Portland YWCA Buildings

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Early Efforts

Mid-Century Growth

Recent Changes

 

Building Buildings: Recent Changes

Research by Sandra Dixon, Marlene St. Onge, and
Patricia A. Schechter

        After World War II, the Taylor Street YWCA showed considerable wear and tear. The elevator had become hazardous and the wooden elements of the structure no longer met the city's fire codes. The dark paneled interior had been elegant in 1908; by 1948, it appeared dark and dreary. Eager to meet the challenges of the post-war years--especially racial justice, world peace, workers' rights, and the needs of youth--a new building seemed in order. Plans were drawn up and the Board launched a capital campaign in 1946. Originally projected to cost $700,000, the Portland YWCA eventually raised $1.5 million to complete the building at SW Tenth and Main Streets.

 

Renovation Plan,
Tenth & Main Building
        This effort absorbed much of the board's focus for the next decade. Among the obstacles was a changing financial landscape in which old methods of fund-raising, like pledge cards and subscription lists, no longer held much weight with banks and lenders, and a rather ambivalent city leadership. "Let's face it," commented one board member, "it was a man's town."[1] Amid the funding crunch, the board entertained closing both the St. John's and Williams Avenue YWCAs. St. John's survived in part because it had the long-standing support of the surrounding business community. Williams Avenue's support was in the churches and voluntary associations, groups with less money to spare. The building at Williams and Tillamook was sold in 1959.

 

Tenth & Main Building, 1959
        Funds from organized labor, timber interests, and an anonymous donor late in the building campaign helped the YWCA board close in on its goal for the downtown building. The organization traded its old building and land for the new building site and broke ground in 1956. Programs and staff moved in after a dedication ceremony in December, 1958, even though the building still needed some finishing touches. The completion of the building had become the main professional goal of executive director Essie Maguire, who retired shortly after the YWCA moved into its new home. "That was her dream, to build that building," recalled one staff member.[2] The public agreed. At Maguire's retirement, the press noted it was her "faith and determination" that made the difference in completing the project.[3]

 

        Despite the completion of the new building, both the YWCA and the Community Chest continued to fall short of meeting the well-documented need for social services in Northeast Portland. Finally, after more than a decade of programming at the Mallory Avenue Christian Church, the leadership of Audrey Sanders and Delvon Barrett resulted in the purchase of a small building for YWCA work at Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and NE Jessup. Here, successful outreach, especially the Young Families Program, took root and flourished. Since 1984, the new Northeast YWCA has been a warm, friendly space for young parents and students to find support, education, and fun, everything from job counseling to diapers, from math tutoring to holiday parties. The warm, inclusive spirit of the program is well expressed by senior case manager Janice Booker: "Every voice counts."[4]

        Today, the staff, members, and board of YWCA of Greater Portland look forward with the same determination they have displayed in the past to the renovation of the now historic building at Tenth and Main. This project will be aided by a one million dollar grant from the Gates Foundation and the endorsement of the Portland Development Commission.

1. Patricia A. Schechter, "Interview with Kay Somers," 1996, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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2. Janice Dilg and Patricia A. Schechter, "History Focus Group Interview," 2001, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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3. Tracy Christensen, "Interview with Joyce Roggi," 2001, Portland YWCA Archives, Portland, Oregon.
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4. Editorial, Oregon Journal, 14 December 1958.
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