Located in the heart of the Upper West side is the main NYC branch of the YMCA (5 West 63rd Street). Originally an English institution, the first Y in the US was formed as a “home away from home” for sailors and merchants in Boston in the 1850’s. By the 1890’s there were Ys across the country and around the world, all with the aim of providing both physical training and vocational programs for both boys and young men.
Incidentally, volleyball was “invented” by the YMCA as a sport that incorporated elements of basketball, tennis and handball to create a less strenuous sport for businessmen to participate in.
By 1930, the Y was looking for a new home in New York, and its president, Cleveland Dodge, hired Dwight James Baum, a prominent residential architect, who had, among many of his successful homes in Riverdale, also designed the residence for Dodge.
Baum was trained in architecture at Syracuse University, and in 1925 was the youngest architect to receive the gold medal from the Architecture League of New York. Baum was equally adept at incorporating elements of Tudor, Italian, Colonial, and Mediterranean styles to create grand homes that evoked “simplicity and charm.” According to Robert A.M. Stern in his epic tome New York 1930, Baum had produced “a near perfect balance between metropolitan scale and suburban charm” for the new Y.
The building, situated midblock between Central Park West and Columbus Avenues has fronts both on 63rd and 64th streets. Internally, the building was divided to separate the activities of the men from those of the boys, even providing separate swimming pools and a common lunch room that was divided in the middle by a wall. Apparently there were concerns about keeping young boys out of the harmful reach of grown men.
The style for this building is based on medieval Italian architecture, with Romanesque arches and polychromatic terra cotta ornamentation. On the 63rd street façade, the multiple setbacks and battlements give the impression of a castellated Italian village. The central tower on this side rises to an octagonal roof. On the other side on 64th street, the façade is more unified with a limestone base, in place of the special red brick produced in South Carolina, and is punctuated with a series of circular windows. Above the third floor balcony the relatively blank face is accented with three arched windows that are crowned with lion heads protruding from the base and apex of the arch. Above these, a series of whimsical gargoyles extend in the form of faces with hands holding their cheeks. Elsewhere other ornamental features accent the rich façade.
The building was expanded several times, first in 1931 by Baum to create a trade school, and then again in 2001 to create a 41-storey condominium tower by the firms Beyer Blinder Belle and Costas Kondylis and Partners.