Eastside YMCA. As a precursor to the establishment of the Eastside YMCA at 616 (sometimes 614) NE 4th Street in 1951-1952, the Oklahoma City chapter of the Urban League had a guest speaker in town, Edgar Ray, managing editor of the Tampa Daily News. The December 6, 1947, Oklahoman quoted him as saying, "The reason my home state is poor is that one-half of the population does not contribute anything to its wealth." 1922 updated to 1955 Sanborn Map
Click for a larger view

Mr. Ray was, I think, directing his thoughts toward a largely white audience -- he was giving them a lesson on the principle of "enlightened self-interest." In the article, the unamed reporter said, "He said the league is trying on a state and regional level to lead the people of the south into the realization that what is good for one citizen is good for another. He said the group is interested in underpriveleged whites as well as Negroes." Quoting Ray again, the article continued: "Oklahoma City is near enough to the old deep south and has enough people from that region to have caught at least some of the diseases still too prevelanat among its eastern and southern neighbors." The Urban League had helped establish a YWCA for black women in the old City Hospital building and now it was on a campaign to accomplish the same for negro boys.

December 6, 1947


Ray's viewpoint must have struck a chord in the white community. U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr was on hand at the Y's November 5, 1950, groundbreaking; arch-conservative E.K. Gaylord even chaired its fund-raising committee. A push was on to build a first-class black YMCA -- lest we forget, this was still in the days of de facto segregation with its "separate but equal" mentality. Regardless, the movement to establish the Eastside Y for the use of the black population was certainly a step in the right direction -- it represented an acknowledgement by whites that they would be better served if the blacks were served well, also -- but, of course, these are just my personal opinions. Possibly, E.K. Gaylord found remorse in 1950 for his newspaper's use of the term "nigger" in a pejorative sense at least 486 times between Janurary 1, 1901, and December 31, 1949 (go the the Oklahoman's archives and search for yourself, if you want), as well as scores if not hundreds of other articles or illustrations not using the "N-word" but evidencing disrespect for the black citizens of the city, state, and nation. Possibly, I missed the public apology. And, that said and regardless of anyone's motivation, the black community would certainly benefit from a very nice new facility which would benefit its community, even if within the separate but equal caste-system category.

Initially planned to be named the Commuity YMCA, the name changed just after its construction was done in late 1951 and before its February 1952 grand opening oo the Northeast Fourth Street branch of the YMCA. The February 4, 1952, Oklahoman article below reported on the dedication ceremonies associated with the new $460,000 facility which contained 31 dormitory rooms and included a modern indoor 20 by 60-foot AAU swimming pool. Eventually, the name simply became the Eastside YMCA.

February 4, 1952



The Y apparently did quite well for many years in working with children and supporting various community activities. For example, the March 21, 1954, Oklahoman article at the right describes an event which doubtless thrilled both black and white alike.

As an organization dependent upon charitable contributions, the city-wide YMCA organization conducted annual membership and fundraising drives which were ordinarily successful and that remained true for the Eastsie Y as well.

But, over time and with the changing demographics in and around Deep Deuce, i.e., a shrinking population and increasing poverty, the Eastside Branch became less and less viable, particularly by the mid-1960s or so.
March 21, 1954

A May 28, 1965, Oklahoman article reported that, while the greater Oklahoma City membership campaign was more successful than 1964's. Only one of the six Y branches, the Eastside Y, had failed to meet or exceed its quota -- somewhat surprising since Oklahoma City philantropist John E. Kirpatrick was the kickoff speaker launching Eastside's campaign and well-known black leader James Stewart chaired the drive that year.

In a May 28, 1969, Oklahoman article, it was reported that the Y's name changed to "Eastside YMCA Community Center" as part of a push being made to extend services to those living beyond the building's location where there were fewer and more impoverished constituents. Chairman Wesley Kirk said, "We hope to put a new emphasis on YMCA work on the eastside. The idea is not to cut down on the scope of activities, but to greatly expand it." But, a month earlier, an April 4, 1969, Oklahoman article gives some cause to pause concerning the credibility of remarks about "not cutting down" -- all was clearly not well with the Eastside Y.

April 4, 1969



The trends continued. In 1970, the branch was set to close, as reported in the August 28, 1970, article at the right. The article said that a committee announced that the Y was being "temporarily closed due to financial and 'community' problems. Officials refused to elaborate on just what type of 'community' problems they were having."

Funds were found to keep the branch open at least for another year from the Chamber of Commerce and others. The November 17, 1970, Oklahoman reported that, "In the past, the Eastside Y has had this outside help [individuals in the neighborhood to subsidize operations] but the individual benefactors have moved out of the area and no longer are contributing money. The Eastside Branch is in an area of poor families, many of whom are on welfare and cannot afford memberships, let alone subsidies."
August 28, 1970

The end of the Y on NE Fourth Street arrived in 1978 according to a December 29, 1981, Oklahoman article. Mainly, the article reported on construction plans for a new 10-acre Eastside YMCA facility in Lincoln Park at NE 36th and Eastern Avenue, now MLK Jr. Boulevard. The article said that the NE 4th Street property had been sold to the Oklahoma City Parks Department, with sale proceeds being set aside to build a new center elsewhere.

But, the building lives on. Even though now separated from the area of its many of its original former constituents by I-235, the April 23, 1986, Oklahoman reported that Henrietta B. Foster, retired school librarian and area resident and 1970 founder of the Harrison-Walnut Neighboorhood Association, had seen the building as a symbol to rebuild a deteriorating neighborhood and that she spearheaded efforts to convert the property into a community center. Taking nearly seven years and $1.5 million to complete, the Henrietta B. Foster Multipurpose Center, commonly called the Foster Community Center, continues to be owned by the Oklahoma City Parks Department and is used for various community functions today.

The first photo below was taken by me on April 14, 2009. The next two images below are credited to William D. Welge, Oklahoma City Rediscovered (Arcadia Publishing 2007). Following them are a pair of aerial views from Microsoft Maps showing the building and the layout of the area today. Click on any image below for larger views.
April 1961



April 1964




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