This branch was the successor to the “Colored Men’s Branch” of the YMCA, located on West 53rd Street between 1901 and 1919, and the West 135th Street Branch YMCA, built in 1918-19 at No. 181, across the street from the later building. African-American YMCAs were the result of the YMCA’s official policy of racial segregation, from the organization’s beginnings in the United States in 1851 until 1946.
Though excluded from white YMCAs, African Americans were encouraged to form separate branches, which became autonomous community centers. The 135th Street Branch YMCA, partially funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Julius Rosenwald, and the Phelps-Stokes Fund, was called at the time of its completion the largest such facility for African-American men and boys, as well as one of the best-equipped YMCA buildings, in the United States.
Eleven stories and clad in brick with neo-Georgian style details, the YMCA is C-shaped in plan above the four-story base, has setbacks, and is dominated by a tower that continues to be a major presence on the Harlem skyline.
In 1936, the name of the 135th Street Branch was officially changed to the Harlem Branch YMCA. It has served as one of Harlem’s most important recreational and cultural centers, and has been a significant purveyor of safe and affordable accommodations. Over the years the “Y” has had associations with many notable figures in the Harlem and African-American communities. The facility is known today as the Harlem YMCA.
STATUS Designated Individual Landmark
“I don’t know what the City would be without HDC. [They] testified before LPC time after time and helped us focus on the right issues. We would not be an historic district without HDC! ”
Doreen Gallo: DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance
“Use HDC as a resource because they know what they are doing and can offer advice on how to go about creating a district from every front: architectural, political, LPC, and the media. I had floundered prior to my involvement with this invaluable organization.”
Fern Luskin: Lamartine Place Historic District; Friends of Lamartine Place & Gibbons Underground Railroad Site
“HDC provided guidance and shared information during that process—we knew which Council members were going one way or another and we changed a few minds. I don’t think NoHo would have had as cohesive a district had it not been for HDC’s aid.”
Zella Jones: NoHo Historic District; NoHo East; and NoHo Extension
“I remember Richard saying at a meeting, we have someone here from HDC, Nadezhda Williams, Director of Preservation and Research, to help us. She said to us, ‘You are not the only ones going through this.’ HDC included us in an enormous community”
Erika Petersen: West End Preservation Society
"HDC has begun a series of projects to highlight the Bronx's architectural and cultural history. From booklet's and research highlighting specific sites and historic districts to the HDC's symposium in October 2018 to the latest community-based committee to look into further possible sites to qualify for landmarking, the HDC has established projects that will serve the Bronx community well."
City Lore, Folklorist
Bronx Music Heritage Center, Co-Artistic Director
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Ed García Conde,
founder and Executive Director,