Anthony Bowen YMCA (Twelfth Street YMCA)

This was the first full-service metropolitan building erected for the African American YMCA, and one of the oldest of a remaining handful of locations.

The Anthony Bowen YMCA is home to the nation's first African American chapter of the Young Men's Christian Association. The building is four stories and reflects the Italian Renaissance Revival style. It was founded in 1853 by educator and religious leader Anthony Bowen (1809-1871) to provide educational, social, and recreational services to men and boys. Bowen, born enslaved, was able to buy his freedom in 1826 and moved to DC shortly after. He was a highly regarded leader and was hired by the federal government as the first African American clerk in the United States Patent Office.

The YMCA did not find its home on 12th street until the early 20th century. In 1907, a groundbreaking ceremony was held and during the following year, President Theodore Roosevelt helped lay the building’s first cornerstone. The construction of the Bowen YMCA was, and still is, regarded as the most expensive African American YMCA branch, with costs estimating around $100,000. The building was designed thanks to the major commission of W. Sidney Pittman, one of the nation's first African American architects and construction was instigated by Samuel W. Woodward, supported with funds from philanthropists John D. Rockefeller and Julius Rosenwald, matched by a local Capital Campaign.

The Bowen YMCA is currently operating and continues to provide the DC community with services such as early learning and health programs.


DC designation: April 29, 1975
National Register listing: October 3, 1983
National Historic Landmark designation: October 12, 1994

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1816 12th Street, NW