At 100, YMCA of Greenwich Savors Its View from the Top

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 9.18.21 PMIt started with a steep climb. Up, up, up multiple flights of blue metal temporary stairs, rising inside the scaffolding and cloak of blue mesh that surround the YMCA of Greenwich.

On Wednesday a small group loyal to the YMCA got see firsthand the work on a $1.6 Million project that includes restoration of the YMCA’s facade and cupola, a new slate roof and improvements to the gymnasium.

On the way to the cupola, it was possible to put a hand on the etched words that serve as a reminder of  the YMCA’s mission: Health, Knowledge, Character, Work, Play.

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The words “Work, Play, Health, Knowledge, Character,” along the facade of the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

With the YMCA of Greenwich marking its 100th anniversary this year, executive director Bob DeAngelo said the words are as valid as ever. “The words are timeless. These are the words we’re still talking about today.”

“When you get close to the craftsmanship, you appreciate the passion, dedication and spirit that went into the building – and the generosity that would make great moments for so many people,” he continued.

Bob DeAngelo said he was delighted when the decision was made not to rebuild the facade with plastic or wood, but rather to restore it to its original beauty and craftsmanship.

“It’s a full-scale restoration,” he said. “This is the first phase of a lot of deferred maintenance. The YMCA is adamant about preserving this for the next 100 years.”

DeAngelo said that while most members are mostly interested in the YMCA’s programming, keeping the building viable and safe is also important.

“Of the YMCA’s built in a certain era – if they don’t get fixed, and you don’t have the resources – it can be prohibitively expensive. Then you stand a chance of going out of business,” he said, acknowledging that many YMCA’s have shuttered.

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Bob DeAngelo waves as Angela Rende ascends the last flight of steps to the YMCA’s cupola. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

Facilities Manager Wesley Chang said that during the facade project, workers came across some structural challenges that were hidden. “There is always human error,” he acknowledged.

“Just imagine some of the patch jobs that were done in the 1930s,” Rende added.

Gene Martine, a daily visitor to the YMCA of Greenwich, made the climb to the cupola on Wednesday. “It’s the heart of the whole town,” he said of the YMCA. “It is such a shame that it hasn’t been better preserved.”

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Bob DeAngelo and Angela Rende take a moment to appreciate the copper cupola atop the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

Lifelong resident of Greenwich, Angela Rende, who serves as marketing and PR manager for the YMCA, learned to swim at the YMCA herself. She said that for decades, children rushed up the stairs to the original entrance of the building to get to their swimming lesson on time, and that when work is fiished, the original entrance will reopen.

Rende said that the goal of the restoration work is to preserve the iconic structure for another century. “This place is so special, we asked what can we do to guarantee it’s here for another 100 years?”

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Dizzying view of Mason Street from the top of the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

“It helps that it’s at the cross-roads of Greenwich,” said DeAngelo, of the YMCA’s location at the intersection of Putnam Ave and Mason Street.

“It’s the gem of the town,” said local architect Aris Crist, who joined the group in Wednesday’s climb.

The building had its groundbreaking in 1915. On the day of its completed on Nov. 14, 1916, the Greenwich News and Graphic reported on the building’s dedication. According to the report, a weekend open house drew hundreds of people of Greenwich and nearby towns to inspect the beautiful structure.

“Exclamations of amazement and admiration were common with parents who visited the building for the first time, the great beauty of the interior and the richness of the furnishings providing a pleasant surprise.

The wonderful swimming pool with its glass bottom, lighted by electric lights, is a thing of great beauty, besides being an indoor swimming place…Everyone who visited the pool was very favorably impressed and is destined to prove the most popular feature of the building,” the article said. “The gymnasium and running track took the eye of the younger people, who visited the building and well it might.” – Greenwich News and Graphic, Nov. 14, 1916

time capsuleWith this being the YMCA’s 100th year anniversary, many residents – past and present – have been offering mementos such as swimming lesson certificates from the 1950s to the YMCA’s archives.

According to Rende, there is a plan for a time capsule in the works, and some of the donated keepsakes will make their way into the time capsule. (To contact Rende call her at (203) 869-1630 ext 283 or email arende@gwymca.org)

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Greenwich native and longtime member of the YMCA of Greenwich, Gene Martine, is passionate about the restoration of the original building. Mr. Martine is part of a small committee organizing a time capsule for the 100th birthday of the building. “Very few people get so close to the copper and the cupola other than the workers,” Martine pointed out. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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The scaffolding-encrusted cupola atop the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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YMCA of Greenwich Facilities Manager, Wesley Chang; Marketing and PR manager Angela Rende, local architect Aris Crist, GFP editor Leslie Yager, longtime YMCA member Gene Martine alongside the copper cupola atop the YMCA of Greenwich. Photo: Bob DeAngelo

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Pediments being restored along the facade of the YMCA of Greenwich, Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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Copper cupola atop the YMCA of Greenwich with view to Long Island Sound in background. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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In the foyer of the YMCA of Greenwich, a photo of taken during construction over 100 years ago featured a row of majestic Elm trees. Unfortunately in the 1960s Dutch Elm Disease wiped out most American Elms.

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The words “Work, Play, Health, Knowledge, Character,” along the facade of the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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The words “Work, Play, Health, Knowledge, Character,” along the facade of the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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The words “Work, Play, Health, Knowledge, Character,” along the facade of the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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Though the YMCA is now coed, the words Young Men’s Christian Association are spelled out along the facade of the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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Aris Crist takes an up close look at the painstaking restoration of the YMCA of Greenwich’s facade. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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Restoration of the facade of the YMCA of Greenwich, Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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Restoration of the facade of the YMCA of Greenwich, Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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Slate roof tiles at the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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Samuel takes a moment to gaze down from the cupola atop the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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View of Manhattan skyline from the cupola of the YMCA of Greenwich, Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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From YMCA of Greenwich cupola, the view of Putnam Avenue and the spire of First Presbyterian Church at corner of Lafayette Place. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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At last the ascent leads to the copper clad cupola atop the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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View from the tip top of massive assembly of scaffolding at the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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View from roof of YMCA to the cupola, from a maze of scaffolding, ladders and platforms. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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At about the half way point in our ascent of scaffolding to the roof of the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016

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View of the Washington Street and the “L streets” – Lincoln, Lawrence, Lexington toward the Sound. Can you spot the roof of your home? Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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View of Mason Street with Long Island Sound in background from roof of YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

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View to the east from the roof of the YMCA of Greenwich with Second Congregational Church at intersection with Maple Ave in distance. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

 

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From the ground, a view of the blue mesh and scaffolding that cloaks the YMCA of Greenwich. Aug. 17, 2016 Credit: Leslie Yager

See also:

Happy New Year and Happy 100 Year Birthday, YMCA of Greenwich!

Happy Birthday Dear YMCA, Happy Birthday to You! (February kick off to the YMCA’s centennial year)


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Email news tips to Greenwich Free Press editor Leslie.Yager@GreenwichFreePress.com
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