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The YMCA in Chicago

People play games and socialize on a rooftop garden at the YMCA at 826 S. Wabash Ave.
Published by Curt Teich & Co., Inc. of Chicago.

Numerous vintage postcards depict images that reinforce the lyrics “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA” by the band the Village People. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) group printed postcards with images of YMCA Chicago facilities that show people dancing, playing games and sleeping in private rooms that are decorated with themes.

One postcard in particular shows the Marine Room, which is decorated with an ocean theme. Rates for the Marine Room and other rooms ranged from 75 cents to $2.50 per day in the 1930s. Many YMCA facilities also offered weekly rates to lodgers.

The city’s first YMCA building, Farwell Hall, opened in 1867 and is named after its benefactor, John V. Farwell, who was a dry-goods merchant, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. The building had a library and a parlor for its members, but lacked dormitories and a gymnasium.

The construction of a new 13-story YMCA building on LaSalle Street in 1893 included a bowling alley and a swimming pool. And a YMCA hotel opened in 1916 in the south loop. It also served young immigrants and offered English classes and job placement services. Another YMCA building was constructed in 1913 on South Wabash Ave. to serve the African-American community.

The Lawson YMCA, at 30 W. Chicago Ave. had 650 rooms.
Published by Curt Teich & Co., Inc. of  Chicago.

A huge expansion program in the 1920s focused on constructing YMCA buildings in almost every neighborhood. In 1931, the association dropped the requirement for affiliation with the evangelical church and allowed women to join and stay at the facilities. The church, however, remained central to the organization until 1947, when leaders changed their policy to include people of all customs and religions.

Many people would stay at the YMCA when visiting from other towns, while others lived at the facilities that provided people with long-term stay rentals. These facilities helped fill a specific housing gap at the time, as more “men only” and “women and children only” hotels began to disappear over the years and eventually turn into upscale housing.

Most YMCA groups around the country today mainly provide athletic and learning facilities. There are some YMCA groups, however, that still rent small rooms, such as the Irving Park YMCA of Metro Chicago. Rates there start at $410 per month. Individuals who have been convicted of felonies or sexual offenses are not allowed to stay at the facility.

So whether you’re living in the inner city or the wealthy suburbs, a YMCA is probably in your neighborhood and is still a fun place, regardless if one stays there or just uses its facilities for a few hours.

The YMCA on Wabash Ave. had 2,000 fireproof rooms.
Published by Curt Teich & Co., Inc., of Chicago.

The Marine Room at the YMCA at 826 S. Wabash Ave. is walking distance to the beach.
Published by Curt Teich & Co., Inc., of Chicago.

The YMCA on Wabash once offered rooms for transient men before allowing women.
Published by E.C. Kropp Co. of Milwaukee.

This very old postcard is believed to show an image of the YMCA
constructed on LaSalle Street in 1893.
Published by Kresge & Wilson of Detroit, printed in Germany.

A postcard with a map shows certain points of interest.
Published by Curt Teich & Co., Inc., of Chicago.


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