|Someone caught a big time fish.|
Lots of forlorn places.
This isn't one of them.
Today, we're going to talk about a YMCA. I'm surprised I haven't spoken about them before, actually. The Young Men's Christian Association started in 1844 and established activity centers in the hearts of American cities great and small. Their buildings were usually multistory and grand - here's a good example from Norfolk, Virginia. And another here.
|If you squint, you can read the letters.|
It sat like that for 20 years.
Until 2010, that is, when Brad and Shellie Barnett bought the building from a holding company that hadn't put it to any good use. The roof was leaking, the paint was chipping, etc., etc. But that didn't matter to them. To them, the YMCA was a spark of life for a downtown Little Rock that desperately needed it.
So the Barnetts are repairing the YMCA. They live inside. Brad has an insurance agency on the first floor, and some businesses will be moving in later this year. I called the Barnetts, and they graciously gave me a tour of the building. It's really like nothing you've ever seen before.
The mission-style elements are everywhere, mixed in with fanciful Greek reliefs and columns. It feels like a hybrid of an Italian palazzo, a Spanish mission and the palace at Minos.
Oh. And the tile work.
It's amazing, and it's everywhere, absolutely everywhere. Just look at that staircase, where every step has a different design. (By an odd quirk, Shellie told me, the city still technically owns the tile work.) And check out this gem:
This would have meant something entirely different in 1928 than it does now. Besides that, the floor tiles are covered with symbols like the fleur de lis and others. All different. Everywhere.
There's a plaza in the center with a fountain:
|The fountain looks like this.|
|Work in progress, of course.|
Did I mention there's a pool?
It's tough to see by looking at the pictures, but the whole thing is made of tile. The floor, the sides, everything. Shellie told me some of the pool experts she had visit were completely dumbfounded by that detail. Interestingly, one stipulation of the Barnetts using the building was that they must only use the pool for personal purposes. I know, right?
There's a bunch more that I didn't get to see, like an old basketball court and the rooms where people would spend the night (It's fun to stay at the YMCA, remember?). Here are some more exterior shots:
|Bricks and Gutters|
|The plans call this a "balcony," but I wouldn't stand on it|
|You can see Regions Bank photobombing there|
|Left bars are original, right are near-perfect reconstruction|
|A new lantern, hand-made|
|More ornate bars|
|SPIRIT - MIND - BODY|
For some more (awesome) pictures of the old building, check out this gallery. They were taken by Paul Henry, chairman of the Little Rock YMCA board, in 2009, long before the Barnett's work began.