Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

YMCA Western Branch

Between 1910 and 1920 Detroit's population doubled to well over a million. As new communities began to develop and grow, so did the need for some form of organized recreation for the city's young boys and men. The creation of what became known as the Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) grew out of concern by the city's church community as a desire to "promote religious, moral and social welfare of the young men of this city..."

The YMCA saw as its objective the responsibility to improve the spiritual and intellectual conditions of the city's young.

By the early 1920's the population of the city's west side had grown to 178,000. The Western Branch of Detroit's YMCA opened in April, 1919 as the city's second community branch. Originally located in an office building at 532 Scotten Avenue, the Western "Y" became a focal point of the community. Soon the office on Scotten was no longer adequate. By the mid-1920's the YMCA Executive Board was soliciting donations for the construction of a new building, to be known as the Western Branch. This goal was accomplished through a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Edsel Ford of $750,000, providing for the complete cost of a new building.

On March 28, 1927 permit #26230 was issued to the architectural firm of Malcomson and Higginbotham for the construction of the YMCA Western Branch. The dedication was held on April 15, 1928.

Malcomson and Higginbotham were a Detroit architectural firm known for their favored status with the Detroit Board of Education. The substantial four-story brown brick YMCA building has a Spanish Romanesque feel to its detailing. The facade is basically arranged in three sections. Its two-story central projecting section is roofed with clay tiles; second story round-arched windows are paired; their shared impost block resembles a column capital and they share a brick column. A spandrel of masonrylozenge grillework gracefully completes the lower portion of this window arrangement; masonry window surrounds are seen on the first story of the projecting section and the second story of the remainder of the front facade. Stone is utilized for the basement level, belt courses between the first and second story, window surrounds of second story of the outer sections, windows above the portals, and first story portals with tympanums above which are the words "YOUNG MENS CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION". "BOY'S ENTRANCE" and "MEN'S ENTRANCE" are over their respective doorways. Modern aluminum doors have replaced the originals.

The two outer sections of the front facade that project from the recessed mass of the building are also interestingly arranged, especially near the top. Masonry balconets project beneath the sets of three round-arched windows that are outlined in stone and have shields and colored tile in their tympanums at fifth-story level. Much of the same detail can be seen on the side elevations. A brick arcaded corbel table beneath the copper gutters of the central section completes the composition.

In the late 1980’s the western branch became the home of two different programs – a daycare center for children, and a halfway house for non-violent criminals who had been released from prison. This strange arrangement divided the building in half, with the two sides physically separated. The program lasted until 1999, when the inmates were moved to another building.

The building sold in 2001 to a company owned by Dennis Kefallinos. It's been sitting vacant ever since.

Last updated 24/04/2023