Decades ago, downtown’s nearly century-old YMCA building was a wartime destination for the millions of service men and women passing through the city, but by early next year, it will be reborn as a 162-room luxury boutique hotel.
For the last three years, San Diego-based Oram Hotels has been overseeing the painstaking process of preserving the building’s ornate, Italian Renaissance-inspired exterior while also updating and reconfiguring the deteriorating, dormitory-style interior. By the time The Guild hotel opens in March, the developer expects to have spent $80 million on the project, said Oram co-founder Alvin Mansour.
It will be a marked change from the 260 low-budget rooms and shared bathrooms that were being rented for $49 to $69 a night when Oram purchased the 500 W. Broadway site and building in 2014 for $14 million. Oram has no other hotel projects at this time.
A native San Diegan who used to live downtown, Mansour said he would walk by the YMCA building almost every day and would notice with dismay its run-down condition.
“Coincidentally, it was in bankruptcy and for sale, so I walked in the building on a Thursday afternoon, fell in love with it, and worked all night to submit an offer that was due the next day,and we got a deal,” recalled Mansour, who also operates a commercial brokerage. “It’s more like a piece of art to me than an investment property to make money off of. My vision was to restore it and create the rebirth of the asset.”
In the years after the 1924 dedication of the former Armed Services YMCA building, Naval supply ships and Navy recreational facilities offices were concentrated at the foot of Broadway and continued to expand through World War II. At its peak, an estimated 8 million annually passed through the YMCA's never-locked front doors.
Work on what Mansour describes is a labor of love has taken considerable time given the project’s historic nature and the deteriorating condition of the building.
Most of the interior had to be demolished, although key features of the old six-story YMCA are being retained and restored, like the original hardwood floors of a basketball court and the elevated running track above, which will now overlook a grand ballroom.
A former indoor pool on the basement level is no more, but the sunken area will form part of yet another ballroom, accented with the original blue tiles that lined the pool. Also preserved will be the original balcony area that served as a sort of observation deck above the pool. In its new incarnation, it will become a pre-function reception area for the new Society Ballroom.
In all, the hotel plans call for 18,000 square feet of meeting space, in addition to a new standalone restaurant Oram is calling Luca, to be designed as an al fresco courtyard dining space that will have a modern Mediterranean-style menu. Also planned is a lobby bar and a rooftop, two-bedroom penthouse with a private terrace.
Nightly room rates are expected to range from $250 to $350, depending on the room type and time of year. Once open, it will be part of Marriott’s “Tribute” portfolio of independent upscale hotels. Managing the hotel will be the San Diego-based Azul Hospitality Group.
“I’m hoping the community takes pride in it and when locals have family visiting, they’ll feel proud to stay at our hotel,” said Mansour. “We want this to be the place for locals to go, whether it’s dining or coming for a cocktail.
“If I achieve that goal, it will be extremely successful long term. I don’t have any investors to answer to for providing X amount of return. So I believe this is something special that will separate us from the competition.”