In October 1853, 23 men meet to organize a YMCA in St. Louis at the 2nd Baptist Church on 6th and Locust St. in Downtown St. Louis. The first public meeting of the St. Louis YMCA was held in the Mercantile Library in November 1853, over two-hundred and ninety members attended this first meeting.
The first building owned by the YMCA was the Union Methodist Church Building, purchased for $37,500. By 1882, the Y operated a 25 be medical clinic which provided free care by doctors between 1 and 3 pm daily. This later became St. Louis Protestant Hospital.
The first building that St Louis YMCA built was located away from Downtown and officially dubbed the “Central” YMCA. This YMCA had merged with two German YMCAs, the Railroad YMCA, and the Negro YMCA. The new Central YMCA building was located on North Grand at Franklin Street. The dedication started on October 31, 1898, and the celebration lasted over a week with a variety of receptions for various groups. The building was listed as 4 stories tall with an indoor swimming pool. In January 1921, the Central YMCA was destroyed by fire. This forced the YMCA to seek additional locations for their programs and their staff. The education programs were extremely popular and the Commercial School moved to 7th and Locust in the old Ambassador Building while the Automobile School moved to 901 Carr Street.
By January 1924, the St Louis YMCA decided it was time to expand their services and build additional buildings and a Capital Campaign was planned. The planning took months to get it all organized and the 3 million dollar campaign officially ran from May 13 to May 23rd, 1924. The land for the Central Branch was selected specifically to serve more people Downtown. The initial money for the new building came from George Warren Brown’s estate where he left $300,000 to the building fund and an additional $150,000 was provided by the trustees of the estate to the YMCA.
In 1926, the Central Branch moved to its new location at 16th and Locust and became the Downtown YMCA. It is said that when the building was dedicated, the key was thrown into the Mississippi Rivers, so it may always be open to those in need. The Downtown YMCA stayed at this location for 91 years until June 2016 when it moved back to where it all began at 6th and Locust.