The first Young Men’s Christian Association, YMCA, is founded in 1844 in London by a group of men seeking “improvement of the spiritual condition of the young men engaged in houses of business, by the formation of Bible classes, family and social prayer meetings, mutual improvement societies, or any other spiritual agency.” Branches are created in other parts of England and within a decade, there are YMCAs in a number of countries, leading to a global conference and the creation of an international headquarters in Geneva in 1855.
In 1878, the first Jerusalem branch of the YMCA is opened in a bookstore, eventually relocating to its own facility near the Damascus Gate in 1909. During World War I, the office is shut down by the Ottomans, who are suspicious that it is being used to assist the Allies in the war. In 1920, the British reopen the Jerusalem YMCA in order to provide services for its soldiers as well as the city’s residents. That same year, Dr. Archibald C. Harte, the YMCA International Secretary for War Aid is appointed as the General Secretary of the Jerusalem branch.
Harte has a vision for a grand building which would enable the Jerusalem YMCA to expand its services. In 1924, he receives a financial commitment of $1 million towards the project from his friend James Newbegin Jarvie, a New Jersey financier known as the “Coffee King.” Land is purchased on St. Julian’s Way (Today King David Street) from the Greek Orthodox Church. Groundbreaking begins in 1926 and in 1928 construction commences. The building is designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon, a New York City architect whose firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon also designs the Empire State Building.
The dedication of the new buildings is held on April 18th in front of an overflow crowd. General Edmund Allenby, whose forces defeated the Ottoman Empire in Palestine in World War I, delivers the dedication address. Allenby states that the new building “is a gesture of friendship by British and American citizens towards Moslems, Jews and their own Palestinian co-religionists; intended to and calculated to promote a better understanding of each other; in the city which is holy to all three faiths.”
The photo shows the crowd gathering the courtyard of the Jerusalem YMCA for the dedication service on April 18th, 1933. Photo source: American Colony Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.