Gary, Indiana, May 2008

by Brian Cofer July. 03, 2008 2627 views

So in the end, what can be said here? It's just pretty damned sad what we allowed to happen to our cities here in America 40 years ago. And it continues to happen as we contiinue our endless rush toward the farthest reaches of metropolitan creation. Some blame racism. Others blame a lack of personal responsibility. I suspect there's truth on both sides, but mostly somehwere in between. Perhaps we should collectively look in the mirror if we want to know who's to blame, then figure out how to start living together.

Italic TextI've been to Chicago several times now, and you can see the Art Institute and Navy Pier only so many times, so I spent a lot of my time just driving around taking photos. At one point, I found myself in Northwest Indiana, a top contender for the most dismal region of the U.S., a hellish collection of oil refineries, steel mills and trailer parks. The hub city of this area is Gary, a city infamous as a national poster child for urban decline to rival East St. Louis or Camden, N.J. Like such places, Gary tells the typical of story of a proud working-class town beset by white flight in the 1960s. By the ‘70s and ’80s it was just a shell of a city with titanic wrecks and bulldozed weedscapes.

There's life among the ruins. People go about their business, and many houses look well-cared-for. The farther you go from downtown, the better things look. And there are hopeful signs of renewal downtown, like the new baseball park and the ‘80s-era convention center, as well as new housing. But such projects have the look of deliberate and desperate attempts at a taxpayer-funded renaissance. In the meantime, little else is happening. On a recent Sunday morning, it was so silent I could practically hear the bricks falling off the buildings one by one.

Here’s what I saw:

I like the Vegas-glitz style of the sign. It's in deplorable condition, but the establishment actually remains in business.

Interestingly, I saw several blocks of these mission-style rowhouses, certainly a unique architecture style. Gary was founded about 100 years ago as a company town by U.S. Steel. I wonder if these were built by the company.

Downtown Gary. The main drag, Broadway, is a block over, but at one time it looks like this street also was a thriving commercial street. If you were to look across the street, you'd see nothing but scrubby trees. I'm sure at one time, the other side of the street was itself lined with stores.

Farther down on the same block. I don't know what this building once was, but it sure must have been something.

This was the Methodist church. Here's a link to some interior shots some brave soul did for an urban exploration site:

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I don't know what this was. An apartment building, perhaps?

Here's Broadway, the main drag through downtown. At some point, maybe 20 years ago, someone thought it would be a nice touch to paint murals over the boarded up windows with artistic renderings of the store interiors. It probably spruced up things and sent out a hopeful and proud message that people here still cared. All these years later, the murals have faded and peeled. Now they make things look even sadder than ever. It's as if all the hope has faded with the paint.

This was once the public schools auditorium, no doubt a meeting place for the city. Now it's just a shell, having been gutted by a fire.

A street to nowhere. At the head of this block is a sign pointing to public parking, a sad joke and reminder of better days. This is only a couple of blocks from the heart of downtown.

Some of the housing stock. Again, I saw lots of nice-looking homes occupied no doubt by decent people. Perhaps it's not really fair to take photos of only the ruins, but that's the shocking predominant landscape of Gary.

This was the post office. The gaping entrance beckoned and I couldn't resist, so I went in. No, not the smartest thing I've ever done.

Here's a really nice set of photos on Flickr from someone who dared to venture farther back into the building than I:

And here's a 1945 postcard of this building:

Sad, isn't it?

This looks like it might have once been a pretty snazzy place to eat. I'm always up for fine food and cocktails. Unfortunately, I don't believe Walt's has served anyone for quite some time.

More mission-style rowhouses, these fixed up pretty nicely.

Now, back to Chicago.

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