Elements of Urbanism: Gary, Indiana

July 26, 2012 14 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville visits the downtown of a community that has suffered from the economic fallout of a single industry economy: Gary, Indiana.

Tale of the Tape:

Gary Pop. 2011: 80,221 (City); 2,138,038 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1819)

Jacksonville Pop. 2010: 827,908 (City); 1,360,251 (Metro-2011) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1960: Jacksonville (201,030); Gary (178,320)

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2010

Gary: -22,452
Jacksonville: +86,281

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Gary: Genesis Convention Center (1981)  - 24,472 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

Gary: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Gary: Gary Manor - 157 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies:

Gary: N/A
Jacksonville: CSX (226), Winn-Dixie Stores (363), Fidelity National Information Services (425), Fidelity National Financial (472)

Urban infill obstacles:

Gary: An economic strategy to rebuild the city's economy.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Gary: N/A
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Abandoned buildings and underutilized parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Gary: 46 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 78 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

About Gary

Gary was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for its new plant. The city was named after the lawyer and founding chairman of the United States Steel Corporation, Elbert Henry Gary.

Gary's fortunes have risen and fallen with those of the steel industry. The growth of the steel industry brought prosperity to the community. Broadway Avenue was known as a commercial center for the region. Department stores and architecturally significant movie houses were built in the downtown area and the Glen Park neighborhood.

In the 1960s, like many other American urban centers reliant on one particular industry, Gary entered a spiral of decline. Gary's decline was brought on by the growing overseas competitiveness in the steel industry, which had caused U.S. Steel to lay off many workers from the Gary area. As the city declined, crime increased.

Rapid racial change occurred in Gary during the late 20th century. These population changes resulted in political change which reflected the racial demographics of Gary. Gary had one of the nation's first African-American mayors, Richard G. Hatcher, and hosted the ground-breaking 1972 National Black Political Convention.

In the 1960s through 1980s, surrounding suburban localities such as Merrillville and Crown Point experienced rapid growth including new homes and shopping districts. Due to white flight, economic distress, and skyrocketing crime, many middle-class and affluent residents moved to other cities in the metro area such as Chicago and surrounding areas in Lake and Porter counties in Indiana.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gary had the highest percentage of African Americans of U.S. cities with a population of 100,000 or more, 84% (as of the 2000 U.S. census). This no longer applies to Gary since the population of the city has now fallen well below 100,000 residents.

U.S. Steel continues to be a major steel producer, but with only a fraction of its former level of employment. While Gary has failed to reestablish a manufacturing base since its population peak, two casinos opened along the Gary lakeshore in the 1990s although this has been aggravated by the state closing of Cline Avenue, an important access to the area. Today, Gary faces the difficulties of a rust belt city, including unemployment, decaying infrastructure, low literacy and educational attainment levels.

new housing

The Knights of Columbus Building on West th Avenue opened as a 10-story hotel in 1925.

The Gary Public Library

The Genesis Convention Center is a 7,000 seat multi-purpose arena that was completed in 1981.

Standing nine stories tall, the abandoned City Methodist Church was built in 1926 for $1 million.  At its height, City Methodist boasted a membership of 3,000. By 1970, the membership had dwindled to 100. The church, unable to afford to the upkeep of the building, closed it in 1975.

The Palace Theatre opened in 1925 featuring live stage shows, vaudeville acts, and motion pictures.  The theatre closed down in 1972 after the nearby US Steel plant went into decline.

The Gary Public Schools Memorial Auditorium could seat 5,000 people when it was erected in 1925.  For decades, several public schools had their graduation events at the auditorium.  Two thirds of the structure was destroyed by arson in 1997.

Now the Genesis Towers Senior Citizens building, this 141' tall highrise opened in 1926 as the Hotel Gary.

Broadway Avenue represented the piston of economic, social, cultural and transit activity in downtown Gary throughout most of the 20th century. As the principal highway into a municipality that was dubbed “City of the Century,” Broadway was a symbol of Gary’s strength. Broadway hosted an amalgamation of commerce, enterprise, politics, life, art, and culture within Gary.

Gary State Bank Building was completed in 1929. Although only 10-stories high, the elevators run to the fifteenth floor! So sure that this building, like the rest of the city, would grow, the architect made the allowance.

In the background, the abandoned hotel opened as the Holiday Inn in 1970.  The Holiday Inn closed in 1975 and as a part of a downtown revitalization plan, the building reopened as the Gary Sheraton in 1978.  Intended to anchor the adjacent Geneis convention center project, which wasn't completed until 1981, the hotel would fall into bankruptcy within a year of opening.  After being subsidized by the city, the hotel eventually closed for good in 1984.

The downtown Gary Post Office was erected in 1936 as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal program.  It ceased operations during the 1970s.

U.S. Steel Yard is a 6,139 seat baseball stadium in downtown Gary.  It is home to the Gary SouthShore RailCats, a professional baseball team and member of the American Association.  Completed in 2002, the ballpark is notable for holding a memorial service for the late pop musician and Gary native Michael Jackson on July 10, 2009, in which over 6,000 fans, with much of Jackson's family in attendance.

Gary City Hall was erected in 1927 as an integral element of the city's Gateway Plan. The Gateway Plan, proposed by the Gary Commerce Club in 1924, was to be designed in such a manner as to create a balanced integration of landscaping and structures providing an aesthetically pleasing "front door" to the city. The Gateway Plan was designed to consist of a park, a court building, and the City Hall at a cost of three million dollars.

While Jacksonville has blown countless opportunities to capitalize on its assets and downtown, a trip to Gary illustrates that we still have a way to go before all is lost.

Article by Ennis Davis