Tile Restoration of the Spectacular
Spanish Pool of the West Side YMCA
Spain’s history with the YMCA dates back to 1929, when King Alfonso XIII of
Spain donated the original artistic tilework –a year the Great Depression hit
America and building screeched to a halt - to achieve the Moorish interiors
architect Dwight James Baum wanted to create. And although this legacy was
clearly a motivation to help with the tile restoration, without the one-woman
catalyst who brought the project to Spain’s attention, it’s unlikely it would have
come about. So this is also the account of one woman, Caridad Lopez, Spanish
expatriate and West Side Y member, who made it her business to help restore
what’s considered to be an architectural masterpiece – the 63rd Street YMCA.
Her reason – this place reminds her of home.
The YMCA is “a community service organization which promotes positive values
through programs that build spirit, mind and body.” Caridad became a member
of the Y to bolster a physical side of her – she wanted to learn how to swim.
However, true to its mission
statement, the West Side Y contributed to the health
of her spirit and mind in a way she never imagined. The magnificent Spanish tile
found in the Spanish Pool area where her swimming lessons were held “took her
home” every time she went.
But she began to notice that although much of the tile had held up beautifully
over 75 years, there were cracks and chips here and there. During a swim,
Caridad met then communication director Dwight Jordan, and she commented
to him about the tiles’ condition. Jordan shared his dilemmas with her. Apart
from age, regulations, like the construction of a wheelchair-accessible ramp,
were soon to destroy some of the beautiful yellow and blue Andalusian tiles.
And positive, necessary improvements, like the expansion of the Youth & Teen
Room – originally a cafeteria- were going to impact the Spanish tile fable
motifs found there. In both cases, restoration of the authentic tiles was
preferred, but costly for a not-for-profit organization like the Y. There was a
capital campaign underway to renovate these areas, but the authentic
reproduction of the tiles was a stumbling block. Jordan had attempted to find
sources to help restore the tiles, but language and distance barriers were
obstacles. So, Caridad sprung into action.
The Y Meets Tile of Spain
Caridad told Dwight she was taking her summer vacation in Spain. She could
take samples of the tile along, to determine if they could be recreated to replace
“Caridad was my champion. She assured me that Spain would assist us, and
would keep me hopeful by always saying ‘The Spanish people live to their
word,’” said Jordan.
While in Spain, Caridad arranged a meeting with the Spanish Ceramic Tile
Manufacturers Association (ASCER). Javier Soriano, ASCER’s Director of Export Promotion, was particularly taken with
Caridad’s plight and took the project under his wing. He contacted all Tile of
Spain manufacturers capable of this undertaking, and after much research,
Soriano found the proverbial needle in a haystack – ASCER’s member, ADEX.
Long experienced in the art of hand-painted tiles – the manufacturer contributed
to the restoration of Gaudi’s famous Park Guell, a Unesco world heritage site –
he was convinced of their ability to accurately recreate the tiles and of their
charitable nature, a necessary component of the project given the Y’s limited
One woman, Caridad Lopez, found a way to bring three groups – ASCER/Tile of
Spain, ADEX and the West Side YMCA - together by connecting cultures, history
and good cause, to renovate through exact replication these stunning tile
mosaics. She was indeed the impetus and the cultural link to the restoration,
translating when necessary, hosting Spanish guests at the facility and always
maintaining her passion for the project.
The Tile Features
New York City’s West Side YMCA, which was built in the late 1920’s, is a grand
example of Spanish-Moorish revival architecture. It’s the largest freestanding
YMCA in the world and was designed with many fanciful features, a number of
which resulted from the use of tile from Spain.
The Spanish Pool is recognized internationally as an artistic treasure, featuring
one of the Y’s most outstanding architectural elements, the King Neptune
mosaic. ADEX has duplicated, after endless tests, over 600 hand-made, handpainted
majolica tile pieces, in seven different designs and shapes, to restore
this Pool. This was a huge effort, since ancient, almost lost, techniques had to
be recovered to achieve the accurate replicas. For the soon-to-be Youth & Teen
Room, ASCER plans a call for other Tile of Spain manufacturers to participate in
that renovation, where tile’s fable motif and benches made entirely of handpainted
tile need attention.
“When you walk through our building, Spanish tile is everywhere,” Jordan said.
“75 years ago the Spanish Government saw the value of this project and helped
complete the beautiful building. Now history is repeating itself in a truly positive
way, the persistence and passion of one Spanish woman is keeping these
beautiful works of art alive.
We are grateful for the generous financial and artistic
contributions from the country of Spain, and to Caridad for recognizing the
architectural significance of this facility and making it a priority.”
Jordan reports that in order to display to its members the support and generosity
of ADEX and ASCER, an exhibit featuring the newly created tile was hosted within
the facility’s grand lobby.
The pool restoration is scheduled to begin in January of 2006, after the first
phase of the YMCA’s capital campaign for the renovation as a whole is finalized.
YMCA administrators anticipate the completion of the project by September of
2006. The timeline for the Youth & Teen Room renovation is yet to be finalized.
After 70 years of daily use, some tiles had to be replaced.
More than 3.000 people pass through the west side "Y" doors each day.
Adex´s splendid tiles were exhibited at the "Y" as part of the fundrising campaign.