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Manhood Factories

YMCA Architecture and the Making of Modern Urban Culture

2009
Author:

Paula Lupkin

Manhood Factories

How moral agendas shaped the look and feel of YMCAs

Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, the Young Men’s Christian Association built more than a thousand community centers across the United States and in major cities around the world. Paula Lupkin goes behind the reserved Beaux-Arts facades of typical YMCA buildings constructed in this period to understand the urban anxieties, moral agendas, and conceptions of masculinity that guided their design, construction, and use.

Born of nineteenth-century social reform and evangelical religion, the YMCAs are so deeply engrained in American life that they are nearly invisible. Paula Lupkin brings the ubiquitous buildings that house the institution vividly to life, deftly combining visual and spatial analysis, social history, and gender studies to restore a major urban building type to its rightful place in architectural history.

Dell Upton, UCLA

Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, the Young Men’s Christian Association built more than a thousand community centers across the United States and in major cities around the world. Dubbed “manhood factories” by Teddy Roosevelt, these iconic buildings served as athletic centers and residential facilities for a rapidly growing urban male population.

In Manhood Factories, Paula Lupkin goes behind the reserved Beaux-Arts facades of typical YMCA buildings constructed in this period to understand the urban anxieties, moral agendas, and conceptions of masculinity that guided their design, construction, and use. She shows that YMCA patrons like J. P. Morgan, Cyrus McCormick Jr., and John Wanamaker hoped to create “Christian clubhouses” that would counteract the corrupting influences of the city. At first designed by leading American architects, including James Renwick Jr. and William Le Baron Jenney, and then standardized by the YMCA’s own building bureau, YMCAs combined elements of men’s clubs, department stores, hotels, and Sunday schools. Every aspect of the building process was informed by this mission, Lupkin argues, from raising funds, selecting the site and the architect, determining the exterior style, arranging and furnishing interior spaces, and representing the buildings in postcards and other printed materials.

Beginning with the early history of the YMCA and the construction of New York City’s landmark Twenty-third Street YMCA of 1869, Lupkin follows the efforts of YMCA leaders to shape a modern yet moral public culture and even define class, race, ethnicity, and gender through its buildings. Illustrated with many rarely seen photographs, maps, and drawings, Manhood Factories offers a fascinating new perspective on a venerable institution and its place in America’s cultural and architectural history.

Manhood Factories

Paula Lupkin is assistant professor of art history at University of North Texas.

Manhood Factories

Born of nineteenth-century social reform and evangelical religion, the YMCAs are so deeply engrained in American life that they are nearly invisible. Paula Lupkin brings the ubiquitous buildings that house the institution vividly to life, deftly combining visual and spatial analysis, social history, and gender studies to restore a major urban building type to its rightful place in architectural history.

Dell Upton, UCLA

Manhood Factories shows in fascinating detail how the YMCA designed and shaped the culture of manhood, and how these changing aims shaped the planning, design, and construction of their buildings over time. Studying the ‘Y’ buildings for how they worked to combine spiritual uplift and home values with sport culture, Paula Lupkin reveals how its members created ‘a respectable evangelical public culture for the modern, corporate age.’ This is an impressive account of how the YMCA envisioned, spatialized, and institutionalized manhood and manliness.

Dana Nelson, Vanderbilt University

This well-designed, richly illustrated book is recommended for any library supporting an undergraduate or graduate architecture, cultural studies, or gender studies program. It makes an important and fascinating contribution not only to the study of American architecture, but to American social history as well.

Art Libraries Society of North America

Manhood Factories is as much a text on architecture as it is a cultural ad moral and political history of the nation. Readers with interests in antiques and decorative arts will be as much informed by the book’s images as the text. Forget about the Village People and campy references to the YMCA; dig into Lupkin’s book for its simultaneously scholarly and scintillating story.

New York-Pennsylvania Collector

Manhood Factories is well written, provocative, and informative; a must read for anyone who studies modern American culture. Both the bibliography and index are extensive.

The Neighborhood Project

Lupkin succeeds in presenting her subject with a perfect mix of sympathy and critical
distance. . . . A must-read for all those interested in American cultural history, and for all those who are looking for what interdisciplinarity in cultural studies may represent at its best.

Leonardo Reviews

Clearly written and well-researched book . . . This publication would be a valuable resource to geographers, social scientists and historians, as well as others interested in ideas on youth, masculinity, religion, class, and urban culture.

Journal of Historical Geography

Paula Lupkin has an exciting scholarly imagination; she reaches in every direction to find new and intriguing things to say about the YMCA buildings.

Buildings & Landscapes

Manhood Factories is an interesting study of masculinity from the perspective of building design and imagined perceptions.

Urban History

An impressively constructed account of how a small men’s club became a national network of buildings linked by the unyielding notion that the morality of young men could be shaped by what she calls ‘‘environmental evangelism.’’

Journal of Architectural Education

Manhood Factories

UMP blog - Same as it Ever Was: Rebranding the YMCA

7/22/2010
It isn’t often that conservative Christians and the Village People find themselves in agreement, but marketing strategies can make for strange bedfellows. Both groups have objected to the YMCA of the USA’s recent announcement that it was dropping the M, C, and A from its corporate name. Henceforth the social service organization, best known for its gym and swim facilities, will be called “The Y.” This shortened name, as well as an extensive rebranding campaign complete with new logo, typeface, and a bright colorful palette, is meant to help the public re-imagine the organization’s identity as a modern, dynamic institution for the 21st century.