The Old Akron “Y-M-C-A!”

Canal Park YMCA Building
1 Canal Square Plaza (Center and Bowery)

There are obviously YMCAs in all corners of the United States, but I’d like to include the history of many classic Akron structures on this blog so that I (and hopefully my readers) can have a greater understanding and appreciation of what we have in our city. I will try to conduct as much research as I can, but if you think I have made any error in reporting facts please let me know an I will update the site immediately.

One of my favorite buildings in downtown Akron has always been the old YMCA. This noble structure is an awesome example of art deco architecture and stands as a testament to many years of service to the young people who lived, worked, and played in our city.

The Akron Young Men’s Christian Association first began in 1870 as a small reading room on South Howard Street. After a decade of growth an evening school opened to help young Akronites develop new skills for the local work environment as well as teach immigrants to read and speak English. In 1904 a five story building was constructed at State and Main, but was razed to make room for the Mayflower Hotel (now Mayflower Manor), which still stands in the same spot today. Construction for the Canal Square Y was completed in March 1931 and at the time was the biggest YMCA in the United States.

The building housed 220 dorm rooms, 24-hour medical services, two restaurants, dry cleaning, and a barber shop. (Just as a note, the number of rooms and services are different in almost every article/history I could find about the building) It also provided the largest swimming pool in Ohio, athletic courts, and a wide variety of equipment for every popular sport.

The Y supplied an outlet for young people who had few entertainment and social options, but also provided beds for countless young men who were searching for work during the Great Depression and those who needed a place to stay after serving during wartime.

Unfortunately after several decades jobs in the city dwindled and residents moved to other states and to the suburbs. The Canal Y closed in 1980, but reopened in 1986 after a $10 million overhaul funded by a group of independent investors. The dorms were converted into fifty-five apartments and portions of the building were made available to commercial businesses.

At its peak the Canal Square Y had over 9,000 members, but when it’s doors closed in December 2010 it had only 950 card-holding individuals and families. The new $11 million, 58,000-square-foot YMCA opened on December 6, 2010 at 477 E. Market Street in partnership with Summa Health System in the University Park area. Hopefully it will continue to serve everyone in the Akron community as well as the old Y did for almost eighty years. Luckily the old Canal structure still stands (it’s listed on the National Register of Historical Places) and is still available for purchase and/or rental.


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2 Responses to “The Old Akron “Y-M-C-A!””

  1. dawn Says:

    the y is one of my favorite deco buildings. thanks for featuring it.

  2. Tom Lang Says:

    As one of those investors in the 80’s, I have wondered what had become of the building. I even drove up there in the late 80’s to photograph my “investment”.
    Unfortunately, the money wasn’t enough or was too late to make things work, but I’m glad to hear that it did make it back for another life, even if not as long or grand as the original.
    I’ll try to find the photos I took and send the to you.
    Thanks for the info.

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