History Glenarm Branch YMCA (Glenarm Recreation Center), Denver Colorado
The location of the Glenarm Y is approximately in the center of the Five Points, Whittier and Cole neighborhoods, the area where the majority of Denver's black population has lived since the early 1900s. Its' location made it easily accessible and was only three blocks from the Five Points intersection of Welton Street, the historic black commercial section of the city.
The residential development in Five Points began early in the 1870s, when the population exploded with the arrival of the first railroad in 1870. The original residents were mainly Anglo-Saxon, many of whom had immigrated from Western Europe.
During that time, the black population had only grown from 69 persons in 1861 to 237 by 1870. The majority lived between between 18th and 21st Streets.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close many of the original residents of Five Points had died or moved into newer more fashionable neighborhoods to the east, such as Whittier and Cole, and south to Capitol Hill. At the same time, the commercial section of downtown had grown to such an extent that the black population began moving further northeast into Five Points, away from the noise and fumes of the expanding city. By 1900, the black population was estimated at 4,000 with over 2,000 living in Five Points.
Within a few years, the Denver YMCA decided to locate their second department (branch), the Colored Men's Department in the Five Points neighborhood.
The date of the founding of the Denver Young Men's Christian Association varies from 1875 to 1877. Two sources indicate that Denver had an active YMCA as early as 1864, six years after the founding of the city. According to the Colorado Tribune (20 November 1864), a fund raising address was given by George Francis Train that netted the Denver Y $245. In 1867, the Denver Y was fully organized with reading rooms on Larimer Street open every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to the Rocky Mountain News.
The first department of the Denver Y was the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Department, founded 29 December 1891. It was located in West Denver near the railroad shops at 1040 West 8th Avenue and provided a reading room and library. The main branch of the Y had no permanent home until 1906. That year, they purchased lots at the northwest corner of East I6th Avenue and Lincoln Street and built the handsome building that stands there today.
By 1914, the Five Points neighborhood , residents were predominantly black and the need for recreational and educational facilities for the youth of the area was apparent to the leaders of the Denver Y. Funds were raised to purchase a frame house in 1914 for the Colored Men's Department at 2800 Glenarm Street.
The two story Italianate style residence faced onto Glenarm Street with a veranda across the front and a one story bay window with cresting on the roof on the southwest side. At the alley behind the house, there was a two story frame barn on the 28th Street side of the property. Records indicate this house had been constructed circa 1881 by George G. Barrow, a partner in Barrow, Howard and Company, a real estate and loan firm. By the time the Y purchased the property. Barrow no longer owned it and it is not known who the owner was in 1914.
The frame building only provided room for club and reading rooms and had no athletic facilities. The largest room contained a small fold up pool table and a piano- For meetings, these were moved aside for seating. Upstairs, there were three rooms. One for the use of Thomas J. Bell, the secretary, and the other two for storage of band uniforms and boy scout equipment.
The only place where black youngsters could swim or use gym facilities was at the Public Bath House at 23rd and Curtis Streets. The pool, however, was only open for their use one day a week - the day before the pool water was changed.
After a time, the old frame building began to literally wear out as the population of the area grew. After investigating the conditions, Dr. J.H.P. Westbrook, chairman of manegement for the Colored Mens Department, found the facilities inadequate and a great need for a swimming pool. These conditions were also apparent to Charles Alfred Johnson, a Denver realtor and a long time leader in the Denver Y. It was these two men who appear to have been the prime movers in obtaining a new YMCA facility for Five Points.
In February of 1921, the Denver Y purchased additional land adjacent to the old frame building, which brought the site to a total of four lots.
Early in 1923, Johnson kicked off a fund drive with the donation of $5,000. There was the provision that $30,000 be raised by 1 July 1923 and the stipulation that $5,000 of this be raised by the black community. They actually subscribed some S12,800 by the end of the fund drive. Other contributions came from community leaders in Denver such as William Sweet, former Governor and Senator Lawrence Phipps. Mrs. Johnson matched her husband's pledge with $5,000 of her own.
The new building would provide the boys of the neighborhood with a healthy atmosphere for recreation and athletics. The employment department would be enlarged and could assist in placing boys in apprenticeships.
Construction of the new building began early in 1924 with the demolition of the old frame house. The contractor was Harvey Steinmark. The architectural firm of William Norman Bowman donated the design for the building. The completed building was dedicated in December 1924.
The original idea for a swimming pool had been expanded along the way and the result was a much larger building than originally intended. The final cost was close to $100,000.
It was at this time the name was changed from the Colored Men's Department to the Glenarm Branch. This change is reflected in newspaper articles of that time and in the Denver City Directory.
The new building offered a wide variety of services and facilities. On the main floor, the lobby which had a white tile floor, was used for a reading room and billiards. In addition, there was a boys club room, gymnasium, a branch of the Denver Public Library and three offices. The swimming pool was in the basement below the first floor gym in the southeast wing. The second and third floors had rooms which could accomodate fifty-five to sixty men and the rental brought in additional funds. The Y had a contract with the railroads to house their porters and waiters there. By 1926, there was an average of seventy-five lodgers per day, including porters, tourists and thirty permanent young lodgers.
Membership in the Glenarm branch expanded rapidly. In 1926, there were 375 men and 125 boys and in 1929, the membership drive resulted in 610 members. Among the leaders in the black community who lent their support to the membership drives and activities were Dr. J.H.P. Westbrook, a physician; J.A. Franklin, a real estate man; George Morrison, a well known Denver musician.