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YWCA: Building the Character of a City:

You can’t save everything. Ask someone who has been involved in an intervention for a person who does save everything… and as a result has turned their own home into a health risk and something of a mental health gazebo. Two weeks ago I asked if I could store some props backstage at a theater. As I was led backstage, I was amazed at how little room remained. And this was a tightly-run, professionally- managed theater. They weren’t kidding: There was virtually no room for my meager set pieces.

I believe my point is that eventually all things must justify the space they are taking up. That’s why, in a city that has numerous $50 dollar entrée restaurants and $400+ a night hotel rooms, I wondered why the humble YWCA on 14th near Pico was not given a public opportunity to justify it’s remaining in situ. Instead, like so much that gives our city character… it’s fated to go down. And make room, it appears, for more “mixed use” exploitation.

But there should have been some sort of hearing, at which citizens could have spoken up for the value of the services provided by the YWCA. Instead, we are sad upon reading Nancy Kaufman’s post-mortem in The Mirror about the now-disappearing facility. Wrote Kaufman in a Mirror op-ed piece, “… it’s easy to overlook the irreplaceable value of a facility like the YWCA. Unique to Santa Monica, the YW has provided affordable services including day care, classes for children, adults, and seniors, especially important, as so many other prices have gone up in our city. This organization has remained a unique haven for such programs as transitional housing for young women emerging from foster care, acclaimed day care, affordable after school classes, fitness and other programs that were for and about women’s issues in the world to name just a few things.

Kaufman is hopeful that some kind of “angel” might rescue the facility that would allow for the Santa Monica YWCA to continue on its path “to educate and provide for the needs of women of all ages.”

The YWCA has had an interesting evolution over time, resulting it its being the largest women’s organization in the world and the second oldest organization of its kind. The idea that in supposedly liberal-minded Santa Monica we can’t hang on to even one outpost for this venerable group kind of rubs you the wrong way, doesn’t it?

The YWCA began in England in 1855 as the result of a marriage of sorts between social activist Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird’s General Female Training Institute (I known, that doesn’t sound like much fun) and the deeply-committed-Christian Emma Robart’s Prayer Union. It sought to be a social and spiritual support system for young women.

Nancy Kaufman’s piece indicates that even over all those years of time, the YW continued to help women. Much of the “Christian” thing kind of fell away in the YW’s early history, although the spirit of that remained. Notes Kaufman: “In my (fitness) class and others there were women on scholarship while they were establishing themselves after having lost a job, a home, or a loved one. The YWCA lovingly and kindly cared for so many women at risk.”

But there it goes, and with it, its loving and kindly services in our city. There’s no convincing me that a new Starbucks or Juice Monkey in the same location is going to fill that gap. Of course I can’t tell you first-hand what a wonderful place the YWCA was; I wasn’t really supposed to ever be in there. But I think we can assume that something that historically was sustained to help women would hardly have lost its value to our community in 2016.

And every time something like the YWCA is pushed under the bulldozer of change and progress, we lose a little bit more of whom we have been and who we are now in our city by the shore. You know, sometimes something like a local YWCA can have the quaint appearance of an outpost from the past existing in our digital present. But yeah, that’s exactly what it might be. It’s easy to pull together some argument or other for letting it go; what’s harder is to replace the very things it was giving us. A note to all urban planners and developers: Our entire city is “mixed use,” okay? (Longtime residents might tell you it was more so years ago than now, especially before the 10 Freeway cut the city into pieces.) And we’ll likely give you a struggle to keep it that way every chance we get.

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