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West Side YMCA photographs

Identifier: Y..GNY.14-1


The West Side YMCA photos focus on the interior and exterior of the building on West 63rd Street in New York City. There are also many photographs of the athletic programs operated by the West Side YMCA, including swimming, wrestling and gymnastics. Notables appearing in the collection include photos of appearances made by future president Richard Nixon, TV personalities Mike Wallace and Geraldo Rivera, actor Burgess Meredith, and boxer Rocky Marciano.


  • 1930s-1990s.


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


The West Side branch of the YMCA of Greater New York began in November 1896 on 57th Street in a building known as "McBurney's Folly" because its vast size and scope were thought to be far greater than would ever be needed in New York City. It was also seen as too remote from the center of the city to be attractive. Despite its nickname, the building soon became an important influence in subsequent YMCA building design. The structure was built on land donated by Cornelius and William H. Vanderbilt and had separate facilities for boys and men, including gyms, swimming pools, and bowling alleys. Although it added a 300 bed residence in 1912, the branch moved to a new location in April of 1930. The new building, between 3-11 West 63rd Street and 6-12 West 64th Street opened near Central Park West, with a capacity for 10,000 members and a cost of $3,250,000. Soon after, an addition was constructed to house the Trade and Technical School of the Educational Department. Later to be a college preparatory school known as the McBurney School, it is thought to have been the model for the school attended by Holden Caulfied in The Catcher in the Rye.

Designed by Dwight James Baum, who made his professional reputation building houses for the upper-middle class in Riverdale's Fieldston section in the Bronx and in Westchester County suburbs, the structure was the world's largest YMCA building. With fourteen stories and 600 guest rooms, the West Side Y was designed around a medieval theme, with polychrome tile, battlements and irregular balconies spaced to resemble a 12th century Italian fortified town. Baum's appointment as architect may have been a result of his success with New York Association president Cleveland E. Dodge's house in Riverdale, which he designed in 1924.

The McBurney School moved and eventually closed, and the YMCA of Greater New York then sold the building and the air rights to a developer who opened a 41-story condominium tower cantilevered over the West Side Y. The YMCA reportedly received $23 million dollars in new facilities and cash payments despite the bitter opposition aroused in the neighborhood by the project.

This branch of the YMCA of Greater New York has a long history of athletic prowess, and its gymnastics, handball and basketball teams have been well-regarded during this branch's 100-plus year history. Like other YMCAs in New York City with residential programs, the West Side YMCA provided a temporary home to a number of future celebrities, including Fred Allen, John Barrymore, Montgomery Clift, Lee J. Cobb, Kirk Douglas, Eddie Duchin, Douglas Fairbanks, Dave Garroway, Bob Hope, Elia Kazan, Jack Kerouac, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dan Rather, Norman Rockwell, Andy Rooney, Robert Penn Warren, Johnny Weismuller, Malcolm X and Tennessee Williams.

(Information taken from The YMCA at 150: A History of the YMCA of Greater New York, 1852-2002by Pamela Bayless and from websites)


2.5 Cubic Feet (5 boxes)


Collected photographs, mostly black and white, from the West Side Branch of the YMCA of Greater New York. Now located on West 63rd Street, the West Side YMCA has operated a residential program from its opening in 1896 on West 57th Street. Many of the images were taken by commercial photographers such as Herbert-Spencer, Inc., Roy Pinney, Samuel H. Gottsho, Brown Brothers, D. Richard Statile and others.


These documents are organized into the following sections:

  1. Athletics.
  1. Building.
  1. Programs and Events.
  1. Staff and Membership.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Louise Merriam, October 2007.

Catalog Record ID number: 5110692

An Inventory of Its Photographs
Finding aid prepared by Louise Merriam.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area