Community Center Endangered?
Any visitor to Europe will attest to the fact that there
are countless buildings in almost every town and city much older than
100 years that are well maintained and still in everyday use. In fact,
whole cities there have a marvelous historic character because of the
large number of historic landmarks.
But here's the paradox: in the United States a building
that is just 80 years old is considered "untenable" and "too expensive
The United States being the world's most prosperous
nation, this is hard to understand. If any country can afford to
preserve its historic heritage, it should be the USA.
But the wealth of the United States may be its undoing.
Unfortunately in this country we have a mentality that "new" is better
than "old." Even If it costs less to maintain a historic building than
it does to build a new one, since we can afford to build new, we think
"Why not?" I suspect this is often the reason historic structures are
torn down to make way for new ones.
This appears to be the case with the Whiting Community
Center. In 2006, the Maximus Corp., as part of a study of local
government, recommended that the Whiting Community Center be sold. Was
this just a case of noticing an older building and taking the easy way
out in suggesting a way to cut expenses?
In any event, it would be interesting to see a study
comparing the cost of maintaining a historic building verses the cost
of building a new one. I'll bet many people would be surprised if it
found that maintaining a historic building is more cost-effective than
building new. For a new building, contractors and architects must be
hired. Land must be bought up and surveyed. Construction materials must
be purchased and the construction company must be paid. These expenses
come all at once as opposed to the cost of maintenance which is spread
over a longer period.
This is not to mention the intangible benefits that a
historic building adds to the community, the sense of character and
uniqueness it creates in this age of cookie cutter housing and
fast-food restaurants that all look alike.
In the case of the Whiting community center, there is
something that really deserves to be saved. In 2007 a nine-member group
was commissioned by Whiting mayor Joe Stahura to study the center.
Stahura said "The Whiting community center is a huge part of our
history, and we are still brainstorming opportunities to keep the
Dedication of the building on Fishrupp and Clark
streets, then called the Whiting Memorial Community House, took place
on Veteran's Day, November 12th 1923. According to an article in the
June 10, 2007 Post-Tribune, it was dedicated by the American Legion
Post 80 in memory of Whiting residents who served during World War I.
The mayor at the time, Walter E. Schrage, asked that all businesses
close their doors on the day of the dedication. Those in attendance
were asked in the dedication program to stand at 11:00 a.m. "facing the
East for 30 seconds in silent prayer in memory of all World War I
The building represents local history, and especially
Whiting history, in many ways. The building was a gift from John D.
Rockefeller Sr. and John D. Rockefeller Jr. The building cost $450,000
to construct (in 1923 dollars), funding for which came from the
Rockefeller family and the Standard Oil Co..
The buildings still boasts rich amenities of the type
there no longer found in today's budget conscious
architecture--wood-paneled meeting rooms, a large swimming pool, a
bowling alley and 800 seat auditorium are just a few of the amenities.
The center is just as busy today as it was over 80 years
ago. Piano, swimming and crochet classes are given and individual rooms
are available for meetings, special parties, and wedding receptions.
Thousands of people visit the building every month. Says
former Whiting mayor Joseph Grenchik, "I pray this administration and
future administrations will find the will and means to keep it going."
here to see out page devoted to the Whiting
Historic churches are not only beautiful: they
embody a style of architecture that is unique and will never again be
duplicated. Historic churches are monuments to our ancestor's faith.
They add much to the character and personality of a community. Few, if
any, modern churches boast the carved stone facades, vaulted ceilings
and soaring stained-glass windows that many historic churches possess.
historic churches have fallen or been slated for demolition in
Northwest Indiana in just the past few years. In Crown Point, First
Presbyterian Church, a landmark for more than 150 years was demolished
on June 7, 1999. The city's founder, Solon Robinson, had donated six
lots for the original church, constructed of wood in 1845. The later
church was solidly constructed of brick, but the shell of that church
succumbed to the crane and the wrecking ball. There was nothing
structurally wrong with the building.
"It's hard to see her go, a
beloved building," said the pastor of the church, who, along with the
congregation, made the decision to demolish the beautiful structure in
favor of a larger one. "She served Crown Point well and she served her
Though the area in which
the church was located was recently named an historic district by the
city of Crown Point, the congregation insisted on keeping the church
from inclusion in the district.
Likewise, the congregation
of the 70-year-old St. Michael's Church in Schererville also plans to
demolish its landmark structure, despite many voices in the community
urging its preservation.
And in East Chicago, St.
Mary's Catholic Church was demolished even though, according to the Post-Tribune,
the congregation didn't have money to build a new one.
