When the Young Women's Christian Association holds its formal dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. today, it will celebrate both the opening of its new building at Ninth and G streets NW, and its hope for an era of financial stability after suffering more than a decade of operating losses.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will be the guest speaker, and D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis will be on hand to dedicate the structure that will house the D.C. Branch YWCA and the National Capitol Area YWCA, a coalition of seven area branches.
The new building replaces the well-known YWCA which stood at 17th and K streets NW for 55 years. That structure was sold and razed last February to make way for a new office building.
Meanwhile, the newly constructed nine-story YWCA opened in June, featuring a performing arts auditorium with stage, gymnasium, an Olympic-size swimming pool, whirlpool, sauna and several exercise, meeting and classroom areas on the first 5 1/2 floors. And the association still plans to sell its famous chocolate chip cookies.
Designed by local architect Chloethiel Woodard Smith, the new building stretches lengthwise along the G Street plaza and faces the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. Its neighbors include the National Museum of American Art (formerly the National Collection of Fine Arts) and the National Portrait Gallery.
Smith said that because the site was long and narrow, it was a challenge to design an area for the pool, auditorium and gymnasium. She said the resulting design is of a "building within a building," with long corridors placed on the building's perimeter surrounding the activity rooms.
"The movement of people through the long hallways and in the lobby are visible from the street to make the place seem open, friendly and inviting," said Smith, who is also the architect of Washington Square, which is under construction at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW. "We painted bright colors along the corridor walls which are visible to the outside to keep it from looking like a typical office building."
Besides being artistic and functional, the new YWCA building has been designed to make money as well. The top 3 1/2 floors are leased to commercial renters. Association business administrator Duane Alexander said the rental space will gross $694,000 a year, which is expected to give the YWCA a balanced budget for fiscal 1982. Future rental income will be used to underwrite YWCA programs to ensure that program costs are kept low, he said.
While the new building is expected to help solve financial problems and provide larger and more flexible activity area, the relocation has created another dilemma for the organization: few people know where the YWCA now is located.
When Barbara Bush, the vice president's wife, attempted to visit the association headquarters recently to participate in ceremonies opening the YWCA's Dec. 4 International Fair, she was driven first to the old site at 17th and K, which is now a hole in the ground.
"We hope the dedication will be a start toward the public becoming aware of our new location," said Valeria Ogden, YWCA National Capitol Area executive director. "We also plan a concerted effort through public service announcements and paid advertising to let people know where we are and what we have to offer."
The ceremonial opening of the new YWCA signals the end of a decade of emotional battles, which pitted members who favored selling the old building and moving against those who wanted to renovate and remain in the 17th Street structure.
Mildred Savacool, who served as the YWCA National Capitol Area executive director from 1969 until June 1981, favored the move. Savacool said relocation was first discussed as early as 1971, but was shelved until mounting deficits -- averaging about $50,000 a year and $200,000 in 1978 -- forced the organization to seriously examine the relocation option.
"It was a very difficult decision to move, but the reason for relocation was purely financial," said Savacool. "We had a deteriorating building that would have cost more than $2 million just to rehabilitate plumbing, electricity and other features behind the walls before we could even consider any cosmetic improvements."
In January 1978, the board of directors approved the sale of the YWCA, but the membership first voted against the decision. Opposition was largely sentimental. Many members felt attached to the building where Mrs. Calvin Coolidge had laid the cornerstone in 1926, and members were proud of a long list of "firsts" that were achieved there.
In 1946, for example, the YWCA became the first Washington organization to operate an integrated public eating facility. And since 1935, the YWCA's adjacent Strong Residence, a hotel for women, had served as the first home for many women arriving in Washington.
But the bleak financial outlook outweighed sentiment, and in June 1978, the membership voted approval of the relocation.
The old building was sold for $7 million to the John Akridge Company, a local development firm. The proceeds, less a $90,000 outstanding loan for elevator repairs, went toward costs for the new $9.5 million building at Ninth and G. The YWCA acquired that site, which was previously a parking lot owned by PMI, through a real-estate swap with the parking lot owners. The YWCA bought the old Julius Lansburgh building at Ninth and F, and traded it along with a cash settlement for the parking lot site.
The YWCA is currently running a 75th anniversary capital campaign to raise $1 million to pay off the new building. Susan Scribner, YWCA director of financial development, said that the campaign so far has raised $750,000, and that she expects the $1 million mark will be reached before the campaign ends in February.