Q: What has happened to the YMCA building and the pool that provided so many of us with exercise for so many years? I swam there for over 15 years.
Jane Worsley, Fresno
A: The local Young Men’s Christian Association had a long history in Fresno. Fresno’s YMCA branch was established in 1887 with headquarters on I Street. By 1898, the YMCA occupied a building at 1350 Broadway, formerly I Street.
In 1933, the YMCA moved into the former Young Women’s Christian Association building at Tuolumne and L, which was built in 1924. In 1936, the YMCA sold the building and constructed a new building at 1408 N St.
In December 1944, the YMCA launched a three-year fundraising campaign to raise $150,000 to “modernize the YMCA building as a postwar project,” according to The Bee.
It took six years to raise the money and break ground on a new wing. The project included the swimming pool, a “businessmen’s locker room … and a health services department” in the basement, The Bee said. In addition to recreational swimming and swimming lessons, scuba lessons were also held in the popular pool.
By 1974, it was clear that the 38-year-old main building no longer met city safety standards, and YMCA officials thought they would need to tear it down and start over again. But the shell of the building was found to be structurally sound. “The major problems, the officials discovered, were in the electrical wiring and lack of a (fire) sprinkler system,” a Bee story said. Renovations, including building an atrium and making repairs to the pool, were completed in 1979.
Fresno’s northward growth and other factors eventually doomed the YMCA. To compete with newer fitness clubs opening north of downtown, the YMCA opened a satellite gym near Shaw Avenue and Sixth Street in 1984. When the facility closed two years later, it had pushed the YMCA’s debt to $1.1 million. It proved to be the beginning of the end.
Money woes continued to plague the YMCA. Without enough money to do maintenance, the downtown building fell into disrepair. The pool was closed in 2005. Within four years, with members complaining of mold, cockroaches, broken tiles and cold showers, among other problems, the YMCA closed, ending its 122-year history in Fresno.
But a local group is breathing new life into the old building. “The former YMCA building is being remodeled by the Fresno County Impact Group for the future home of Downtown Fitness,” a spokesperson for the group said. A grand opening is targeted for January 2017. The new gym will feature weight training, exercise classes, mixed martial arts and a full-size basketball court.
Q: I grew up in Merced, and during the 1970s, we listened to Fresno radio stations. I remember a radio personality called Capt. Woofer. I don’t know his real name, but sometimes I hear a voice on local commercials that sounds like his. Who was Capt. Woofer, and is he still around?
Debbie Conner, Fresno
A: Radio personality Capt. Woofer was Greg T. Elliott of Fresno, who still does voice-over work in the local market.
Elliott was music director and did programming for Y94 radio station, on the fifth floor of the Del Webb building downtown from 1974 to 1977.
He explained how he got his moniker: “At that time, there were three (sound system) speakers. The bass speaker was the woofer, and I became Capt. Woofer.” Elliott could be heard during the “drive-time” afternoon shift.
During those years, Elliott also did commercials with famed Fresno radio and television personality Al Radka.
“I was lucky enough to have a mentor, and that was Al Radka,” Elliott said. “He taught me to get to know the advertiser and their store.
“He was a great guy. He was amazing,” Elliott said of Radka, who died in 2005.
Elliott left radio in 1977 and went to work for KMPH television in Visalia as a freelance writer who also shot commercials. “It was a great learning experience,” he said. In 1980, he went to work for Pappas Teleproductions in Fresno. More recently, he has done voice-over work for a variety of clients in California.
In 2000, Elliott and his wife, Joanne, opened the Elliott House bed and breakfast in Shaver Lake.
Elliott was born in San Bernardino, and his family moved to Fresno when he was young. In the mid-1950s, the family moved to Nevada but returned to Fresno, where Elliott graduated from McLane High School. He attended Fresno City College and played in a rock ’n’ roll band. He served with the U.S. Army as a combat medic in Vietnam.
Now 67, Elliott said it surprises him that “people still recognize me.”
More about: After the answer to a question about the Moyers Stage Line was published on Oct. 25, two readers shared personal memories about owner Thurman D. Moyers.
Moyers’ granddaughter, local author Jean Chaffee of Fresno, said, “He was a greater-than-life man who rose from nothing in Tennessee and came to California to become successful by using what he had at hand, a vehicle.
“As one who signs lots of books to all manner of names, my daughter is quick to point out to me the unique names for my grandparents’ family: Thurman Devine, Myrtle (his first wife), children Baysel, Euple and Lorain and his second wife, Gilma.”
Moyers’ former neighbor Keith Hansen of Fresno wrote, “I spent a lot of time at the Moyers’. Just about every weekend, my mother would find me eating pancakes with T.D. and Gilma. I would hang outside the kitchen, and he would invite me in.
“They were both very active, he with the Masons and she with Eastern Star.” Hansen said his family moved north from the Fresno City College neighborhood, but he retains “great memories” of the Moyers family.
Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.