Trinity Avenue YMCA / Duke Diet Center

36.006197, -78.904043

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When William Erwin (Jr?) decided in 1955 to give a large parcel of land just north of the Pearl Mill (across West Trinity Avenue) to the YMCA so that they could built a 'modern facility' to replace the original YMCA downtown, there remained one earlier structure on the site - the (Pearl Mill) Lyceum.

"Erwin Gives Land to YMCA - 08.08.55"
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper





Picnic for the new YMCA on-site.
(Courtesy Duke RBMC - Wyatt Dixon Collection)






Looking west-northwest, 07.07.56, at the construction of the new YMCA on W. Trinity Avenue.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper












Looking north from Trinity Avenue, 02.18.57

The Pearl Mill Lyceum is postulated by Wyatt Dixon to have been built by George Watts during the 1890s. Watts had taken over the presidency of the Pearl Mill in 1893 after Brodie Duke declared bankruptcy. Per an interview Wyatt Dixon did in 1957, Watts evidently intended the Lyceum to be a recreation center for the community.








Looking west from Washington St. on Trinity Avenue, 1927. The Pearl Mill is to the left, the Lyceum to the right. (When the belt rail was a grade crossing.)

However, there is also a reference to a "Lyceum" in a letter written by George Watts in 1901, which describes more of an exclusive club for Durham's gentry.

"The Lyceum has continued to improve since its organization until it is now one of the features of Durham and the pride of North Carolina. many of the best speakers and writers of our state have been drilled at the Durham Lyceum. Nearly all of our original members are still with us and continue to take as much interest as ever. we have a splendid building of our own which is entirely paid for and returning a nice revenue from rents of store rooms on the ground floor."

It's hard to know if this was the same place described by Watts, but the 1913 Sanborn Maps describe the building as "Lyceum Club Room" and notes "Vend." on the 1st floor. The 1937 maps simply note "Club House".






Hard to get great detail from this picture, but looking east from above Trinity College (Duke's East Campus) over a minimally-developed Trinity Park, 1924. Trinity Avenue stretches east, with the one-block median in the foreground. In the distance is the Pearl Mill on the right, the Lyceum on the left, and the Pearl Mill Village beyond the tracks to the left.
(Courtesy John Schelp)






Looking north from above ~W. Main and Duke, mid-1950s. Beyond the Pearl Mill, the roof and top story of the Lyceum are visible along with the undeveloped land beyond.
(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper

It's hard to know how accurate Dixon's interview is, but he also notes that at some point the building was used as office space by the Pearl Mill. Dixon does note, and one would think this accurate, that immediately prior to 1957, it had been used as a recreation center by the City of Durham.






Looking northeast, 02.1.57.

As you can see from the above two 1957 photos of the Lyceum, the YMCA was nearly complete at the time the pictures were taken. With a month of the photos, the YMCA had torn down the Lyceum for the driveway entrance to their facility. Dixon notes that "officials did not want it to obstruct the view of the new building."

Below, kids taking swimming lessons at the pool in front of the Y, looking south (without "obstruction") towards the Pearl Mill, 05.31.57.






(Courtesy The Herald-Sun Newspaper

The YMCA was certainly still here in the 1960s.






Looking northwest from W. Trinity Ave., 1960s
(Courtesy Duke RBMC - Chamber of Commerce Collection)






YMCA, northeast from W. Trinity Ave., 1960s.
(From "Images of America: Durham" by Steve Massengill)

But I'm not sure when the Y left here and it became a Diet facility. I'm not sure whether the Y moved from here to Lakewood, or whether those two facilities co-existed. The Duke Diet and Fitness center was established in 1969 - perhaps it was established here.

Regardless, I can verify that this building has been a diet center since the 1980s, and explicitly under the Duke brand name for a number of years now. Interestingly, Duke now apparently wants to divest itself of this facility, selling it to the city to be used as a city recreation facility. Duke is moving out in August of 2008.







Looking northeast from W. Trinity Ave., 12.09.07. (G. Kueber)


Update 10.16.18

In the spring of 2018, the City of Durham unveiled plans to include the property in the South Ellerbe Stormwater Project, which aims to restore wetlands, improving drainage and water quality along South Ellerbe Creek.  As part of the plan, the former YMCA / Diet Center building was demolished in the summer of 2018.

Looking northeast from W. Trinity Ave., 09.26.18. (N. Levy)

The projected construction timeline targets completion in 2020.  Pathways across the wetlands park are intended to connect pedestrians to both the existing South Ellerbe Creek Trail and the planned Durham Belt Line Trail.

Concept Plan Rendering - Aerial View (From City of Durham Public Information Session, 04.02.18)


I had always been told that this was where the Duke Rice Diet was based in its heyday, but I can't find anything to substantiate that. My guess is that the Diet and Fitness Center opened here as a way of both capitalizing on the notoriety of the Rice Diet, but by also providing a slightly less, um, eccentric diet program.

