Historic Los Angeles YMCA Reborn as 28th Street Apartments

The 28th Street YMCA in South Los Angeles, a landmark building designed by trailblazing African-American architect Paul Williams, has been given a $21 million restoration and repurposing as the 28th Street Apartments.

Los Angeles—The 28th Street YMCA in South Los Angeles, a landmark building designed by trailblazing African-American architect Paul Williams, has been given a $21 million restoration and repurposing as the 28th Street Apartments.

Co-developed by Clifford Beers Housing (CBH) and Coalition for Responsible Community Development, the community opened December 3 and will serve homeless and low-income individuals, including those living with mental illness.

“This former YMCA was developed in the mid-1920s by Los Angeles’ African-American community,” CBH executive director James Bonar tells MHN.

“The community raised development dollars and commissioned Paul Williams, a black architect who went on to practice into the 1960s, and is known throughout the Los Angeles area for having designed homes of very prominent people.”

In addition to a swimming pool, basketball court and cafeteria, the YMCA when built had 53 units of single-room-occupancy (SRO) housing. Each unit consisted of a room and a closet, with a communal bathroom located down the hall.

The renovated building offers 48 units with kitchenettes and private baths, Bonar reports. “We took all the available space on the second through fourth floors of the old building, tore out partitions and built new efficiency units,” he says.

To create 48 apartments two and a half to three times larger than the 53 original SRO units, available land behind the YMCA was used to build a new wing. “Making the new structure subordinate to the old one was important,” Bonar says. “The new structure is very different and that’s on purpose. We didn’t want to ape the original structure out of respect for it. They are like two towers.”

A major challenge was saving the central stairwell, and the skylight that topped the stairwell, in the original four-story building, which as built had no elevator.

“We were able to restore that,” Bonar says. “It had been sealed up because of fire-safety issues. We added a new exiting system. That allowed us to save that stairwell, and with it the light from the skylight.”

Architects from Koning Eizenberg came up with a creative solution to ensure plumbing lines would serve the new units. The cafeteria had been placed on the second floor in the 1926 design, and that floor had an extra foot of height. “That was enough to raise the floor of the second story, and put all the plumbing underneath, while keeping the historic first-floor ceiling intact,” Bonar says.

Funding for the project came from the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles; Corporation of Supportive Housing; Wells Fargo Bank; Los Angeles County Community Development Commission; Mental Health Services Act/Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health; California Housing Finance Agency; Los Angeles Housing Department; Community Development Block Grant (through the City of Los Angeles Community Development Department); and California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.

Bonar calls the restoration a win-win for all concerned. “The community is ecstatic over it,” he says, adding that people throughout the Los Angeles area who used that YMCA at some point during its long history are delighted about the restoration. “In addition, Paul Williams is highly regarded, so people are happy about it from that standpoint as well,” he says.