The former YWCA building was built in 1924 by local architect William H. Lord. The facility was built to offer girls and women of Asheville the best spiritual, educational, recreation, and physical opportunities. It included a gymnasium, locker room, numerous classrooms and a lobby. A swimming pool was added in 1927. Along with the adjacent Moorhead House, the building at 11 Grove Street served as the Central YWCA of Asheville from its opening in 1924 through 1979.
The Asheville Central YWCA is well known for its role in fighting racism and advancing the status of women in Buncombe County. In the 1920s, classes were offered to unemployed women to provide training for clerical, office work and practical nursing, and vocational skills such as room service, table service, laundry work, sewing, cooking and childcare. In the 1940s, the Business Girls’ League was created to provide classes in self-improvement, social activities, and leadership opportunities.
In the 1960s, the YWCA’s Public Affairs Committee successfully lobbied for workforce desegregation for several large companies, including Winn-Dixie supermarkets and the St. Joseph’s Hospital nursing department. The YWCA also hosted meetings to help students of color prepare for integration.
In 1965, the YWCA hosted former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to speak on behalf of the United Nations. As a condition of her appearance, Eleanor Roosevelt stipulated that she would only speak if the venue was integrated, allowing both blacks and whites. The Central YMCA was the only venue in Asheville willing to accommodate her. She later wrote about her experience in Asheville in her newspaper column “My Day”.
According historic accounts of the Asheville YWCA, “With program after program designed to support working women—from training for work, providing affordable child care, contributing to the workforce wellness movement, and teaching life skills—the YWCA has been in the vanguard of the movement toward financial self-sufficiency for women. […] Many women who became involved in the YWCA after integration described it as the one place in Asheville where Blacks and Whites were both involved, a place working to welcome all people.”
Today the 22,000-square foot building is used for commercial purposes. The YWCA Building will continue to be operated as office/retail; however, interior updates and structural work will be completed to the building.