Thursday, September 20, 2007

Barney's 'corner room at the Y'

Corner room at the Y?
Much is being made in Raleigh these days of the opening of the first part of the newly constructed YMCA on Hillsborough Street between the Capitol and the N.C. State University. It’s a marvelous facility from all I’ve heard and read about it, replacing the old Central Y with the new John M. Alexander Family YMCA.
Local businessman Johnny Mac Alexander engineered the replacement project. His father, John McKnitt Alexander, organized the fund-raising campaign to build the old Central Y in the late 1950s.
Among other things, millions of television fans of the Andy Griffith Show know a little about the Central Y. That’s where Mayberry Deputy Barney Fife would stay when he made his trips to Raleigh. He liked “the corner room at the Y,” and for decades folks have been pointing out the corner room at the Y to visitors. Johnny Mac Alexander has a plaque and doorknob from the corner room at the Y (Room 201), reports Matthew Eisley of the News & Observer. Here’s a link.
According to one story I heard long ago, the original corner room at the Y hadn’t been at the Central Y in years and years. Its materials, at least, were in my neighborhood on the north side of Raleigh. Bruce Robertson, who lived around the corner from me for years, was an accomplished woodworker who made his modest two-story colonial home into something of a showplace. He scrounged lumber wherever he could find it and made lovely things from it.
His backyard featured a gazebo, a storybook playhouse for his daughter, a balcony on his house and a new sunroom that was the envy of the neighborhood. I bought an old Sears joiner from him in the late 1970s. He told me how he’d used it to plane down the lumber he recovered from the demolition of an earlier version of the Central Y. He pointed to the gazebo and told me, “That’s ‘the corner room at the Y’ right there.”
I suspect those materials might have been from a corner room that pre-dated the Andy Griffith Show (1960-68) and Barney’s references to his corner-room visits to Raleigh. Bruce moved away from our neighborhood years ago and several owners have come and gone. I don’t know if Bruce’s story was true, or if the timing was way off, or if the current owners realize the little piece of history they might just have behind their house. We walk by it on our evening stroll most every night, and wonder.


The Media Grab said...


As a member of the new Y and a resident of the same neighboorhood, I appreciated hearing about some of raleigh's past. Things sure are changin'. One change: I think we live in "mid-town" raleigh now. More than just a north hills marketing slogan, I think mid-town better encapsulates the north-of-the beltline, south of millbrook area.

So here's to midtown. When me and my wife are out walking our dog, we will keep an eye out for barney's room

David McKnight said...


I wonder if the tales of Barney's room at the Y and other legendary Andy Griffith Show episodes have appeared in multi-language versions for television programming in foreigh countries.

Just think of all the great writers from Europe and Asia to Africa and Latin America who have spun yarns, poems and even serious short stories and novels about life in the smaller towns of the nations of the world. Surely Russians who love their Tolstoy and Pushkin would love to see Andy Griffith Shows with all the characters speaking in Russian dialogue.

Likewise, from Germany and France to Ethiopia and Argentina, people who care about the vitality of community life in smaller towns and villages would certainly appreciate the great humor and frequent lessons in practical living and moral rectitude so prevalent in the show's excellent scripts.

Do you happen to know what if any foreign countries may have had Andy Griffith Show television runs any time since the 1960s? If so, it would be interesting to see how translators coveyed such expressions as:

--"Now Barney, you beat anything I ever saw."

--"Nip it! Nip-nip-nip it in the bud!"

--"Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies."

--"Where did you get the liquor, Otis?"

--"Surprise, surprise, surprise!"

--"I 'ppreciate it."

David McKnight said...

Hey Media Grab, thanks for weighing in on the urban radius of Barney's Raleigh Y room.

What about this idea: why don't you guys declare your past-the-beltway section as "The North Side" (as in Chicago)?" I was thinking that Raleigh already has a "Midtown" (a la Manhattan in New York) in the general area of Glenwood Avenue from Hillsborough Street to Peace Street and on toward Five Points.

See, some of us Piedmonters and Downeasters have got to help Raleigh find its way to become a true city in the tradition of Greensboro and Wilmington and not just a series of government-academic-residential district zones.

So we need "Midtown" for Glenwood Avenue if you could see your way clear to grant us that. In return, we'll even throw in the upper corners of Boardwalk and Park Place...

Meanwhile, you've got "The North Side," which is like the Capital City's gleaming upwardly arching corridor to the mystical melange between city and country all the way to the Franklin County line.

If we can help Raleighites get their city's urban balance distributed more evenly and effectively, then maybe all the state and local pols who run things downtown will see fit to help the rest of North Carolina "balance its wheels" for the journey through the 21st Century.

Of course, it would help if Raleigh's News & Observer would cover the city's business, professional and residential sectors as assiduously as it tracks every sneeze and guffaw in state government on Jones and Blount streets.

I mean, you know and I know that people actually live and work in Raleigh for more than two or four years at a time!

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