A grant from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation helped give a new lease of life to the YMCA’s Student Branch at Lamington Road in Mumbai.
A view of the 100-year-old YMCA Students Branch building at Lamington Road in Mumbai. (Courtesy The Bombay YMCA)
It’s fun to stay at the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), especially if you are at its Student Branch at 412 Lamington Road in Mumbai. The building underwent 19 months of restoration work before reopening in April 2010, when it celebrated its centenary. Built in 1910, the neo-classical and neo-Palladian building occupies the corner spot on one of the busiest streets in the historic part of Mumbai. It was designed by local architects, Chambers and Fritchley, who also designed some of the city’s prominent buildings like the Army and Navy Building in 1898 and Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in 1884.
In 2007, Paul George, deputy general secretary of the YMCA, began planning for the building’s much-needed restoration. He approached conservation architect Vikas Dilawari for it and also applied for funding from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) of the U.S. State Department, eventually getting a $30,000 (Rs. 20 lakhs approximately) grant.
Changes to the building included installation of a historically accurate mezzanine floor and bell-shaped wall lamps, use of different colors for painting the walls of the building’s three stories, and the restoration of an iron spiral staircase.
The AFCP grant supported the full restoration and outfitting of the ground-floor public space for use as a multipurpose sports and activity room, and exhibition and lecture area. The space also contains a library and administrative office. The grant helped restore the original flooring—after floor tiles added over the decades were removed—and repair ceiling and floor cracks, and damaged arches.
The YMCA Student Branch provides public space, open to youth and underserved members of Mumbai’s urban population, as well as housing for college students with demonstrated financial need.
According to George, the place “which has found favor among the students from the hostel and the neighboring area is the public reading room and library—a great boon for the students, especially those who have no proper place to study, and those residing in chawls and one-room tenements in the vicinity.”
The restoration project of the YMCA Student Branch building received a UNESCO Award of Merit in its 2009 Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation. The UNESCO panel praised it for its “appropriately modest approach to preserve the building, which has maintained the spirit of place of this well-loved community institution” and for “uplifting the entire historic streetscape.”
Upon completion of the renovations in January 2009, the YMCA hosted Martin Luther King III, son of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the American civil rights movement, to inspire students and pave the way for visits by other public dignitaries.
“YMCA is like a mini-India. You have students from every community, caste, creed and background living here. It is very important they realize the importance of celebrating these differences. Who better to teach this than Martin Luther King III. Hence, we decided to invite him and his delegation here,” said George in an interview to The Indian Express in 2010.
Since its initial restoration, the YMCA continues to work on further improving the facilities for its residents and visitors.
Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.