‘Pomona A to Z’: Y is for YMCA

[Here we are at the penultimate letter! Yellow Cab made a pitch to be the letter Y, telling me they’ve got several vintage taxis in their Pomona yard, but since that’s not open to the general public, I opted to go with the YMCA. Besides, the Y is one of the most prominent buildings in Pomona — even if, as noted below, a lot of people don’t realize it houses a Y.

The only update of which I’m aware is that Yesteryears, one of the runnerups, is no longer in business. This column was published June 12, 2005.]

This ‘A to Z’ should have no one asking Y

Yay! Today — not yesterday — “Pomona A to Z” yields the floor to the letter Y.

By any yardstick, Pomona has great examples of Y’s. Oh, you think I’m a yo-yo? Then pay attention to this yarn.

Yes, stop yammering on your cell phone, eating yogurt and adjusting your yarmulke! Whether your chromosomes are X or Y, just eye this list of Y’s, yonder:

* Yesteryears nightclub on West Second Street, one of the Arts Colony’s live music venues.

* Yamamoto of Orient, maker of fine Japanese teas, located in a west Pomona industrial park.

* Yellow Cab, which began as City Transit in 1926 at Main and Second and now serves the entire Pomona valley with taxis and paratransit buses.


Anyway, yada yada yada, let’s just go to our Y.

The literal Y. The YMCA.

One of the most recognizable buildings in Pomona, the red-bricked YMCA stands at 350 N. Garey Ave., where it takes up most of a block.

“There’s a lot of brick recognition,” quips J.J. Diaz-Ceja, the membership fitness director. “Everybody walks by and recognizes the brick.”

Yet not everybody knows it’s a Y, despite the modest neon sign on the building’s corner.

“One question I often get from people is, ‘How long has this been a YMCA?’ ” Diaz-Ceja says.

Try “forever.”

Pomona began a fund-raising campaign for the stately, Mission-style building soon after the end of World War I.

Architect Robert Orr’s design, notable for its arched windows, was described in a 1919 fund-raising appeal as having been “pronounced of singular beauty and usefulness by the ablest YMCA experts of the Pacific Coast.”

A suitably impressed public contributed $300,000, all the more startling in a city of just 18,000.

Built on the site of the Palomares Hotel, which was lost to fire in 1912, the YMCA was dedicated in April 1922 with a speech by Gov. William Stephens. More than 1,000 citizens turned out.

As an orator from Iowa College put it: “Let this building be dedicated to brotherliness. Let us all join hands that we might feel the thrill of the Almighty, that men may grow up among brotherhood and achieve brotherhood. Keep yourselves related to a center of

Oh, brother.

The YMCA — the initials stand for Young Men’s Christian Association — started in England in 1844 as an attempt to apply Christian principles to everyday problems. It then spread to the United States.

Pomona’s chapter began in 1884 as a reading room and job-placement service. It soon faded until its revival in 1919, according to a history by Steven Escher.

As you’d expect, a lot of changes have occurred over the past 83 years.

First limited to men and boys, the Y allowed women and girls to become members in 1949. With no YWCA in town, they had been auxiliary members previously.

The auditorium, initially devoted to Bible study, was turned into a gym in 1940 due to growing demand for space. A $300,000 wing was added in 1958, expanding the building further.

When I visited last week, a pickup basketball game was going on in the gym. High above were the original stained glass windows — handy for anyone praying to make that jump shot.

Today’s Y has aerobics classes, weight machines and child care. While teens were the early focus, the Y now caters more to families.

Although Christian principles remain the organization’s bedrock, “anyone can join the YMCA,” Diaz-Ceja emphasizes.

Anyone from yokel to yacht dweller, I’m sure. Call (909) 623-6433 for membership details, or drop by for a tour.

The Y, by the by, is booming. Since the hiring of Phyllis Murphy as general director and CEO in 2001, the Y has grown from an anemic 400 members to nearly 1,200.

I enjoyed the chance to see the place. Although, admittedly, I was disappointed not to find any Village People.

One highlight was the indoor pool. Twenty yards long, the pool has the Y’s original logo laid into the aqua tile.

This is where generations of Pomona children learned to swim or took their Boy Scout swimming test. Today, it’s also used for lap swimming and aquatic aerobics.

“Unbelievable as it may seem, this is the original tile,” Diaz-Ceja brags.

The building was made a state landmark in 1985 and a national landmark in 1986.

After my visit, I could see Y.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, year in, year out.)

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  • This ongoing Pomona A-Z has gotten me to start thinking of the 2 cities I’ve lived in the IE, Chino and Claremont and the A-Z’s of those communities.

    [Any opportunity to think about your community in a fresh way is useful, I think. — DA]