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9 months after move, St. Louis nonprofit still uncovers history-filled rooms at old North Side YMCA

A view of the old North Side YMCA building from the old Sportsman's Park in JeffVanderLou. Mission: St. Louis, a local non-profit, recently moved to the building and has uncovered some unexpected surprises and historic elements.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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A view of the old North Side YMCA building from the old Sportsman's Park location in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood. Mission: St. Louis, a non-profit organization, moved to the building and has uncovered some unexpected surprises and historic elements.

This story originally aired on St. Louis on the Air on July 26, 2017. It was rebroadcast on Oct. 12, 2017.

If you’ve undertaken any kind of home renovation project, you’ve probably encountered a few, well, we’ll call them pleasant surprises.

But they’re likely nowhere near the size of the surprises that Josh Wilson and Jason Watson, the executive director and Beyond Jobs director at local nonprofit Mission: St. Louis, have found in a move they recently made from a 5,000-square-foot building in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood to a historic. 87,000 square-foot building in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood.

“I would say for the first four or five months, we were randomly finding rooms we did not know existed,” Wilson told St. Louis on the Air producer Kelly Moffitt. “Last month, there was one building that we heard was an old handball court, right off of the fourth floor, and since we had been in it for seven months, we had never seen it, never been inside of it, and it is unbelievable, old spiral staircase winding its way up.”  

A postcard showing the North Side YMCA in 1918.
Credit Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection | Springfield College Archives and Special Collections
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A postcard showing the North Side YMCA in 1918.

The building is the old North Side YMCA, originally built in 1918, located at the corner of North Grand Boulevard and Sullivan Avenue, kitty-corner from the old Sportsman’s Park location. The building is a monolith, brick and stone, rising up five stories over Grand. Inside, historic treasures abound, but you might not know it unless you’ve had the chance to enter or grew up going to the YMCA.

Finds in the building include a full floor of white and emerald marble tile hidden under linoleum, the old layouts of YMCA hotel rooms, a well-preserved wooden basketball court and racquetball courts, and, the pièce de résistance, an original 1918 tiled pool in the basement. Apparently, the design used for the pool is the same one that was used for the design of the pool in the basement of the White House.

“I know a few people that were able to actually utilize the YMCA at the time,” said Watson, who directs the jobs program. “… If you talk to people in the community, this is one of those places where everyone knows what you’re talking about and knows where the meet-up spot is.”

Listen to an audio tour of the old North Side YMCA and a discussion about what Mission: St. Louis hopes to develop in the building:

Mission: St. Louis is a non-profit dedicated to finding ways to eradicate poverty here through education, community programs and job development. For the past two years, they’ve been looking for a space to expand their work, while reinvesting in a part of St. Louis that has seen a lot of disinvestment in the past decades.

In moving to the old North Side YMCA, the team is envisioning a space that will fully realize a holistic workforce development pipeline. While restoring the building’s historic elements, they’re in the slow-but-sure process of renovating classrooms for their job training program, a business incubator, co-working and manufacturing space as well as a wellness center to benefit program participants and the North St. Louis community.    

Josh Wilson, executive director of Mission: St. Louis, and Jason Watson, director of the Beyond Jobs program for the organization, pose in the entryway of the old North Side YMCA building.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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Josh Wilson, executive director of Mission: St. Louis, and Jason Watson, director of the Beyond Jobs program for the organization, pose in the entryway of the old North Side YMCA building.

The hope is to have funding secured through grants and the restoration/renovation process begun by April of 2018, but that hasn’t stopped Mission: St. Louis from working in the building since last September.

“I would even say [the rehab process] plays a role into the work we do,” said Watson. “The work we do is unlike other types of work: sometimes you make an investment, and you don’t see a return on investment. That would be crazy for some people. Some people don’t want to make investments in anything that they don’t think can guarantee them a return. We realized that people don’t work that way. You make investments in people because they are people. That plays a role in how we maneuver and do things here.”

Below, get a glimpse at some of the historic spaces in the old North Side YMCA building:

The entry way to Mission: St. Louis. Note the emerald and marble tile floors, original to the YMCA.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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The entry way to Mission: St. Louis. Note the emerald and marble tile floors, original to the YMCA.
Detail of the emerald and green marble tiles on the floor, previously covered by linoleum.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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Detail of the emerald and green marble tiles on the floor, previously covered by linoleum.
A fake fireplace facade sits in the main hall of Mission: St. Louis space. Wilson was unsure when it was originally installed, but it is not connected to a working fireplace.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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A fake fireplace facade sits in the main hall of Mission: St. Louis space. Wilson was unsure when it was originally installed, but it is not connected to a working fireplace.
A view of the main hall of Mission: St. Louis, where private meeting spaces, lounge, and directory will be housed.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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A view of the main hall of Mission: St. Louis, where private meeting spaces, lounge, and directory will be housed.

A view of a basement hallway with classrooms that will be converted into counseling and group counseling spaces. Halfway through it, you can see tile that abruptly starts and stops.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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A view of a basement hallway with classrooms that will be converted into counseling and group counseling spaces. Halfway through it, you can see tile that abruptly starts and stops.

  

A view of the original 1918 pool in the basement of the North Side YMCA building in JeffVanderLou.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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A view of the original 1918 pool in the basement of the North Side YMCA building in JeffVanderLou.

Detail of the marble tile in the original old North Side YMCA pool.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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Detail of the marble tile in the original old North Side YMCA pool.

  

The third floor of the old YMCA was where the "hotel rooms" for those who stayed were located. In the future, Mission: St. Louis hopes to renovate the area to become a coworking space for businesses.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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The third floor of the old YMCA was where the "hotel rooms" for those who stayed were located. In the future, Mission: St. Louis hopes to renovate the area to become a coworking space for businesses built in north St. Louis.
A view out the windows of the third floor of the old North Side YMCA of the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, formerly Sportsman's Park. On the floor, you can see the layout of old YMCA hotel rooms.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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A view out the windows of the third floor of the old North Side YMCA of the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club, formerly Sportsman's Park. On the floor, you can see the layout of old YMCA hotel rooms.

  

A view of the original wooden court and track inside the old North Side YMCA.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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A view of the original wooden court and track inside the old North Side YMCA.

  

An old racquetball court has been converted into a weight-lifting gym, providing a space for wellness in JeffVanderLou.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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An old racquetball court has been converted into a weight-lifting gym, providing a space for wellness in JeffVanderLou.

  

While the funding for a full renovation process will likely not be complete until April 2018, Mission: St. Louis staffers are already working in portions of the building on the first floor that have been remodeled for office space.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio.
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While the funding for a full renovation process will likely not be complete until April 2018, Mission: St. Louis staffers are already working in portions of the building on the first floor that have been remodeled for office space.
A view of the Gateway Arch from the old North Side YMCA. Mission: St. Louis hopes to install a porch here one day.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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A view of the Gateway Arch from the old North Side YMCA. Mission: St. Louis hopes to install a porch here one day.

  

The original cornerstone of the old North Side YMCA, denoting its origin year of 1918.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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The original cornerstone of the old North Side YMCA, denoting its origin year of 1918.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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