About The Historic Y

Arts, Education, Environment, Justice, Community

THE HISTORIC Y strives to be the preferred home in Tucson for those doing exemplary work in the arts, education, human rights, and environmental justice.

We do this by lovingly caring for our unique and attractive property, by providing unparalleled support and service to tenants and visitors, and by inviting people to join our community whose missions and passions align with those already here.

So What Is The Historic Y Community Like?

The Historic Y is a vibrant, artistically and progressively oriented community, home to The Rogue Theatre, The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, and ZUZI! Dance, as well as a variety of nonprofit organizations and visual, performing, and healing arts professionals. Together, these groups form a powerful center in Tucson for promoting human and environmental justice, individual enrichment, creative self-expression, environmental sustainability, and respect for nature and diversity.

The Historic Y offers a plethora of ways for you to be stimulated, challenged, entertained, and inspired. It is a place for your mind, body, spirit, and soul to be nourished and rejuvenated. In this place of constant activity and excitement, people dedicate themselves to noble pursuits, embodying that which is best in all of us.

A Building of Architectural and Historical Significance

The Historic Y celebrates a long history of empowerment. The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) commissioned the building in 1930, after realizing a capital campaign to build a 15,000 square foot, two-story building at 738 N. Fifth Avenue.

The YWCA reached out to Annie Graham Rockfellow, an accomplished architect whose buildings reflected the particular history of the Southwest. By this time, Rockfellow had reached the height of a remarkable career, having designed the Safford School, the El Conquistador Hotel, and several buildings at the former Desert Sanitorium (now the Tucson Medical Center), among others.

In “Remembering Rockfellow,” journalist Margaret Regan describes the original building: “The Young Women’s Christian Association, built in 1930 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and University, is a pared-down version of El Conquistador, undoubtedly constructed on a more modest budget. Nevertheless, Rockfellow managed to incorporate fanciful twisted pillars into its unusual three-arched entrance, and a generous patio for the young women to enjoy the outdoors.”

An article in the Arizona Daily Star on November 24, 1929 entitled “New Y.W.C.A. Building to Answer Variety of Demands” described it thus:

The plans provide for a handsome two-storey building in the Spanish style, which when completed and furnished will approximate a cost of $100,000. The first floor will include a lobby, reading and rest rooms, offices for the secretaries, club rooms for girls’ activities, a supper room and kitchen, and an enclosed, well ventilated swimming pool, lockers and showers. […] The second floor constitutes the residence section of the building, providing a roomy lounge, 13 bedrooms, a dormitory, and the house secretary’s living quarters.

Henry’s article notes that Hull House founder Jane Addams turned the first shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking for the building. And that “in a town where Jim Crow still reigned at the swimming pool, the Y was one of the few places in town where blacks could swim.” It was also one of the few places in town that would rent rooms to black women.

Indeed, the same values that led the YWCA to adopt the elimination of racism as its main imperative in 2009 were in effect as far back as World War II. At a time when off-duty soldiers of color were still not welcome at segregated USO events, they were welcome to relax at the Historic Y. Later, the YWCA held regular local trainings around race and bias.

Through the years, people of all races, genders, classes, and sexual orientations gathered at the Y. Some came to take swim lessons in the pool that is now the Scoundrel & Scamp Theater; others to dance, work out, or practice yoga; still others to drop off their young kids at daycare in the space that is now the Paulo Freire Freedom School.

The Historic Y has long been place of healing. In the seventies and eighties, the sounds of children playing floated from the daycare up to the balcony suites above the courtyard, where the Women in Transition Program housed people coming out of difficult situations. Every day, the scent of baking bread wafted through the halls of the first floor and into the lobby—on its way to participants in the Senior Citizen Socialization and Nutrition Program.

The Historic Y strives to continue the progressive, inclusive spirit of the YWCA and to be the preferred home in Tucson for those doing exemplary work in the arts, education, human rights and environmental justice.

The Historic Y Today

The building was rechristened “The Historic Y” when the YWCA sold it in 1986 to begin a capital campaign to build their present facility on N. Bonita Avenue west of downtown. Over the next decade or so, the indoor pool was converted to a theater, the outdoor pool was filled in to make room for a parking lot, electrical and plumbing upgrades were completed, and a zoning change was granted to allow the residents’ rooms upstairs and common rooms downstairs to be converted to offices.

Shawn Burke, the current owner, purchased the property in 2004. By then the indoor pool had already been converted to a theater, the outdoor pool had been filled in to make room for a parking lot, electrical and plumbing upgrades had been completed, and a zoning change had been granted to allow the residents’ rooms upstairs and common rooms downstairs to be converted to offices.

Burke was drawn by the architecture and history of the place, its great location, and the thriving community of tenants. These included ZUZI Theater, Tucson Audubon Society, Environmental Education Exchange, Sierra Club, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and Artist Marvin Shaver. The Historic Y held the foundations on which to create an expanded Center for the Arts, Education, and the Environment. Decisions Burke has made in stewarding the property since have been guided by a desire to realize and enhance this vision, to respect and preserve the building’s history, and to nurture a strong sense of community.

Towards a Sustainable Community

Solar Generated Power

In 2017, The Historic Y had Technicians for Sustainability install a 65.21 kW SunPower PV Solar System consisting of 189 SunPower 345 watt photovoltaic modules on the building roofs. In 2018, we produced 118,002 kWh on site accounting for approximately 45% of the electrical consumption of The Historic Y. Additional benefits are creating an Annual CO₂ Offset of 278,806 lbs. Since a mature tree can absorb approximately 45 lbs of carbon dioxide annually, that’s the same as planting 6,196 trees each year.

Other Resource-saving Measures

In 2018, we changed out 95% of the fixed lighting at The Historic Y to LED. Other initiatives include water harvesting, composting, and installation of programmable thermostats and high efficiency HVAC systems.