A few weeks ago I broke a six-month drought and hopped the train(s) to downtown Gary, with no particular plan in mind beyond saying a farewell to a dump. For the first time ever I opted not to bring a digital camera of any kind (save for my phone – more on that later) but rather thought it was time to really stretch the legs of my Graflex Crown Graphic, which I picked up at a flea market last fall and have only really been able to play with once, a few months ago.
Acquired primarily to shoot my stash of Fuji’s recently-nixed FP-3000B, my original plan was to pick up one of Polaroid’s elusive 180’s or 195’s, but decided this was a better value as not only can I be more-precise with this, but I can also eventually shoot traditional 4×5 sheet film, and New55 when it comes due. This was about half the cost, too. I picked up a Polaroid 405 back from eBay, and modified the Graphic back on my camera so it will fit – I merely added a couple washers between the back and the springs to raise it up a few millimeters. Metering was (somewhat) accomplished using a free app on my phone, but I found it was horribly inaccurate and wound up pissing-away more exposures than I preferred.
I got up just before daybreak so I could make the one South Shore train which runs nonstop between Van Buren Street to downtown Gary; with it being summer, I wanted to get the more sketch location out of the way as early as possible. En route, I passed the old main branch of the Gary Public Library, which had shuttered in 2012 due to financial reasons. Plans to convert it into a cultural center were only partially-completed before being aborted, and it has sat these last few years, since. No-longer; I was surprised to see painters working inside that day, and noticed that the sign along 5th had been changed to now read “Gary Public Library and Cultural Center”. An opening date is yet to be set, and actually as of yesterday there is still some ongoing bickering regarding funding, unfortunately.
The Ambassadors First and only priority stop was the severely-derelict Ambassador Building, a few blocks west of downtown. Built in 1928 as a posh hotel for fresh suits at US Steel: the massive eight-story building remained occupied – later as apartments – until around 1985. A botched renovation attempt a decade later resulted in nearly the entire south facade going AWOL, leaving a huge part of the building exposed to the elements and able to rapidly deteriorate from there. It since-became a popular target for thieves; today much of its ornate terracotta and most of its windows have either been picked or fallen-away, and now it easily stands as one of the city’s biggest eyesores. With the Sheraton demolished last year, the city has finally taken notice; earlier this year they began taking demolition bids, and a contract was finally awarded about a month ago.
Which brings me here, today: to take a final tour, a couple flicks, a brick for my collection; and to say goodbye to the old cesspool. I’ve been in here only a couple of times beforehand; the second of which was just a year and a couple of days to this date, and in just that year its condition has taken a huge turn for the worse. Sure the stairs have always been sketch, and it’s always been a bit of a maze trying to get to the roof; but not until now had I noticed that “holy shit this place is gonna fall whether the city’s ready or not”.
The entire eighth-floor facade – a couple of huge penthouses – is now bowing at the ends from lack of tuckpointing, and on the south roof the bricks are already falling-away. Right then and there I decided to grab my brick (by literally yanking it out of a wall – something I’ve admittedly never done before) and GTFO. I don’t frighten easy when it comes to structural integrity, but when it comes to heights such as the Ambassadors I’d rather be near the ground when shit hits the fan. I shot some shaky video on my way out but haven’t decided what to do with it.
Demolition on 600 Block of Broadway
(forgive the cellphone pics that follow…)
The northern part of Broadway was once Gary’s retail and entertainment epicenter back in the day – sadly much of it was deserted amid the city’s turmoil that began with the postwar-decline of the steel industry, and much of it was subsequently-lost forever in the Great Gary Arson of 1997. Going into the new millennium, only the west-600 block of Broadway remained as the last complete strip of “old downtown Gary” still standing – severely derelict as it was.
With the demolition of the old JCPenney/Walgreens on the next block north, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see the heavy-equipment used for razing that had moved down here, and in just the month or two since Google Maps updated its satellite imagery: had completely obliterated three structures on this block down to just a few partial walls at street-level; also largely blocked by remnants of false facades the city built around 2010 in an vain attempt to beautify Broadway (many of which collapsed onto the sidewalk from severe weather). Although a recent article on the Ambassadors claims only those three buildings were the targets, I can’t see much-else surviving, here – most of these century-old remaining structures have either collapsed, already, or have huge holes in the roof.
New Construction: SW 7th + Broadway
I saw the early-stages of this building’s construction underway last October. I’m not sure what’s going in, but I remember that a large block known as the “Steel City Building” once-stood, here; it was torn down over five years ago.
New Construction: SE 8th + Massachusetts The last time I saw this location: only the elevator shaft had been built, and there was no construction equipment or any evidence of ongoing work to be seen. I was a bit glad and surprised to see construction had since progressed significantly. Homeless veterans in northwest Indiana will soon call this place home.
New Boarding Passing behind the Palace Theatre, I noticed new boards covering some of the emergency exits to the back alley – however those on the other side, in the alley separating the theatre from the retail and apartments, are still open. Coming up to the long burned-out remnants of the Memorial Auditorium, however, reveal that it’s been completely boarded-up. Entry is no-longer possible, there; and I wonder if more buildings are about to be sealed, soon.
This is a huge abandonment which comprises of two structures on the 700 block of Washington Street, and was built in 1926. The northern part of the building was retail and apartments, while the larger southern part was last known as Gotham(?) Dodge-Plymouth and featured a large elevator for moving cars between the basement and three floors. Today the building is severely derelict and primarily home for huge piles of decades-old rotten furniture on the upper floors; the apartments in the northern part of the building are still intact though I lack photographs of them.
I only set up for one shot, here. For some reason I always come here planning to shoot the hell out of it, but wind up losing interest almost-immediately. The ground floor is extremely dark, and the upper floors are a chore to get to due to the sketchy stairs – there is lore in the exploring community of someone actually falling through some steps that gave-out from under her many years ago. I recall she survived but her camera didn’t.
This church is a slut… everyone’s been in her, everyone wants to be in her, and some guy’s her pimp, wanting you to pay to be in her. No reason to further-explain; you can literally Google everything there is to be seen and said about this place.
I dicked around here for about an hour between some graff and a broken television before calling it quits – waking up at 4AM to catch the trains, and lugging around the film equipment plus-brick kills you after awhile.
With as much demolition that has taken place in the last year, I’m beginning to wonder how much longer my downtown trips will continue. It’s great to see this city on the rebound, though – I give Mayor Freeman-Wilson huge credit for her efforts to clean Gary up for future-redevelopment.