YMCA begins remodel of its historic home in La Jolla


YMCA plans to reopen facility in November after five-month remodel and restoration

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A $1.7 million remodel and partial restoration of the building housing YMCA Firehouse on Herschel Avenue is set to break ground this week, and be ready for a grand re-opening in November.

The 1937 Works Project Administration building — home to La Jolla’s Fire Station 13 until 1976 — will be reconfigured to open up more of its interior space for members and guests, while restoring the façade to its original appearance.

“It’s a very dysfunctional floor plan right now,” said YMCA regional vice-president Sue Ball of the 6,000-square-foot building, a satellite of La Jolla YMCA, noting it was last remodeled in the 1980s. “When it’s done (and rechristened Shepherd YMCA Firehouse) it’ll be a modern, up-to-date facility that will serve the people of the Village better.”

A large, roll-up garage door like one originally fronting Fire Station 13 will replace a series of smaller windows in the Y’s spacious, main hall, which once housed fire engines.

“We’ll keep that door up, weather permitting, most days of the year,” Ball said. “It will be very indoorsy-outdoorsy.”

A mezzanine will be added to the main hall, creating additional space for state-of-the-art cardio and strength-training equipment, while an elevator near the front entrance will be relocated to the rear of the building, in what was formerly a tall shaft used to house fire hoses, said project architect and historic preservationist F.H. “Trip” Bennett.

“That big elevator, to me, just destroyed the volume of the original engine bay,” Bennett said, noting that a second, lower ceiling that is not original to the structure will be removed to reveal the building’s original, pitched ceiling and wood trusses (structural framework arranged in triangles to support a roof). “We’ll just kind of reclaim the original volume and grandeur of that room.”

In August, midway through construction, when the building has been stripped to its skeleton, the YMCA will hold an open house and donor appreciation party to give people a glimpse of the building’s bare bones.

Small offices and studios on the second story will be opened up to create two large group exercise rooms for yoga, dance and other classes, while a child-care area, showers and a changing rooms will be added to the first floor.

“People can shower after they work out or after they go for a run at the Cove,” Ball chimed.

Original metal-framed windows on the second story of the building will be refinished and re-glazed, and an old police holding cell on the first floor will be preserved and converted to a closet for computer equipment.

However, some historic aspects of the building — including two fire poles — will have to be “entombed” (stored) on site to accommodate the new design.

“The good news is there’s a lot of original material here that’s intact, a lot of things weren’t destroyed over the years,” said Bennett, who also designed and spearheaded a community remodel of Fire Station 13 on Nautilus Street in 2007.

“To the Y’s credit we’re doing a lot more than I think they originally anticipated that will actually serve the building and give it life for the next 50 years,” he added. “We’re replacing all the roofing, all the mechanical and all the electrical.”

Original windows currently in storage will be scraped, painted and re-entombed, Bennett said.

“The challenging part is knowing where to stop,” he said.

“Money,” Ball interjected, noting that the YMCA (with offices at 8355 Cliffridge Ave.) has raised about three-quarters of the funds it needs for the remodel, and are still in the midst of a fundraising campaign, with donor recognition available on a tile-and-rock mosaic being created by Bird Rock artist Jane Wheeler for gifts of $500 or more.

“It’s hard to spend money that you don’t get to see that well, that’s invested in the bones, but for the longevity of the building it’s going to be one of the best things,” Bennett said.