D.C. Mayor Marion Barry yesterday enlisted the aid of former City Council chairman Sterling Tucker in an attempt to defuse the continuing controversy over the abrupt closing of the Anthony J. Bowen YMCA.
Barry and Tucker met for more than an hour yesterday with YMCA officials and community representatives who have angrily clashed over the YMCA decision to shut down the historic Shaw neighborhood building at 1816 12th St. NW because of its deteriorating condition.
"There were some heated discussions in there," Barry said later. "I had to calm everybody down."
Barry and Tucker said they had set no timetable for resolving the issue. They said that they had not decided whether to recommend that the facility be reopened or switched to another site.
"The whole goal is to figure out how we enhance the development of the Y's programs," said Barry. He said Tucker would begin meeting this weekend with YMCA officials and community groups.
"We weren't trying to reach agreement today," Tucker said of the stormy meeting. "We know we have got to have a modern facility," he said, but "the exact location and process of agreement are still open questions."
YMCA officials voted 19 to 1 on Feb. 23 to close immediately the dilapidated Bowen building, which was built in 1912 and named after the freed slave who founded the first black YMCA in this country. Recently, much of the building has been blocked off because of disrepair and unsafe conditions.
D.C. Recreation Department director William H. Rumsey, chairman of the Bowen YMCA board of directors and a member of the metropolitan YMCA board, charged that YMCA officials allowed the Bowen facility to run down while it promoted its modern facility at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW.
Rumsey has been joined by neighborhood representatives who fear the YMCA is reducing its commitment to Shaw, a largely poor area that has seen an increasing influx of more affluent white and black homeowners.
Yesterday, as he left the mayor's office, Rumsey exchanged heated words with Metropolitan YMCA chairman Charles S. Tidball.
"You don't have any interest in kids at all, Tidball," Rumsey said, standing face to face with Tidball. The two men called each other "liar" before Barry stepped in to break it up. Tidball and Rumsey later declined to discuss the incident.
Tilmon B. O'Bryant, former assistant D.C. police chief and a member of the Bowen management committee, said after the meeting that he wanted to keep the YMCA in the same neighborhood for fear of losing valuable community services based in the building. He said he was "not at all optimistic" that YMCA leaders would continue to provide the services to the neighborhood without a building there.
Thomas B. Hargrave Jr., president of the Metropolitan YMCA, also attended the meeting in Barry's office. He agreed there were heated discussions, but declined to discuss it further.
Hargrave acknowledged the Bowen building "stands alone as a historical landmark" for the black community. He said the board "has no plans to tear it down" or to sell it.
He said he signed a one-year lease yesterday for a building in Shaw near 13th and W streets, which the YMCA will use for programs formerly held at Bowen. He declined to identify the building, saying the owner had not yet signed the lease. Hargrave said Bowen's youth basketball programs are now being held at the YMCA at 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW.
Also attending the noon meeting with Barry were Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy.
Meanwhile, City Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), whom Barry did not invite to the meeting, announced he had asked the D.C. fire and housing departments to inspect the Bowen structure, which is in his ward