Monday, January 08, 2018

The abandoned City United Methodist Church of Gary, Indiana

If you are considering the intriguing yet dangerous hobby of urban exploration, you may want to start with Gary, Indiana, particularly if you live in the Chicago area, as it lies on the eastern edge of the metropolitan region.

And if you are traveling on Interstate 80, 90, or 94 in Northwest Indiana then Gary is within reach.

Just a half mile from the Broadway exit on the Indiana Toll Road--that is, Interstate 90--is the long-abandoned City Methodist Church. According to Wikipedia, it was once the largest Methodist house of worship in the Midwest--its seating capacity was 1,000--as it was for the adjacent Seaman Hall, which was named for the congregation's founder, Dr. William Grant Seaman.

It opened in 1926, its address is 575 Washington Street.

The Gothic Revival building doesn't look like a Methodist church--and its many detractors decried the use of the oak paneling of the chancel, altar, and the fellowship hall at Seaman Hall, as well as the stained glass windows, which was a reminder of "popery," that is Catholicism, according to the Sometimes Interesting blog. The massive church organ was donated by Elbert H. Gary, the city's namesake and one of the founders of US Steel, which still operates a large mill in Gary.

That's the Elbert H. Gary statue outside of Gary's City Hall.

US Steel put up nearly half of the $800,000 for the construction of the church, which was a staggering amount in the 1920s.

That's the corner of Seaman Hall.

And that's the view facing where the altar once stood.

Wikipedia shows the roof intact in a 2009 photograph.

Ironically Methodists, both in England where the faith was founded and in America where it flourished, had a reputation for preaching outdoors. Methodism has come full circle in Gary in a way. Wikipedia says an occasional goth wedding is held at City Methodist

The stained glass windows shown here are too high for scrappers to pillage.

But the stained glass windows here were accessible.

Later the church changed its name to City United Methodist.

Besides the church, and the aforementioned theater, the City Methodist complex included offices, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, and a rooftop garden that was never completed. The planned bowling alley never was built.

There's the theater.

Seaman brought plays and lecturers to the theater, he screened travel films, and he held interfaith events. While ecumenical dialogue is the norm in the 21st century it wasn't in the 1920s, even among Protestants.

By 1929 parishioners had enough of Dr. Seaman, who was dispatched to Ohio. The expense of building the church and the hall--as well as maintaining it was too much to bear. As was apparently Seaman's ego and the belief, which seems credible nearly a century later, that the reverend was building a temple to himself.

There were graffiti taggers in the room adjacent to the upper balcony of the theater, so I didn't go there. They looked like nice enough fellows but I didn't want to chance it with them.

That's what's left of the gym. which is two stories up.

While the roof garden was never completed...

Nature always...

Wins in the end.

Way off in the distance is the Gary Water Tower.

Another look at Seaman Hall.

The Great Depression was hard on Gary and City United Methodist Church. But the post-World War II economic boom and the religious revival of the baby boomer era brought good times to the church.

Seaman Hall was rented out to Indiana University around this time.

White flight in the 1960s and the downturn in the domestic steel industry devastated Gary and it has yet to recover. And there are no signs a recovery is about to begin.

A program from 1967 includes photographs of the ministers and parishioners. The only blacks shown are the two custodians and a housekeeper.

Membership in the church plummeted as Gary's fortunes fell. The church was always an expensive facility to maintain even during prosperous times and it closed down in 1975. Indiana University continued to hold classes in Seaman Hall for a while.

Dr. Seaman died in an automobile accident in 1944. His ashes were buried in the sanctuary of the church, and Sometimes Interesting says that a member of the last congregation claims the ashes are probably still there.

The complex, way back when, was known by its detractors as "Seaman's Folly."

Is it?

Once again, according to Sometimes Interesting, in 2005 Gary's planning director, David Wright, envisioned an open space that would include a ruins garden, built among surviving parts of the church. To me it would have been reminiscent of how the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral incorporated the remnants of the old church that had been destroyed during the Battle of Britain.

I believe that can still happen, assuming what is left is structurally sound and Northwest Indiana's legendary snowy winters don't do more damage to what remains a beautiful, yet battered, building.

No comments: