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Effort to preserve Gary architecture gaining momentum

The city is hosting a series of walking tours this summer to raise awareness of its Art Deco-era gems

Gary Department of Redevelopment and Planning

For decades, the nearby city of Gary, Indiana was an integral part of the Chicago metro area’s role and reputation as an industrial heavyweight. In the 1960s, the city was home to 180,000 people, however as deindustrialization occurred across the Great Lakes region, the city’s population dropped to about 80,000. And as people and industry moved on, many of the city’s great buildings were left vacant. However, a new effort from the City of Gary is hoping to revive interest in the city and help raise much needed funds to ensure the preservation of its historic downtown.

This summer, Gary’s Redevelopment Commission and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority will host a series of walking tours (dates TBA) of the city’s downtown for visitors to get an up-close look at some of the city’s grand buildings. Several of the buildings featured on the tour are currently abandoned but have become popular sites for photographers, specifically the urban explorer segment who often break into abandoned sites for photos. Alex Koerner and Sam Salvesen, two AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers helping to spearhead the effort say that the walking tour series will not only be a safer and legal way of seeing these buildings, but they hope that the tours will help start a dialogue about historic preservation and renew interest in Gary.

“We’re entering an age where Gary is witnessing a renaissance period. If Gary does well then the region does well,” Sam Salvesen tells us. “It’s a town that’s reflective of American history—to understand Gary is to understand urban America.”

The group is also trying to raise $7,500 to help clean up some of the abandoned sites. If the team is able to meet their goal, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority will contribute a matching amount to bring the total funds raised to $15,000. According to Salvesen and Koerner, the money will go towards beautification efforts like hanging new banners throughout the downtown area as well as clearing out and boarding up the First Methodist Church and Gary’s New Deal-era post office.