Monday, June 4, 2012


The Young Men's Christian Association was founded in London in 1844, with the first American chapter opened in Boston in 1851. It was led by evangelical Christians, and intended to serve young men new to the city, and keep them on the straight and narrow. The organization went through several homes as it grew, ending up at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley streets in the Back Bay. The 1883 map below shows the location, opposite the Museum of Natural History and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Men could find housing, read in the library, attend lectures, take classes and exercise. This was part of the 'muscular Christianity' movement of the time.

Fire at the old YMCA building, circa 1930 (BPL Flickr photo group).

YMCA location, Boylston and Berkeley streets, 1883.

YMCA at Huntington avenue, 1920 (BPL Flickr photo group).

The organization would move from Berkeley street to Huntington avenue, where the Opera House sat on the opposite corner, the New England Conservatory and the new Museum of Fine Arts building was just up the street.

YMCA Huntington avenue, 1917.

Young Men's Christian Union building, Boylston street (still standing). Photo by Robert P. Burke, taken from a Boston Landmarks Study Report.

The YMCU was, like the YMCA, founded in 1851. So why two young men's Christian organizations at the same time? Wikipedia claims that Unitarians were excluded from the Evangelical YMCA (without citation, as usual). It was a group from Harvard that established the YMCU, and Harvard was primarily Unitarian at the time, so this would make sense. The building was designed by Nathaniel J. Bradlee, who was both a leading architect at the time and a life member of the organization. The 1883 map below shows the L-shaped wing in the back. The photo above does not show the long-lost clock tower that was situated at the top of the left section of the facade. The UMCU matched the YMCA in offering classes, a library, exercise facilities and the rest.

Young Men's Christian Union, on Boylston street between Washington and Tremont streets, 1883.


  1. The YMCU still exists in the same building with the same mission, though it goes by the name of "Union Gym".

    More history here:

    It's a funky old place and a nice, affordable gym.

  2. Gym member since 2004 The YMCU has suddenly closed and locked its doors approximately 10/01/2012. The sign on the door indicates it is closed with no indication if it will ever reopen. The phone number and email addresses are shut down.

    It seems they were in bad financial situation for awhile. A number of managers came and went in a short period of time. There is no one listed as a contact. Many members of the gym have lockers with personal belongings that they are unable to retrieve.
    Anyone have any information or insight as to what happened?

  3. I have the original program from 1878 for the public anniversary for the 27th year of BYMCU. May 29 1878. Eugene Thayer organist and original hymn by Rev.Henry G. Spaulding.