Church members often feel
their buildings are above the expectations for preservation that apply
to other landmarks. However, since they already get tax exemption from
the government, one may well ask if they have more, not less,
responsibility to be sensitive to the desires of the community in which
they reside. When a building achieves historic status, in a sense the
building not only belongs to the holder of the deed, but to the
community as a whole.
It is understandable that
congregations eventually outgrow their meeting places. But how much
better it would be for the members of these churches to sell their
buildings to other congregations and to use the money to buy a plot of
land at another location.
As the Bible at Proverbs
22:28 puts it, "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy
fathers have set."
Pizzeria in Merrillville--a proud landmark?
It was nice to read in the
March 18 Post-Tribune that the owners of Merrillville's Old Mill
Pizzeria on 73rd and Madison are proud of their historic landmark, but
either they or the previous owners have a funny way of showing it.
The pre-Civil War brick
structure is one of Merrillville's oldest buildings. But today the top
half of the building is painted a different color than the bottom half,
the upper-floor windows are boarded up, and the awning that wraps
around the building and its addition gives the appearance of cutting
the building in half. In other words, every attempt seems to have been
made to cover up or hide the building's historic character.
How much better it would
have been if the owners had left off the awning (which clashes with the
building's architectural style) and used the money they saved to hire a
decorator with some preservation background. He or she could have
advised them on how to remodel the building in an architecturally
The owners would not have
needed to spend any more money than they already did, and they would
have had a building of which they, and the community, could truly be
Worries About its Downtown Signs
Improvements to the Lake
George lakefront spurred a movement a few years ago by the city of
Hobart to establish guidelines for store signs in the downtown business
district. Plan Commission members watched a slide presentation
developed by the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for
Historic Preservation. It covered everything from the maximum number of
words a sign should have--seven--to color schemes, contrasts,
lettering, lighting and the size of the signs.
All this is well and good,
but it seems to us that, right now, there are more pressing concerns
for downtown Hobart than the appearance of its downtown signs.
Hobart is fortunate to have
a charming and unique downtown area. City centers like Hobart's are a
rarity worth preserving in this age of cookie-cutter shopping malls.
Instead of worrying about
signs, however, Hobart should follow Crown Point's lead and attempt to
get historic status for the downtown area. This would provide valuable
tax credits for downtown building owners who refurbish their buildings.
It would also set standards for what is and is not an architecturally
appropriate modification of a historic building.
Already, several buildings
in downtown Hobart have been seriously damaged by misguided
"rennovations," and others are endangered.
After all, signs can come
and go, but when a building is stripped of its historic fixtures or
even demolished, the damage is forever.
House" Plan Just a Bit Confusing
According to a recent news
item, local (loco?) Northwest Indiana officials want to use a million
dollars again next year to tear down all the "crack houses" in the
region, some of them in historic districts.
We must say we're just a
bit confused. Were the buildings themselves dealing crack? Was the
substance falling from the ceilings in the manner of old asbestos? Or
were the people inhabiting the buildings doing the
If this is the case, how
will tearing down these buildings solve the problem? Will the buildings
be demolished while the dealers are still in them? If so, we can
understand how this would make a significant dent in area crack
dealing. However, if the buildings will be evacuated first, we must
Perhaps the dealer's legs
will be cut off after the buildings are demolished? This might do the
trick, too. If not, we surely don't see what will keep them from
running like roaches to the building next door, hanging out their
shingle, and continuing business as usual.
Perhaps we're missing
something. Then again, maybe rather than using that $2 million to tear
down old buildings, it should be spent putting up a new building
instead. One with the big, block letters J-A-I-L painted on the front
Christopher Meyers, former Preservation Specialist for the City of Gary
has to say on this subject:
I am quite upset with the
newspapers and all their praise for Gritt/Operation Crackdown. I
attempted to speak with the editor of one newspaper about this issue
and was simply told I do not understand the problem and hung up on. I
called back and identified myself. The Editor said he knew of me. I
stated that I do agree that some buildings need to be razed due to
their condition (burned and literally a shell). The editor was still
pushing his opinion like I was supposed to say "yes it is a good thing
to tear down all housing that is vacant and classified as 'drug
I explained to him the
waiting lists for affordable, low-income housing, the environmental
factors, mothballing, and the ease of rehab. He said he did not care
and again pushed his story, describing the "hell" the family on Greene
has been undergoing with gang members parking their cars all over the
place and hanging out in a vacant building next door. I replied with
the question "What will happen with the house on Greene Street after
its elderly inhabitants leave Gary or pass on?"
