One hundred years ago, in 1907, a marble building that had been formally dedicated four years earlier was completed on 11th Street. It was a brand-new YMCA, built for that august organization’s Columbus chapter which, formed in 1856, is now the third-oldest Y in the U.S. Money for the project had been donated by one of the most famous and distinguished of Columbus luminaries: business leader, social activist and philanthropist George Foster Peabody.
Modeled after the main YMCA building in London, it was the only marble Y in the United States. The original buildings and later additions served as this city’s Central YMCA until as recently as 2010, when the new John P. Thayer YMCA opened at the north end of Broadway.
The 1903 building, owned by nearby First Presbyterian Church since 2004, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But over the long years of its existence and use, and especially in the short time since it officially closed, it has deteriorated so badly and so fast that it is now also listed on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2017 list of “Places in Peril.”
Now, thanks to another Columbus businessman of another century, it looks very possible that the historic site can stay on the first of those lists and get off the second. As reported by Chuck Williams, local vehicle accessory and repair business owner Jason Gamache is in the process of buying the YMCA building from the church for an undisclosed price.
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The best signals from the buyer are that while he doesn’t yet know exactly what he plans to use the building for, he intends to restore it, not raze it.
“The first thing that I want to do is get the building where we don’t have leaks or damage to the historical value,” Gamache said. “This was one of the pieces of property that I rode by almost every day and I felt like it needed to be saved.”
Early indications are that he’s leaning toward converting the building for residential use after it has been restored: “The more people we can get living in the uptown area,” he said, “the more opportunities that will be presented.”
One detail that might or might not be relevant in this case: When the Georgia Trust place historic sites on its “Peril” list, the organization can offer help in finding financial resources and alliances for restoration of historic properties. Whether that option is or will be involved in restoring the Peabody YMCA building is not yet known.
What we do know is that an invaluable and irreplaceable piece of local history, one that had fallen into the kind of deterioration that can eventually become irreversible, looks to be getting a second life.