I am pretty sure, though, that the Duke Tower apartments were favorites of Rice Diet folks, so maybe the ricers used the Diet and Fitness Center.

(And now I'm annoyed because I was all set to tell the story of the rice diet and the truckload of Snickers bars, but it's not relevant here... ):

If I said that I was unsure whether this was originally the Rice Diet Center (true) and had a sneaking suspicion that it actually was - would that be enough relevance for you to tell the story?


Heh -- I may have to get my parents to update me on the details, but this is essentially it...

Someone, I can't remember who, but I think it was a moderately famous person, quite possibly a comedian, had been at the rice diet program. He had finally had it with Kempner's antics and with the back-biting that seemed to pervade the place, and so in revenge, he got a small dump truck and filled it up with Snickers bars, backed it up to the front lobby of the place, and dumped them.

I also meant to mention that it's kind of funny that Wittenberg has gotten hold of Duke Tower, as I've heard tell that, in the words of my source, "he came to Durham for the Rice Diet program and just got fatter."

Gary, this may be just hearsay or it may be valid - hopefully someone else will chime in one way or the other - but I think the Rice Diet facility was first located out off Cole Mill near Rose of Sharon... and I really thought that Duke Diet and Fitness relocated here in the, uh, 90's? but I don't know from where...


I believe the Rice Diet started at 1111 N. Mangum St. in the 1930s or 40s. I'm still not sure if they expanded to this building sometime later, though.



Gary, I tried to use the power of Google to find out if this building ever housed the Rice Diet. I've found no clear answer, but this article on the program's history is hilarious:

Oops! Maybe this link will work better. Or just click my name.

Hi all,

A few things about this post. I might be mixing things up, but when you ask about when the Y closed after the Lakewood Y opened, there's some overlap. I think this was the Central Y (or some such name) even after the Lakewood Y (where I went for soccer. swim, and after school for a period) had opened - we played soccer games at both during the late 70s or early 80s, from what I recall.

As to Michael Bacon, the comedian you're talking about is probably Buddy Hackett (of Herbie movies fame). He was friends with my high school girlfriend's family, so I heard the story from them. I met the guy, too; he was on some dieting trip, wearing a bathrobe that didn't close too well, telling fabulously dirty jokes, and generally making me laugh my ass off. The Snickers event sure seems like the kind of thing he'd have done.

Anyway, hope that helps.

Being from Durham I remember the Y being at that location until sometime in the 80's.

The YMCA was at this facility until the early 80's. They have had the Lakewood Y since the early 60's. There was about a 20 year overlap where they ran both facilities. The Y sold this facility to because the building needed a new roof and they could not afford to fix it. So, they sold the building to pay for some needed repairs at Lakewood.

The Rice House was located at 1111 N. Mangum Street, as my Great Grandmother ran the house, and my mother remembers spending many days with her there.

Virginia Bridges at the Durham News reports that the city is now considering a proposal to tear down the 50's-era YMCA building and use the lot "to clean stormwater before it reaches Falls Lake". Details here: Toby

At least for some period of time, both Lakewood and this facility were YMCAs.  I remember playing fall and spring soccer at the Y and our games alternated weekends between both facilities.  I started that about 1980-81.  The teams were based out of one Y or the other.  Sometimes you played a team from your Y and sometimes you played a team from the other Y.  It was a lot of fun and I remember being a little disappointed when I couldn't play on this field anymore.  It was a better field than the one at Lakewood as I remember it.


In the 60's the Lakewood facility was a Boys Club - don't recall when exactly it became The Lakewood YMCA. I went to both when I was a kid. The current downtown Y is very nice, but what I'd like to know is why the Y ever gave up that facility on Trinity Avenue? It had a pool, gym, a snack bar/lounge area, outdoor playing fields and plenty of parking. Perghaps my memory is a bit gilded, but it seemed like such a perfect complex.

Buddy was also known to eat at Dillard's BBQ when he was supposed to be dieting. I also met Roy Clark on a sidewalk in East Durham one evening. He was here for the Rice Diet. Seems a lot of those Rice patients just couldn't stick to it. Brought some interesting people here for sure.

The first Rice House was at 1111 N Mangum St and they had famous clients, even Elvis! Budd Hackett and other famous/wealthy folks were there and I might think up a few more.  My grandparents rented rooms to patients at their house at 312 E Trinity Ave.

I know that the downtown YMCA was there until at least the late 1970's we swam there quite often. The Lakewood Y was there in the very early 70's. The Rice Diet was on Mangum for years and moved to Colemill Rd. in the mid to late 80's. And yes Elvis was here along with Buddy Hackett at the Rice Diet. Buddy told me he did not know who did the Snickers thing but he could have been pulling my leg. Buddy was a frequent diner at Groucho's Seafood restaurant in the late 70's, I worked there for a couple of years.

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