I stated that this is the
underlying problem for Gary; its population continues to decrease and
that no one is taking up residency in the vacant architectural stock. I
again stated if a building was mothballed correctly no one would be
able to enter the building. I stated that the city has a community
development program, gives tons of funding to the CDC's, and that the
primary interest in the city and its advancement has to begin at home
with the municipal government.
The city still has no
preservation code, no concise development plans, and no modern zoning
ordinance which would help "stressed" neighborhoods. Additionally I
brought to his attention other cities where one industry was the major
economic powerhouse. I asked if he was familiar with Detroit and the
large number of homes/neighborhoods that were razed. In specific
sections of Detroit, it feels as if one is in a urban prairie...grass
growing, weeds, nature returning with hints of man's past here.....
wasted infrastructure such as streets and lighting.
As I ended my conversation
with the editor, I said that I was not calling to argue; rather to
point out some facts that I hoped he would see the next time he entered
a vacant building.
My points are logical
avenues for a solution to this problem.....not ones based upon
political rhetoric, gut emotionalism, or simple, candy coated fast
fixes. The architecture of Gary belongs to everyone and by superseding
federal historic preservation programs (such as Section 106), Pete
Visclosky, Scott King, and the FBI are indeed setting back the safety
umbrellas that were created for review. No review of the demolition has
been made; therefore no adverse affects will be logged as occurring.
I do question why I waste
my time here in Indiana instead of going to other areas where
preservation is not consider an "infringement" or where it is not so
infantile, misunderstood, or twisted in principle. But there is a need
to educate here.
From the Post-Tribune
Gary takes steps toward
saving a Frank Lloyd Wright home--and an important part of its history
Not many cities can claim
two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, but Gary can. And it looks like
Gary will be able to retain this high honor, thanks to former Gary
preservation consultant Christopher
Meyers and the Indiana
Historic Landmarks Foundation.
Wright, one of America's
most famed architects, designed the
home at 600 Fillmore St. around 1916 for Wilbur and Etta
Wynant. Wilbur Wynant was president of Gary National Life Insurance Co.
and the Gary National Association.
The home has been vacant
for years. Neglect has taken its toll, and the only future left for the
home for a time appeared to be demolition. It was sold at a tax auction
to a Wisconsin man who hoped to restore the home. But he wasn't able to
raise the more than $200,000 needed to restore it to pristine condition.
Now the Indiana Historic
Landmarks Foundation has announced it will purchase the building. The
foundation plans to stabilize the foundation, erect a temporary roof
and dry out and clean the interior before finding a buyer committed to
completely restoring it.
Were the home to fall, it
would have been a loss for Gary and for the nation. Wright-designed
homes are rare treasures. Like other historic buildings, they not only
link us to the past, but show the younger generation that just because
a building is old doesn't mean it can't be both useful and beautiful.
Far too often homes and buildings of historic significance are torn
down to make way for new projects, or simply because they've been
Todd Zeiger, northern
regional coordinator for the Indiana Historic Landmarks Foundation,
credited Christopher Meyers of Crown Point with helping to bring the
home to the foundation's attention. "he found it and did the research
on it," said Zeiger.
If the Fillmore Street home
is fully restored, it can become a major attraction for Gary. Wright
homes in other Midwestern cities have become tourist attractions and
regular stops for architecture buffs.
Sara-Ann Briggs, executive
Director of Chicago's Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservatory, said
the next step is to have the neighborhood, which is devoted to other
Prarie-style homes, declared a National Historic District so it can tap
into federal and state funding.
"In Gary, there is a great
need for revitalization," said Meyers. "Gary has a great potential. The
Frank Lloyd Wright structure is just the tip of the iceberg."
Part of Historic downtown Gary burns
It probably shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone.
The city of Gary has long been called "The fire capital of Northwest
Indiana." However, the sheer scope of the loss is breathtaking. The
historic Memorial Auditorium, which many people had hopes and dreams of
someday restoring is three-quarters destroyed and several important
storefront structures are a total loss.
If this fire is found to be an arson (and this looks
probable), Gary is not alone; a fire several years ago that burned down
a major historic department store in Valparaiso was found to be an
arson, leaving a hole in the downtown area (and in Valparaiso's
Two of the fire-ravaged structures may still have a
chance of being saved: part of the Memorial
Auditorium and the City Methodist Church,
a combination church, auditorium and commercial building.
