The multi-million dollar renovation of the Anthony Bowen YMCA has been completed and set for re-opening Sept. 9 after five years of overhauling.
“The grand opening is set in stone,” said Jackie Dilworth, Director of Communications.

In observance of 160 years of service as the first African American YMCA in the nation, the renovation of the Anthony Bowen YMCA has resulted in a state-of-the-art facility showcasing mixed-use development two blocks away from D.C.’s historic U Street.

“The point of the renovation is to have a place where everyone in the community can gather, belong and connect to each other,” according Dilworth.

Included in the 44,000 square-foot facility are a six-lane indoor pool, three group exercise studios, a Wi-Fi café, a rooftop terrace, a youth development center, a demonstration kitchen and space for other wellness programs. Many who have toured the makeover of what used to be called the Twelfth Street Y called it the foundation for the community’s future.

On the first floor, visitors are greeted by a redesigned lobby, bathed in orange and green paint, and rooms housing scores of treadmills and other high-tech cardiovascular exercise machines, all equipped with flat-screen TV monitors, a hardware item that is placed strategically through the facility.

Directly behind the stairwell on the first floor is access to the aquatics area where the six-lane swimming pool is to be the site of swimming lessons for both children and adults.

On the lower level are a free-weights exercise area, a four-room nursery and a full kitchen to be used as a teaching area for culinary lessons.

Also at the lower level is access to a two-story rock climbing wall.

The third floor includes the patio area, conference rooms and more meeting space.

The new facility will have everything a person will need in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, Dilworth said.

“The historical nature of Anthony Bowen is what really moved me,” said Gene Jones, Vice President of Operations for YMCA Region. The facility is special because of the Legacy of Anthony Bowen, he said.

“His impact is felt throughout the bigger Y(MCA) movement.”

Bowen was an abolitionist who harbored runaway slaves at his home on the 900 block of E Street SW, a stop on the Underground Railroad (the site is now covered by the Southeast-Southwest Freeway).

Bowen assisted in founding the St. Paul AME Church and a Sunday Evening School in 1856, allowing both groups to meet in his home. During the Civil War, Bowen encouraged President Abraham Lincoln to enlist African-American soldiers.

Bowen was born a slave in Prince George’s County, Md., and was a resident of Washington, D.C. from 1826 until his death. After earning his freedom in 1830, Bowen became the first African-American employee of the U.S. Patent Office.

In 1853, Anthony Bowen founded the first YMCA chapter for African-Americans. Soon thereafter, the Twelfth Street YMCA was built in 1908, and was later renamed the Anthony Bowen YMCA. In 1994, it was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Jones saw the overhaul as more than just a renovation project. “To see the rebirth of the actual facility, the programs, the outreach and all of it, is inspiring,” the vice president of operations said.

Associate director of aquatics for the YMCA Region, Bill Kuster, says that historical paraphinia will be sparced throughout the gym, and “this will make every workout an educational experience.”

To Bill Kuster, aquatics director, the swimming program is about more than just recreation. “Swimming is a life lesson. We want to teach as many people as possible. Swimming is one of the few exercises that doesn’t have an impact on your joints. You have less impact on your joints but you get a full work out. I think it’s a life lesson because it (learning to swim) could save your life. It’s all about survival.”


Terry Ashford

Special to the AFRO