The YMCA of Greater Houston is considering several options for the 1.3-acre piece of land off Waugh Dr. that until last week held the vacant Masterson Branch of the YWCA, according to a communications document forwarded to Swamplot. Among the possibilities for the property at 3615 Willia St., which sits on a bluff above Spotts Park and overlooks White Oak Bayou: building a new YMCA facility, collaborating with the city and area nonprofits to develop “recreational opportunities” on the site, partnering with a developer on an unspecified project, or selling it outright. If the organization is considering selling the property, why did it decide to tear down the 1982 building, designed by Houston’s Taft Architects?
The document, which was sent to Y employees in an effort to make sure people were getting the Y’s story straight — provides a rationalization. But the reasoning doesn’t exactly jibe with all the possible actions it lists: “We realize that we are years away from being ready to develop the site,” it says. “Unfortunately, we cannot afford to maintain the building indefinitely. Also, it is becoming an eyesore to neighbors and those who enjoy the nearby park.”
The document’s author claims the organization did consider the 50,000-sq.-ft. building’s “architectural significance” before calling in the demo crew, however. (How many postmodern regionalist buildings are out there, really?) “The architecture is one reason why we had originally hoped to restore the building; however, based on the buildingâ€™s condition and the current state of the economy, we would not be good stewards of our finances if we attempted to renovate it. Our mission is to serve people and we cannot lose sight of that.”
The YMCA of Greater Houston bought the building in July of 2006, for $6.8 million. It had been shut down by the YWCA the previous year. CEO Clark Baker told the Houston Business Journal at the time that his organization’s goal was “to restore the building to the award-winning status it once enjoyed.â€ But it was only weeks later, according to the document, that “an engineering study revealed that the cost to renovate the building would be prohibitive based on multiple structural deficiencies.” The sale had not yet closed; the organization could have backed out of the purchase after its discovery. It didn’t because the YMCA decided it could build a new building on site.
Instead, the organization built the new Tellepsen Y downtown, and the new Houston Texans YMCA in the Third Ward. A new facility on the Waugh Dr. site was also included in the Y’s 2008 Capital Development Program, but the document cites the economic downturn as the reason it never went forward.
Demolition should be complete by May 20; the organization expects to decide what to do with the site by the end of this year.
- YMCA of Greater Houston to purchase YWCA facility [Houston Business Journal]
- Previously on Swamplot: Saying Goodbye to Houstonâ€™s Classic PoMo Y
Photos: Taft Architects (building); Jason Ezer (demolition)