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YMCA property development and Building and Furnishings Service records

Identifier: Y.USA.60


Reports, minutes, memos, correspondence, bookkeeping journals, financial documents, studies, surveys, statistical analyses, news clippings, design sketches, organizational charts, policy lists, pamphlets, building contracts, plans, schematics, blueprints, scrapbooks, handbooks, and directories of the Building and Furnishings Service (BFS) of the national YMCA movement in the United States. These records document the history of building development, physical education and recreation as well as the history of technology and architecture as it relates to recreational facilities, community development and the YMCA movement. In addition, the records include documentation of the YMCA's response to national legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the proposed conversion to the metric system.

The majority of this collection demonstrates the considerations of the BFS when developing new facilities both within existing structures and in new construction. The collection also links the BFS to the goals and purpose of the national movement. Information concerning building design and regulation demonstrates the YMCA’s desire to connect all individual associations with a similarity of quality and the ability to provide equal opportunities to its members. This is through an excess of reports, studies, handbooks, building, facility and equipment design documents as well as material lists. Included within this aspect of the collection are also hand drawn ink and pencil sketches of YMCA furniture design, building plans, plans for swimming pools, indoor and outdoor running tracks, handball/racquetball/squash courts, basketball courts, baseball fields, and gymnastic facilities.

A significant focus of the collection is the YMCA’s construction of residences and dormitories. This includes case studies, histories about the residence function in the YMCA and the development of dormitories in the US YMCA, training guides and reports concerning dormitory management and programs to offer within dormitories, promotional material, directories of YMCA dormitories, architectural consulting, signage, interior design material and many contracts and billing agreements of dormitories that were built. Theses and reports are also included within this material concerning theory and practice of YMCA dormitories, the prospect of women residence in dormitories, renovation programs and other subjects. A coffee house program, and newsletter is also included within the dormitory material.

Work alongside Arthur Harrison and his consulting company Harrison Associates is also a focal point of the collection. He is represented primarily through correspondence where meeting times and projects are discussed though there is also significant mention of him within financial documentation. John W. Ogg is also another primary name within the collection as he became an architect employed by the BFS in 1923, becoming its director in 1945, immediately after World War II. He is the author as well as the receiver of much of the correspondence and the author of many reports. He is also mentioned by others a great deal.

The BFS was solely focused on work within North America, as this particular collection demonstrates, however it also has ties to the Building Bureau of the International Committee of YMCAs of North America through reports and correspondence within the collection. There are links through this to international building projects and programs especially concerning reconstruction work surrounding the World Wars.


  • Creation: 1844-2006
  • Creation: Majority of material found within ( 1940-1975)


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 rented rooms used by the North American YMCA movement in its early years were quickly outgrown. Within its first decade the YMCA was buying and remodeling existing buildings in an effort to serve its growing programs. However most of these facilities quickly proved inadequate for the purpose. In 1869 the New York City YMCA built the first building specifically designed to serve the purposes of a YMCA program. The concept of “association architecture” was soon established, and accumulating a building fund to construct purpose-built facility quickly became a standard goal for every association.

In the last two decades of the 1800s many YMCAs suffered debt and bankruptcy due to haphazard fundraising and overbuilding. In response, the North American International Committee developed recommended strategies for local associations to follow in obtaining buildings. Charles Sumner Ward, a traveling field secretary, also instituted standard procedures, most notably the short term building campaign. This method of raising funds, familiar today through telethons, was unknown at the time, an invention of the YMCA.

The 1900s began a period of more permanent buildings. As YMCA buildings were specialized and more than likely built or rebuilt only once in a generation, the best way for YMCAs to benefit from a comprehensive building experience was to make it available at the national level. After the Convention of 1913 a Building Bureau was established under the leadership of Ward. Its attention was entirely focused on fundraising until 1915 when architectural resources were added and a new employee, Neil McMillan, a trained architect familiar with the workings of the YMCA, was hired to lead a new planning division. Building plans supplied by the Building Bureau were widely utilized. McMillan’s system of artistic design combined with managerial techniques took the Building Bureau from a clearinghouse of technical information to a full-service design firm.

