Friday, March 09, 2018

The abandoned stores of Gary, Indiana

Gary is Indiana's reply to Detroit. After its population peaked at 175,000 in 1960, now only about 75,000 people live in what was once the Hoosier State's second largest city.

Like New York, it's most famous street in Broadway. And there the similarities end.

Broadway was being repaved when I visited in November. Oh, the smoke. No, Gary is not on fire here. Those ugly plumes are coming from US Steel's sprawling Gary Works plant, the largest employer in town.

The billows lasted about a minute. I'm not sure what it was--but a description from the Windsor Star about a similar looking discharge from Detroit's Zug Island US Steel plant is probably on the money as to what we see here.
The black plumes come from two blast furnaces at U.S. Steel which are equipped with bleeder valves designed to open when the pressure gets too high. This prevents damage to the furnaces but also sends particles into the air. A bleeder valve will open for a minute or two releasing a cloud.

There is a big boom and then "it blows all this smoke,: said Gregg Ward, operator of the Detroit-Windsor truck ferry located near the U.S. Steel plant in Detroit.

There can be a week or more without an occurrence, then it might happen several times in a day, he said. He described the particles in the smoke as "fine metallic pieces" that stick to things.
Only didn't I didn't a boom.

Oh, I've gotten off topic. That's the former Michael's Norman Furniture at 1519 Broadway. Burglary must have been a problem there as the store has pull-down window gates in front. Next to it is another abandoned storefront, belonging to United Cleaners.

You may have to click on the photo to make it larger, but you'll see, at least in autumn, Central Paint & Supply Company a block south was holding a going out of business sale.

Probably every town in America in the 1920s with 50,000 or more residents had a movie palace that doubled as a vaudeville theater. Gary's showplace was the Palace Theater, which opened in 1925. It closed in 1972. To be fair, many, perhaps most of these theaters went dark after television sets became the focal point of most living rooms, so Gary shouldn't be clobbered over the demise of the Palace.

But hang in there, I'll start slapping Gary around soon.

Donald Trump, when he was a real estate mogul, also owned the Miss USA pageant, which amazingly was held in Gary at the Genesis Convention Center in 2001 and 2002. For the latter beauty display, the future president fixed up the front of the Palace and placed "Jackson Five Tonite" on the marquee. The Jacksons of course were from Gary but moved away shortly after signing with Motown in the late 1960s. After Michael Jackson's death in 2009, according to Wikipedia, new placards declaring "Jackson Five Forever" were placed on the marquee. As you can see none of those signs remain.

Here's a place that is still a going-concern, the Gary-owned Genesis Convention Center. While it's a multi-purpose arena that holds sporting events, and of course once hosted Miss USA, as a convention complex it's an utter failure because a hotel was never part of the development. As someone who worked in the hospitality industry for over a decade, I can tell you that a convention facility without a hotel within walking distance is a financial sinkhole. It's like a circus tent without stakes or poles.

Who financed this boondoggle?

A brainchild of Gary's mayor for over twenty years, Richard Hatcher, the center opened in 1974. Hatcher was one of the first black mayors of a major US city. While he was a nationally-known civil rights spokesman, perhaps he should have tended matters at home. Genesis, as you guessed by its name, was constructed to revitalize Gary. As for the results? The city's current mayor said last year, "It is a tremendous drain on the city." And Gary is circling that drain.

If you look closely you'll see that the "N" in "convention" is missing.

Peacock Cleaners by the looks of its layout might have serviced the washing of uniforms of the many factory workers in Gary's golden era.

Dry cleaning is a tough business to maintain. Smith's Cleaner's couldn't survive either.

On the 700 block of Washington stands the long-gone Grantham Dodge Plymouth. Oh, what's a Plymouth? It was a Chrysler Motors brand that competed with Ford and Chevrolet.

I believe there is a tree growing out of the second floor at Grantham. Oh, just as with multi-floor automobile factories, multiple-level car dealerships are at a serious disadvantage compared to a spread-out single-floor operations. Too much time is wasted moving cars from floor to floor, and elevators break down a lot and are expensive to maintain.

A look inside.

Two blocks to the south is this pile of rubble.

We are headed towards Broadway again.

Don't laugh. Signage, such as this one for this long-shuttered wig shop, was cutting edge 60 years ago.

Is that a former department store at 8th and Broadway?

Over on 25th Street and Tyler is this bricked-off storefront. Yes, not boarded-up but bricked off. When you own a property and it has to be bricked off, you know you have a distressed property on your hands.

On 25th and Jackson, just three blocks from the old Michael Jackson home, is the former Theodore Roosevelt Brach of the Gary Public Library. Notice the rotting roof. Perhaps some of the Jacksons checked out books here.

Gary's former Union Station is easy to see if you are driving on the Indiana Toll Road but very hard to locate street-level on Broadway. Parking? Forget about it. I left my Honda Civic over near City Hall. I have more photographs of the old train station here.


Levois said...

Gary could be a city of great opportunity, however, even someone with deep pockets will want a return on their investment. So far their attempts at a "genesis" or a rebirth has fallen very flat.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, JR, for posting these picture essays! Although I've traveled to some 17 other countries and have lived overseas [saudi arabia - for almost a decade!], I've not traveled nearly enough of our country, and likely, at this point, won't be doing so in the future. [After so many trips and having spent so much time living out of a suitcase, there comes a time when enough is enough.] You allow me the opportunity to see some of the places I probably wouldn't even consider seeing on my own, and I just wanted you to know that I appreciate it. Regards, BT in SC

Marathon Pundit said...

I'm glad you enjoy these posts, BT. Oh, SC is one of the few states I've not visited!

Anonymous said...

We've got a guest room [yes, of course, with its own full bath - no tub, walk in shower] that overlooks the lake [Lake Wylie in S.C., the same lake is Lake Norman in N.C.] on two sides - we have 250' [350'?] of waterfront, a bass boat [a semi-useable dock; needs to be replaced], a pool, and both a patio and deck which are absolutely perfect for sipping whatever beverage one desires [puff on a cigar, too!] while ooohing and awwwing at gorgeous sunsets. Let me know when you want to visit. Right now, the calendar is pretty much wide open! Regards, BT in SC

Marathon Pundit said...

I may take you up on that!

kate said...

That department store(?) you were wondering about. There used to be a Goldblats (sp?) department store that my one grandmother use to shop at. That picture could be of that. Used to live on the outskirt of Gary in a little town of Black Oak. My one aunt used to work at the steel mills in payroll. Thanks for the pixs and a walk down memory lane.