YOU MAY NOT EVEN HAVE BEEN AWARE it was there. The YWCA, tucked away on the edge of a residential neighborhood. But for so many local women and girls, decades worth, generations, pulling into that driveway was a joyous, strengthening, fun, even life-affirming event, such a big part of their lives.
I’m sorry if this is how you’re finding out about it, but that’s better than walking up to the front door next week, happily anticipating your next activity there, and finding everything dark, locked, and up for sale.
Tomorrow is the last day.
Wait. Why? Why so suddenly? If we had known we could have done something, raised money, found a grant, enlisted an angel, won the lottery. No fair!
Rumors flew more than a year ago that it would likely be closing. I hate hearing, “It’s a done deal,” usually followed by, “Just forget about it.” It seems inherently unfair, and raises suspicions. Sadly, in Santa Monica, it’s a refrain we hear too often.
In the weekend edition of the Daily Press, Nancy Kaufman, having taught fitness there for more than 30 years, delivered a moving letter and plea, enumerating many things I need not repeat. Recreation and Parks Commission Chair Phil Brock did one of his “Brock on Your Block” video features about the YWCA more than a year ago, taking you inside and speaking with an administrator and a young resident there. For further info on what the YWCA is/was, its history here of nearly a century and what it provided to our community, look around its website, smywca.org. But it could make you sad.
Kaufman lamented, “members and staff were not informed about the pending closure until the decision was final.” But could anything have been different?
On the website a letter is posted, dated four months ago, announcing the closing. “Over time, community needs and funding priorities have shifted,” it reads. “During the last few years, we have explored many options that might allow us to continue to operate and fulfill our mission, but in the end it became clear that our operation was no longer sustainable.”
That sounded dry and emotionless, formulaic and a little sketchy to me, so I spoke with Sharon Donaldson, the program director for more than 30 years, and she opined that it is an accurate assessment, and she elaborated. I know Sharon a little, and my wife, who has taken part in the Encore program there for a dozen years, knows her much better, and we know her to be a straight shooter and absolutely dedicated to the work that YWCA has done so well for so long.
She hedged that perhaps the administration could have been more forthcoming, earlier, with members and staff as to just how bad it was and how near the end might be, but they didn’t keep the dire straits a secret, and she believes they did, over a period of years, do everything they could to row back upstream.
“When Sally Young came in as director, long ago, everything changed — starting with the ripped orange couch and the vomit green linoleum,” Donaldson laughed. “It became a comfortable place that people looked forward to coming to, with a sense of community and family.”
The ’80s and ’90s were booming, she said. “We had women of all ages, girls, families, and waiting lists for all the classes. Then the recession of ’08 hit and we lost our funding, which was the big factor. It hit all nonprofits really hard. Also, yoga and pilates classes started springing up on every street corner, even free on your computer. And small gyms.
“Another factor was the way Santa Monica began to change. The traffic. We used to have full evening classes, which dropped down to almost nothing because people couldn’t even get across town in less than half an hour.”
A perfect storm of many smashing waves, finally together sinking the once-mighty ship.
They had a farewell party about the time I turned this in yesterday, and I probably went. If I didn’t, it was because I didn’t want to deal with the sadness and sense of loss sure to be felt. Perhaps especially hard hit would be the women who were part of the Encore program, water aerobics for cancer survivors. It’s a special club no one wants to join and you don’t get in unless you’re tough, so the sense of sisterhood for them is really deep. To no longer be able to come together every week, to improve their health, talk, and appreciate another day is a big loss for them.
FOSP KNOW HOW TO PARTY!
Well, it wasn’t really a party last Saturday; it was the annual meeting to elect a new board. But the Friends of Sunset Park had a huge turnout (100-plus signed in), decorations, live music, a slick slideshow, a high-profile guest speaker and quite a spread. A member of the Democratic Club took a long look at the long table groaning with gourmet goodies and muttered, “WE are going to have to do MUCH better.”
I’m marking my calendar for next year.
They held their election without incident, calls of voter fraud or riots (all the candidates called for managing inevitable development, not stopping it), projected a striking slideshow of dozens of gorgeous parks around the world built on airport grounds, and City Manager Rick Cole gave yet another epigrammatical speech, praising the turnout and observing that this democracy thing is hard work. There are severe tensions and many aren’t interested in compromise, but we need balance. We need to compare ourselves to Amazon, Apple and Google, not L.A. and Mar Vista. He concluded, unequivocally, on the hot-button issue for FOSP: “To get that airport taken over and made into a park — what a legacy! And we will!”
NEVER A DULL MOMENT IN SANTA MONICA
Rudely rousted from sleep yesterday morning at 7:15. BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! “FBI! Open up!”
Not at my door, thank Zeus, but the building next door. Just below my window, at least eight uniformed agents surrounded the place and questioned a sleepy woman answering the door.
Thanks, guys, but I’ve already got my column for this week.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.” —Mark Twain (“A Tramp Abroad”)
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com.