It’s obvious Gary has seen better days. One of the best (or worst) examples of urban blight in America, this once beautiful but tough city is, sadly, better known for its high crime rate than its past. Both of my parents were born and grew up in Gary, and both moved out in the late 1970s. Every time we drive through together, it evokes wonderful memories along with sadness to see what their hometown has become.
Gary was founded in 1906 by U.S. Steel, quickly growing into an important city. In the 1970s, a combination of a decrease in jobs and rising crime led to people leaving the city in droves. The exodus continues today. The city was once home to almost 180,000 people in 1960. It has dropped to a population of just over 80,000 as of the 2010 census and it’s estimated that over ⅓ of the homes in the city are abandoned.
Other than the Miller area (covered in another post) most people only see Gary from the highway. It’s definitely not for tourists and I don’t recommend visiting, especially if you don’t know where you’re going, so I’m writing this post to show you the city’s few highlights leftover from its past. There are several historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, but the majority have been heavily damaged, destroyed, or vandalized. I’ll include only a fraction of the notable places.
The downtown area runs along Broadway until its northern end at the entrance to the U.S. Steel plant. City Hall is located there, as well as the Lake County Superior Courthouse and Genesis Convention Center. To the north of City Hall is Gateway Park, which contains the Gary Land Company Building, the city’s oldest building and first town hall.
On the northwest corner of City Hall is a statue of Elbert H. Gary, a founder of U.S. Steel and the city’s namesake.
East of City Hall is the U.S. Steel Yard, home of the Gary SouthShore RailCats, a professional baseball team in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. The ballpark opened in 2002 and the team has had some success.
Heading south on Broadway is a depressing sight. Several beautiful historic brick buildings are mixed in with crumbling abandoned ones, creating a surreal scene of urban decay. One of these notable buildings is the Palace Theater, which was one of the finest entertainment venues in the city. It opened in 1925 and has been abandoned since 1972.
West of downtown at the northeast corner of 7th and Van Buren is the Ingwald Moe House. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1909, it serves as a private residence.
Not too far away on Polk Street between 4th and 5th Avenues are some historic Edison Concept Homes. The homes were designed by inventor Thomas Edison to be built quickly and easily from a single pour of concrete. Although Edison had nothing to personally do with the homes in Gary, 96 of his concrete structures were built between 1910 and 1914 as the city was rapidly growing, and 72 remain in various locations as of 2012.
On 13th between Jackson and Madison is the former SS Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, which has since moved south to Merrillville. The church was originally built between 1912 and 1917 and now serves as the Koinonoia Missionary Baptist Church.
Michael Jackson’s Home
A monument to Michael has been erected outside, and it’s not uncommon for fans to come and leave flowers or messages at the gate. The home is a private residence, so if visiting, please don’t disturb the owners.
The South Shore Line, which runs between Chicago and South Bend, has a stop at Gary Metro Center near the Genesis Center and City Hall. You’d be able to see the downtown from there. For other sites, a car is necessary.