150 Boise icons: YMCA, 120 years and counting

awebb@idahostatesman.comJune 1, 2013 

The YMCA might have buildings and programs across the Valley these days, but everything started in a considerably more modest way. Boisean Walter Bruce founded Boise's first Y in a single room in the Sonna Block on Main Street in 1891.

A small church note in the Statesman in 1893 includes a listing for the YMCA: "If sinners entice thee, consent thou not, but come to the Y." Other attractions: "Good music and speaking," including E.J. Evans on "the sword of the spirit."

Jim Everett, CEO of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA, said the organization first opened in England in 1844. It was a time when young men were leaving the countryside and moving to cities to look for work. Cities meant temptations like bars and brothels. Early Y founders wanted to provide a Christian-based alternative.

The first American Y opened in Boston in 1851. The western migration carried the Y across the country.

The Y at 10th and State is the organization's third building in Downtown Boise (not counting that room on Main Street).

Leaders laid the cornerstone of the first building on the northeast corner of 10th and Grove Streets in the summer of 1901 (about the same time the Idanha Hotel opened for business). The Y organized baseball and basketball teams and even offered a tennis court on Main Street between 12th and 13th Streets.

The organization continued to grow. It opened camps for boys on Payette Lake. It moved into its second building in the summer of 1920 on the northwest corner of 11th and Idaho Streets.

Boise's early Ys included residences for men. A lot of military personnel returning from service stayed at Ys while they transitioned back into civilian life, said Everett.

FUNDSY, the local philanthropic group that celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2012, came together in 1967 to support capital improvements at the Y.

The Y dedicated its current building at 10th and State in 1968.

"Some of our members have been with us for so long they still call this 'the new Y,' " said Everett.

The organization struggled financially during those years, he said. It sold its Payette Lake camp to help pay for the new building. A capital campaign in 1983 raised the money to pay off the 1968 project as well as other expansions and renovations.

The Y's evolutions have included changing sensibilities. For many decades, the men's locker room was considerably larger than the women's. Programs for women were limited.

"Now we like to say we're the most inclusive place in the Valley," said Everett, "a place for all religions, ethnicities and ages."

It's not uncommon to see a bank president and a young woman from Interfaith Sanctuary using treadmills next to one another.

A happy note: The Y broke ground for its Camp at Horsethief Reservoir in 2007, replacing the camp it had to sell in the 1960s.

The organization is celebrating the completion of its main lodge at Horsethief, the final building project at the camp, this month.

1050 W. State St.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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