Historic marble ‘Y’ in disrepair

It’s too bad Columbus native George Foster Peabody isn’t around to help restore the historic Columbus building his generosity and public spirit made possible in the first place.

But the great Georgia businessman and philanthropist (who would be 164 now), died in Warm Springs in 1938. Probably his most enduring legacy in the community of his birth is the 1903 YMCA building on 11th Street, built for what is now the third oldest Y in the United States, having been formed in 1856. The structure reportedly is modeled after the main YMCA building in London, and according to Etta Blanchard’s “Columbus on the Chattahoochee” is the only marble Y building in the U.S.

As enduring as Peabody’s legacy has been, the building itself can’t endure indefinitely without some serious restoration. Since the Central Y’s move to the new John P. Thayer building on 14th Street in 2010, the Peabody building has deteriorated so badly and so quickly that it is on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2017 list of the state’s “Places in Peril.”

According to the Georgia Trust, inclusion on this annual list means the organization will help find “financial resources and partnerships in order to reclaim, restore and revitalize historic properties.” (The restored Pasaquan art site near Buena Vista, now operated by CSU, was on the list several years ago.)

First Presbyterian Church, which owns the building, has tried to sell it, but with no success. Restoration of the building for office, academic or some other contemporary use would be an expensive process, as retrofitting of archival structures usually is.

But this building is both an architectural and a historic treasure in this community. Maybe this designation by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation will be a significant step in saving it.

Clearing the air

There’s nothing good about this persistent drought. But at least if there’s smoke in the air these days, it’s less likely to be from tobacco.

Thursday was the annual Great American Smokeout. There’s no way to know how many Americans took advantage of the occasion and kicked the nicotine habit — and how many lives will be saved as a result.

But we do know, thanks to the latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, that cigarette smoking hit an “all-time” (i.e., since such statistics have been measured) low of 15.1 percent in 2015. That’s a drop of nearly 10 percentage points — which translates into millions of people — over just 10 years.

“That’s a remarkable number,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told the Augusta Chronicle. “That number represents literally millions of people who will not develop cancer or die from it.”

Unfortunately, that 15-plus percent who still smoke also represents millions of Americans — about 36 million, according to CDC estimates, and about 6 million of those will die of smoking-related cancer.

The Great American Smokeout is past, but the opportunity to quit is there for every smoker, every day.