December 02, 2013

Photo Essay: The Rebirth of Paul Williams' 28th Street Y

When the Paul Williams-designed 28th Street YMCA building...

...which stood languishing for decades...

...was recently reborn...

...this South LA community got two new facilities out of its historic rehabilitation.

The VCN City of Los Angeles Youth-Source Center and the 28th Street Apartments, a new affordable housing development.

Already nearly at full capacity after having opened for occupancy December 2012, the 28th Street Apartments provides a total of 49 studio-sized single units (24 in the original historic building and 25 in the new annex in the rear), primarily occupied by transition-age youth (including those coming out of foster care), the formerly homeless, and special needs individuals and families.

With the addition of the new residential wing, the units are now twice their original size, with their own heating/cooling controls, private bathrooms, and kitchenettes.

The key here, however, is providing not just a permanent place for them to live, but - as with the Carver Apartments on Skid Row - also onsite services, including service coordinators and case managers.

This tactic has been proven to ensure their long-term success, and prevent future homelessness. But beyond providing service to the community, the co-developers and architects faced a challenge in their year-and-a-half construction project: to preserve and reinstate the original composition of the 1926 building.

Significant as an African-American YMCA designed by the first African-American member of the AIA (and first licensed west of the Mississippi), and situated in an underserved neighborhood near the historic Central Avenue jazz corridor...

...they wanted to bring the Spanish-Colonial Revival building back, and modernize it for contemporary use. They added some cages to the front-facing windows and ADA accessible features...

...and reproduced some of the original window grills and front door wooden spindles. Window glass that had been shattered was fixed or replaced, miraculously preserving the wooden frames on the upper two floors (which were boarded up for years).

The lobby of the “Y” – now the community center – features original concrete ceilings.. array of Ernest Batchelder tiles (some that required recasting), and a brand new floor. Wood and doors salvaged from elsewhere in the building have been reused for desks and other furniture.

The community gym has been restored into a shiny new recreation space...

...with a brand new floor reflecting the reused basketball headboards that have hung there since perhaps the 1950s.

Paint was stripped from the brick walls to restore them to their original condition.

Outside, the original sidewalk from 1926 was broken up...

...and used as paving stones around the corner on Paloma Street by the residential entrance...

...marked by a perforated metal screen that reflects the relief ornamentation on the existing building.

The pattern allows the view to be seen even from inside the building...

...and is repeated on interior windows.

The rooftop deck of the original building, originally somewhat of a throwaway... now used as a social space to connect the two different residential sections (the new wing rising high above), its painted red color a riff on the original terracotta tiles.

For further sustainability, the roof houses solar-heated hot water...

...and cross-ventilating catwalks lead down from it as an additional exterior exits.

Because they couldn’t be added to the roof, vertical solar panels were placed onto the south-facing exterior walls of the new wing...

...creating energy that goes back into the public functions of the building (e.g. corridor lighting) and actually shading (and cooling) that side of the building from southern sun exposure - all contributing to the 28th Street Apartments’ LEED Gold certification.

One of the sacrifices that had to be made during the restoration was the tile swimming pool, which has been encapsulated in poured concrete, now forming the floor of the Apartments’ common room and kitchen. The original tile surrounds the ghostly outline of the pool, and if the concrete is ever removed (which it could be), the tile will have been preserved inside.

Throughout the process, the architects and developers were clearly mindful of who the YMCA was originally for (namely, African-American boys and men), and who would be residing in and using the new facility (and the addition of girls and women). So how do they make coming home to this place feel good?

The furniture shouldn’t look institutional.

Use of space and common areas should encourage social interaction – even if it’s just while doing laundry.

And most importantly, it shouldn’t feel like it was designed for just anybody, but for you.

The 28th Street Y is a cultural resource that is taken very seriously, and finally it's been given the attention it deserves.

Let's hope the community treats it with care, to prevent the necessity of future restorative overhauls...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Elevated Architecture Down on Skid Row
Photo Essay: Solstice Canyon

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