Western Branch YMCA

The Young Men’s Christian Association expanded rapidly through the City of Detroit, starting with a downtown location in 1909 and branches in Highland Park and southwest Detroit in 1919. The southwest Detroit Y was originally located on Scotten Avenue across from Clark Park. In the early 1920’s the YMCA began raising money to upgrade and build new facilities, receiving a large donation from Henry Ford. Work on a replacement for the Scotten Avenue building began in 1927 on a site across the park, with the new western branch dedicated in April of 1928. The five-story Italian design building featured two gymnasiums, swimming pool, handball courts, and a cafeteria.

For several generations the western branch YMCA was a haven for people of all ages, where young people could learn how to swim, and seniors could take classes on a variety of subjects. It became especially important to the community as southwest Detroit began to slide into crime and poverty in the 1970’s.

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

With the loss of revenue from the halfway house, the building became too expensive to maintain, and was put up for sale in 2000 by the YMCA. Initially they planned on selling the building to Detroit Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter, who would then lease back the recreation part of the facility to the Y. But community members objected to a shelter being located in their neighborhood and pushed the YMCA to accept another offer.

Instead, the building sold in 2001 for $400,000 to a company owned by Dennis Kefallinos, a notorious slumlord who promptly reneged on promises to convert it into residences and a community center. The YMCA left a short time later, and within a year the building was open to trespass and occupied by vagrants.

Today southwest Detroit is one of the most vibrant communities in the city, but the western branch YMCA still remains vacant.