and it was like an inner sanctum."

Six years ago that inner sanctum became part of a parking lot. No longer in compliance with state earthquake standards, the building that housed it was torn down in 1980 and replaced by a smaller but more modern glass-and-steel structure featuring a gym, indoor track, sauna, weight room and racquetball courts--but no pool.

The old pool, still intact, had been filled with debris and paved over to form a portion of the new building's parking lot. And construction of a pool on the grounds to replace it had been postponed due to cost increases unforeseen by YMCA planners.

Last week, in a move hailed by community and YMCA leaders as long overdue and a boon to the downtown area, the Y finally dedicated a site for a new swimming pool to be built this summer and completed by early November.

'A Recreational Outlet'

"We need it," said Clive Graham Jr., president of a local property management firm and a YMCA board member. "There's no place down here to swim. It will mean a recreational outlet for inner-city kids."

The pool is expected to boost the Y's membership by about 20% and enable it to compete with full-service facilities in what has become a highly competitive health and recreation field, said Ron Johnson, executive director of the downtown branch. "Five out of every six people who walk in ask us where the pool is as one of their first three questions," Johnson said.

Though in the downtown redevelopment area, financing for the new YMCA has been entirely private. Money for the 42-by-75-foot enclosed pool--to be on the north side of the existing building--was donated by more than 200 corporations, foundations and individuals, YMCA officials said. Though only $400,000 of the pool's $700,000 price tag has been raised, the YMCA publicly committed itself to the pool's construction as a demonstration of confidence.

The fund-raising campaign was part of a two-year effort by the nonprofit organization to raise $1.8 million to pay off a $1-million debt on its new building and construct the pool. By last week's dedication ceremony, according to Johnson, $1.4 million had been raised in individual contributions ranging from $15 to $500,000.

Johnson said the new pool--to be named after Evelyn B. Craddock McVicar, a Long Beach widow who made a major contribution toward its construction--will be used, among other things, to provide free swimming lessons for area children and exercise opportunities for local senior citizens who join the Y at reduced rates. Also, he said, the pool will be open to the downtown Y's approximately 2,600 regular members, each of whom pays $260 a year in dues.

More Members Expected

Johnson said he expects the pool to boost membership by about 500 within the first six months. The downtown branch, the oldest of five YMCAs in the greater Long Beach area, is the only one without a pool.

(City pools in central Long Beach include one at Martin Luther King Jr. Park near Lemon Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway and at Silverado Park, near 32nd Street and Santa Fe Avenue. Neither is within easy walking distance of the downtown Y.)

"We'll probably get more women," Johnson said of the branch membership, now 30% female. "For some reason, women seem to like pools."

Back in the old days, of course, a woman probably would have been chased away with a paddle board had she ever mistakenly shown up.

When Long Beach's first Y opened in 1884 near what later became the Pike, its primary focus was on providing Bible study in a Christian environment to young men far away from home. Around 1900 the organization moved to Locust Avenue, and in 1922 to the old brick Long Beach Boulevard building which, to better accomplish the organization's goals, featured the tiled indoor pool and 128 dormitory rooms.

The idea, according to Robert G. Felder, president and general manager of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach, whose five branches in Long Beach, Lakewood and Bellflower serve more than 32,000 members, was to provide young Christian men with an inexpensive place to stay while involving them in YMCA activities aimed at helping them get established.

Male Tradition

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