Don’t let the Y.M.C.A., a piece of shared past, disappear

Published 5:32 pm Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dear editor,

Popular perception and historical reality associate Selma with a march AWAY from the city.  Few people, locals included, actually take the time to walk about WITHIN the city.  Let me tell, the physical experience of our city (these words coming from a native son living elsewhere) is an exhilarating one. The sidewalks might be uneven or cracked, but you are in great walking territory. Whether you look down, up, or ahead, the built environment is truly remarkable.

Tiled thresholds with names like Kayser and Tepper harken to the Queen City’s days as the shopping mecca of the Black Belt. Iron-laced galleries and modernist facades shelter the same interiors where clerks and executives tooled away many an hour marketing commodities ranging from cotton to candy.  While the store and window front are often boarded or empty, much more than memories can remain.  Selma’s architecture – the most tangible and experiential forms of its cultural heritage – is manifestation of its rich past as well as a vehicle to brighter future.

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The question I pose is simple:  why are we letting our heritage

dissipate before our very eyes? Architecture is marketable and

meaningful. Selmians have fought preservation battles before. Some, like

Sturdivant Hall, have been successful, others, such as the Hotel Albert, have not. We must not loss faith in our town. We might be lacking in much, but faith is not among the shortcomings. Virtually any glance upward reveals a spire or a steeple. In no place within the city is the built manifestation of faith more apparent than in the city center.

Soaring shafts of church and state meet the eyes of visitors as the cross the bridge and factor into the daily lives of many locals every Sunday. One of these buildings, the Old YMCA (the building next to Swift’s) is threatened with demolition.

The Old, or I should say Old-Old YMCA building, is one of the first buildings in this country constructed to house the new socio-religious organization best known by its five letter acronym.

In addition to the obvious historical significance of being a “first,” the building is also an exemplar of the Second Empire style. Shorn of its mansard roof and stripped of its galleries, the YMCA building contradicts the often repeated narrative that southern cities like Selma simply shriveled up and fretted about after the Civil War. Selma thrived. She still can.

Again I ask how can we sit by and let another portion of our shared past disappear? I know the answer is not simple for money and politics motivate most actions, including the inactivity behind the proposed demolition. Let us not make this building another point of contention or regret.

Cart Blackwell