Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage
District of Columbia| Posted: 11/30/2001
The historical significance of the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage (TMC) is two-fold. Distinguished by its history as the first full-service African American YMCA, the building itself is a historic site. Its presence in the historic U Street/ Shaw community, a neighborhood catering to the city`s African-American residents and visitors throughout the twentieth century, lends TMC a legacy celebrated by people in the past, present and future.
In 1853, Anthony Bowen founded the United States` first YMCA for African Americans. Bowen was a former slave who bought his freedom and became a civic leader in the nation`s capital. In addition to starting the YMCA, he successfully lobbied for public education for black Washingtonians, served on the city`s common council, and founded St. Paul`s A.M.E. Church.
The YMCA that Bowen founded met in various places for decades until it raised $100,000 to construct the Italian Renaissance building now known as the Thurgood Marshall Center. John D. Rockefeller and Julius Rosenwald each contributed $25,000. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone in 1908. President William Taft spoke at the nearby Howard Theatre to urge the raising of the last $15,000. W. Sidney Pittman, one of America`s first African-American architects, and the son-in-law of Booker T. Washington, was hired as the architect. The first Twelfth Street YMCA brochure boasted that a black worker had laid every brick. When the building opened in 1912, it was the first full-service YMCA constructed for African Americans in the nation.
For seventy years, the Twelfth Street YMCA was a community center for black Washingtonians in the neighborhood and around the city. It was a place to meet friends and play sports, a place to start new organizations and to mobilize the community for a cause, a place to socialize and celebrate. For many, including travelers like the poet Langston Hughes and Howard University students, the Y dormitories were a home away from home. For youth, it was a place to find role models. Former Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Charles Drew, and many others of great achievements have been associated with this YMCA.
To honor its founder, the building was renamed the Anthony Bowen YMCA in 1972, and was awarded Category II Landmark status by the District of Columbia government in 1976. In 1982, the Metropolitan Washington YMCA, due to its dire need for expensive repairs, closed the building. Community members organized by the Shaw Ad Hoc Committee fought to prevent the building from being demolished and in 1985 the Shaw Heritage Trust was formed to initiate redevelopment of the building. A capital campaign was started, For Love of Children was selected as a development partner, and the building was declared a National Historic Landmark. The name of the building was changed to the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage.
Reconstruction of the building began in September 1998 and was completed in February 2000. In 1999, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared the building one of America`s Treasures. Significant areas were restored to original levels of finish and much of the building was redesigned to accommodate nonprofit tenants. Tenants include For Love of Children, the Shaw Heritage Trust, the Columbia Heights Shaw Family Support Collaborative, the National and Local Chapters of Concerned Black Men, the Menare Foundation, and Experience Corps. Working together, these organizations will continue to address the needs of the community and prolong the legacy of the building as the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage.
The restoration faced many challenges, including:
- Fixing a crack in the front of the NE corner of the building that went through the masonry wall added a structural problem that was addressed by creating structural reinforcement through the construction
- Dealing with third and fourth floors that were built with ceilings too low for easy installation of heating and air conditioning systems.
- Finding affordable replacements for thermal windows appropriate to the historic character and preservation requirements for the building.
- Locating replacements for scattered panels of the wainscoting on historic area walls that had deteriorated. The original wood was Chestnut; however, Chestnut trees have become very scarce. A special stain was prepared to cover Oak wood that replaced the Chestnut.
To continue providing the level of service to the community originally envisioned by Anthony Bowen and carried forward by Thurgood Marshall, the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust was committed to creating a multi-tenant non-profit center. This unique project has combined service organizations and heritage organizations to create programs that strengthen and inspire children, and families in need. The many programs and services offered by organizational tenants at TMC include Concerned Black Men`s National and Local Chapters hosting over ten programs benefiting the community; the Columbia Heights-Shaw Family Support Collaborative offers over five emergency intervention and prevention programs to over eighty community families; The Menare Foundation and The Shaw Heritage Trust work with children and community members to document, record, research and educate on the history of the community from the early 1400`s to present day- using this history as a tool to motivate and inspire people in general and youth specifically. The Experience Corps mobilizes caring older adults to assist children providing tutoring, mentoring and classroom assistance. Experience Corps has mobilized over 30 tutors in and from the Shaw Community positively affecting over 394 children from Shaw.
For Love of Children, our anchor tenant, is just one example of an organization that provides services that directly benefit the community at large - an over three-year family stabilization program for homeless and low-income families. The Hope and a Home Program offers transitional housing coupled with financial, educational, parental, and vocational training; its goals are self-sufficiency, home ownership and financial independence. Hope and A Home serves 24 families.
A unique and innovative "back to basics" tutoring program for 450 loca1 children is yet another of FLOC`s programs. The Neighborhood Tutoring Program (NTP) guarantees each participating child 100% mastery of grade-appropriate reading and math skills; children advance approximately 2 full grade levels for each 20 hours of tutoring. The program uses a carefully structured curriculum, intensively trained volunteer tutors and frequently administered standardized tests to ensure the success of the participating children.
FLOC`s after-school and summer program that utilizes experiential education to teach, motivate and challenge 125 Shaw children. The Shaw Neighborhood Adventure Project provides a year-round continuum of activities including wilderness camping, mountain biking, canoeing, horseback riding, nature study, dancing, cooking, computer/internet training, soccer and basketball. This comprehensive program encourages the formation of positive peer groups and supports the cultural, artistic, educational, and recreational development of the child.
The Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage is a National Historic Landmark Building as described in the National Register of Historic Places and also maintains the distinction of beings a Local Historic Landmark. The building is located in the heart of the Shaw neighborhood, a National Historic District. The neighborhood was located in the northernmost part of the early city of Washington. One hundred twenty-five years ago, this city, laid out by Pierre L`Enfant and Benjamin Bannaker in 1791, was bounded by the Potomac and Anacostia rivers on the South and today`s Florida Avenue and Benning Road on the north. The area of Shaw grew along with the City from its start as only scattered buildings through 1860.
In these early years, Shaw became the site of three Civil War camps. These camps were safe havens for freedmen fleeing the South. The area was home to both whites and African Americans and would remain so throughout the nineteenth century. From 1871-1874, the Board of Public Works undertook a massive effort to modernize the city. Public improvements made Shaw ripe for development, and the area experienced its first wave of building. The first houses developed provided shelter for people of varying means. Many of these houses still stand.
From 1874-1900, another building boom occurred. Brick structures built in the late 19th Century boast an assortment of turrets, bays, decorated cornices, dormer windows and other sometimes exuberant decorations still found in the residential architecture of Shaw today.
For more information contact:
Thurgood Marshall Center Trust
1816 Twelfth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009