Significant changes to the model for YMCA buildings included the addition of camp facilities and dormitories. This included the Chicago YMCA Hotel with 1821 rooms rented at thirty to fifty cents a night. Attention to the aesthetics of the YMCA building also increased. The goal was both to create a building that the YMCA could be proud of and also to support “environmental evangelism,” ennobling the character of young men through exposure to art.

The booming economy of the 1920s supported a YMCA building boom, including million dollar campaigns in St. Louis, Missouri (1923); Detroit, Michigan (1925); and New York City, New York (1927). With the coming of the Great Depression in 1931, however, the Building Bureau, by that point known as the Architectural Bureau, was reduced to the New York Office primarily operating with a skeleton staff of three people on deficit financing. Few new buildings were built during the ensuing decade, and none of them were very large, but the rehabilitation of buildings was widespread. Many innovative solutions utilizing unused space were implemented, including auditoriums being made into gymnasiums to support expanding physical education programs. In 1936 the bureau was renamed the Building and Furnishings Service (BFS).

In 1945, immediately after World War II, huge sums of money were raised for building and reconstruction purposes. John W. Ogg, an architect first employed by the Building Bureau in 1923, became the director of the BFS. By the end of 1949, thirty-eight million dollars was collected for the purpose of construction of new buildings, and modernization and rehabilitation of existing facilities. By the mid-1950s the BFS reported over 100 building projects in process.

The Service approved and oversaw schematics and protocols for new and remodeled sports and recreation facilities, as well as staff office space. It had three major architectural responsibilities on a YMCA project; the functional arrangement of space, ensuring economical operation and that program needs could fit a building; the design of spaces special to YMCAs that local architects had little or no experience in creating; and the planning for all furnishings and equipment that would go into the building. The local YMCAs received schematic plans, detailed drawings of specialized parts, design criteria, specification data and equipment layouts as well as a continued interpretation of these by the project manager and a cooperative effort to adjust special requirements to the local situation. The project manager, who was generally an architect educated in YMCA goals, policies, programs, and problems, was typically assisted by planners, designers, specialists, draftsmen and typists to accomplish this task.

Technical research and development was essential in addition to experience. A continuous research effort was made on program processes, needs, and new trends that affected building and equipment requirements. Program specialists, management consultants and regional consultants provided data, experience and reports on necessities and information on regulations and trends to supplement BFS research efforts as well. This continually improved the design and economy of construction and developed new methods, material applications and equipment.

The BFS was placed under the arm of the YUSA Consulting Services in the early 2000s and by the mid-2000s the name Building and Furnishings Service was eliminated in lieu of the name Facilities Consulting. Towards the end of the 2000s Facilities Consulting was brought under the larger umbrella of Association Resources, and by 2014 was phased out completely in favor of outsourcing this service.

Historical information largely adapted and quoted from History of the YMCA in North America, (New York: Association Press, 1951) by C. Howard Hopkins;Manhood Factories: YMCA Architecture and the Making of Modern Urban Culture, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010) by Paula Lupkin; and from the collection.


21 Cubic Feet (22 boxes)


The Building and Furnishings Service department was responsible for designing and facilitating the construction of buildings and furnishings for YMCAs in the United States. Records detail the activities of the department in the postwar era and reflect how physical education and recreation has changed over time, and the YMCA's response to those changes.


These documents are organized into the following series:

  1. Administrative Records
  2. Project Records
  3. Facilities Reports and Studies
  4. Slides


See also YMCA International Work Building Files (Y.USA.9-4), separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives. This collection contains records regarding the building projects of the North American YMCA's international work division, especially during the post-world war eras, when reconstruction was a major focus of the YMCA's activities.

A number of blueprints and other architectural drawings for YMCA buildings may be found in the YMCA Archives Flat Files Collection (Y.USA.51).

Processing Information:

Processed by: Carly Lawrence (Central Processing), October 2014.

Accession Y20211001 added March 2022.

Catalog Record ID number: 9973937902601701

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lisa Calahan.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area