A group of 10 Shaw community activists filed suit yesterday against the Metropolitan Washington YMCA, charging that the YMCA misspent funds and violated a 1906 trust agreement by allowing the historic Anthony Bowen YMCA to deteriorate and finally close in February of last year.
The Superior Court suit also seeks a temporary restraining order to prevent the YMCA from selling, leasing or swapping the Bowen property, options that were considered by a special Bowen committee set up last year by Mayor Marion Barry.
The lawsuit further complicates the long-delayed plans to attempt to reopen the 73-year-old facility that housed the nation's first black YMCA branch, started through a 1906 trust of $25,000 set up by oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller.
YMCA officials declined to comment on the lawsuit yesterday, but Vincent Thorne, executive director of the YMCA's Bowen branch, said he was disappointed because "we had been making progress" through the mayor's committee to reopen the facility as a multipurpose center at 1816 12th St. NW in Shaw.
The suit asks the court to declare the YMCA in violation of the 1906 trust agreement and either order the YMCA to restore the facility or name new trustees to do so. The complaint also asks $3 million in damages.
A hearing on the case is scheduled for Monday. Superior Court Judge Shellie Bowers yesterday removed himself from hearing the suit because his wife was a member of a management committee of the YMCA branch in Silver Spring, according to Alan Raywid, the lawyer for the 10 plaintiffs filing suit.
According to the 29-page complaint, Rockefeller gave the $25,000 to the YMCA with the stipulation that it be used to open and maintain a facility "for the colored men of Washington."
The YMCA agreed to Rockefeller's terms, which included the Y's raising a matching $25,000, as part of a trust agreement still on file in city records.
The suit said the YMCA obeyed the terms of the Rockefeller trust for more than 70 years, until the YMCA closed Bowen for "false and spurious reasons." YMCA officials cited safety and fire hazards in closing the branch, but the suit challenges that assertion and alleges that the hazards could have been remedied if the YMCA had upheld its trust responsibility in properly maintaining the facility.
The suit contends that the YMCA failed to spend money to maintain Bowen as part of an "overall scheme" to close the inner city facility and relocate to a more middle-income neighborhood. YMCA officials, who have opened a temporary Shaw facility at 14th and W streets NW, have said they will maintain Y services in Shaw.
In addition to its alleged violation of the trust agreement, the YMCA failed to spend other monies earmarked for Bowen, the suit said. It said a $500,000 Bowen fund, set aside in 1975 when the YMCA sold its former headquarters for $5.1 million, was never actually used for Bowen. The suit also charged that yearly United Way allocations of roughly $100,000, also earmarked for Bowen, were "diverted" by YMCA officials to other uses.