…in most cases, you probably don’t need them.
Disclaimer: this entry is based entirely on jonrev’s personal opinions and experiences.
Use and application of this information is solely at your discretion.
To recap: Gary, Indiana – an industrial utopia whose fortunes and failures have been entirely at the mercy of the United States Steel Corporation’s Gary Works, which anchors the north side of town – has been absolutely littered with abandoned buildings since the mid-1970s. Given its central location between Chicago and Detroit, this city is an urban explorer’s wet dream with dozens of huge, quality abandoned buildings that are typically stupid-easy to access.
And in the afterbirth of social media blowing urban exploring up into something more than just a weird, lowkey hobby: after a few years, the long cash-strapped city apparently found a way to monetize it.
In the summer of 2012 Gary quietly passed an ordinance requiring anyone photographing the handful of city-owned vacant buildings to purchase a $50 per-head permit through the city’s Office of Film & Television. These buildings include the Methodist Church, Palace Theater, Memorial Auditorium, and Union Station. The permits also release the city of liability should you do something stupid that gets you hurt or killed. We’re not actually able to access and show you Gary’s municipal codes, so enjoy this screencap of the city laying the smackdown on an ill-fated Facebook meetup.
For a good year or so, many claimed that the cops were checking abandoned buildings popular among photographers, ticketing and arresting photogs left and right for not holding these permits. Five years since it was enacted, however, I will vouch all day and night that that such claims were a total load of bull… and probably a scare tactic so people would pay-up for lame, possibly-scam meetups and other means of exploiting the city’s blight.
We have been visiting Gary several times a year since 2009. Something like 30 total trips (not all photo trips) at time of writing. Complete with two police encounters since the ordinance was enacted. We have been in nearly everything from the church everyone and their mom goes to, to uncharted waters. We’ve never been ticketed or arrested for exploring in Gary. We’ve never met – on or offline – anyone who says they were ticketed or arrested for exploring. Frankly, in a city where the cops will (Bad Guy Joe as my witness) go snooze in front of the abandoned high schools in broad daylight, you probably have to do something really dumb to even get caught, there. In our two cases: the first was because of an overly-watchful neighborhood, and the other was a bad parking job – we talked our way out of both.
Furthermore, the city has also made little to no long-term effort to actually secure the locations they own in those last five years. The only time we’ve not been able to access the Church or Palace was due to TV or film production taking place on those days.
So who are those permits actually for? If you ask the city, naturally they will tell you everyone. But the thing is… in a city like Gary, harassing photogs is a very low priority for local law enforcement. If you’re a small group or loner, not parked like an idiot at the Church, not going nuclear with smoke bombs in the Palace (please stop this), and not holding rave nights in the Screw & Bolt factory — which, by the way, is privately-owned… Post Office, too — you’ll be fine.
Call up City Hall, however, if you’re coming to town with a serious film crew (for TV/film production), need city resources like street closures, or have an overly-large group that is otherwise begging for police attention. Yes, we’ve seen those groups get rolled… nothings screams “arrest me” like a bunch of nice SUV’s and minivans, with Illinois and Wisconsin plates, parked all over the sidewalk in front of the abandoned Post Office.
Otherwise… fuck that pay-to-play exploring crap. Walk right in like you own the place. Be smart about your surroundings. Be respectful… people still live and work in this town, and local cats are very-much pissed at you Instagram explorers trashing the city and being general jagoffs. Support the local businesses that are still there. Talk to the people if the chance arises; all things considered, Gary seriously has some of the friendliest locals I’ve ever met, and the old-timers can be a wealth of history and information.
Don’t doom the spot.