The city of Gary is to be commended for contracting an
engineer to study the buildings and determine their stability. In
addition, the city will fence off the buildings and hire a private
security guard to protect them, giving time to preservationists and
city oficials to explore options.
If there is any lesson to be learned from this disaster,
it is that the kind of neglect that downtown Gary has endured can go on
for only so long. Many important structures remain, but if steps are
not taken to rehabilitate them quickly, they, too, will soon be gone
700 block of Broadway:
- Two abandoned two-story brick commercial storefronts,
each about 50 feet by 150 feet; completely gutted, roof collapsed.
600 block of Broadway:
- Radigan Building, an abandoned four-story brick
department store about 50 feet by 150 feet; completely gutted, roof
- Goldblatt's Department Store, an abandoned four-story
brick building about 150 feet by 150 feet, with attached five-story
150-foot by 150-foot brick and concrete building in rear; completely
gutted, roof collapsed.
- Next building south of Goldblatt's, a two-story
abandoned 50-foot by 150-foot storefront, heavily damaged, gutted.
700 block of Massachusetts:
- Memorial Auditorium, a four-story brick
auditorium-style building 500 feet by 150 feet; heavily gutted,
- Gary Housing Authority Senior Citizens building known
Towers. Damage to materials on roof of 10-story building; 124
residents evacuated. Most returned by 5:30 a.m. Monday. Four taken to
Methodist Hospital in Gary for treatment of minor smoke inhalation.
575 Washington St.
(This info is from the Northwest Indiana Times)
Church, an abandoned three-story brick auditorium-style
building, 150 feet by 200 feet; heavily damaged, roof partially
Local newspapers reported that Gary mayor Scott L. King
was focusing his attention on revitalizing the downtown area of Gary,
Indiana's third-largest city. This is good news to hear. And it is
still not an impossible dream.
Already, the downtown area was showing some signs of
hope. The "mini-mall" at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway seems
to be doing well, as does a similar enterprise nearby. In addition, a
small shopping plaza has recently been built on Broadway near the
Still, a few years ago, one would have laughed off talk
of revitalizing downtown Gary. A victim of steel mill layoffs and
severe segregation, the historic downtown area became a veritable ghost
town in the late 1970's, with perhaps no more than 10% of its
Why then, is there reason for hope? One word: Casinos.
The new gambling meccas that have opened in the Buffington Harbor area
of Gary are expected to pump several million dollars a year into the
city in tax revenues. If some of this money is put into providing tax
breaks, renovation credits and other incentives to local businesses, it
could breathe new life into the district. Perhaps the city could
concentrate on revitalizing one block of the downtown area at a time,
starting with the block bounded by Fifth Avenue and gradually working
its way south.
Downtown Gary still has several things going for it;
plenty of parking space, easy highway access and (still) lots of
historic architecture. Additional benefit could be gained by naming the
area a historic district. This would provide important tax credits for
renovation. A Miller architect has already done all the necessary
paperwork to gain historic status.
Even in today's mall-oriented society, downtowns have
continuing relevance. Most importantly, the downtown area is usually
the economic center of a community. When the downtown is not doing
well, the economy, image and self-esteem of the whole community suffers.
For this reason, we hope downtown revitalization is put
at the top of Gary's agenda.
One unfortunate note: There were
plans negotiated by the previous Gary mayor,Thomas Barnes, to convert
the historic Union Station on 3rd and Broadway into a shopping mall
using casino revenues. This could be an excellent anchor for downtown
revitalization. In addition, there could be a free hourly bus or South
Shore service from the casino site to the renovated station to draw
some of the people who will be coming into Gary into the retail area.
Unfortunately, Mayor Scott King wants to rescind this agreement. We
hope Mayor King rethinks his position.
of two major buildings of downtown Gary, the City Methodist Church and
the Genesis Tower retirement building, formerly Hotel Gary.
Once again we heard Vice President Al Gore endorse
"empowerment zones" in his speech at the Democratic National
Convention. The empowerment zones concept is similar to the enterprise
zones enacted in the past.
We remember that concept, but we rarely hear mention of
it anymore, and, unfortunately, we didn't notice that it made that much
of a difference, at least not in the Northwest Indiana region.
The idea behind the zones--giving tax credits to those
businesses who locate in economically distressed areas--is in theory a
good one. A merchant takes a risk in locating in a poorer area because
the local populace has less spending money and risks of crime are
greater. In addition, it is hard for small merchants to compete
pricewise with bigger stores.
This is why enterprise zones seem like a good idea--they
give incentives to those who are willing to take the biggest risks by
giving them tax breaks that will help them compete with those who are
taking smaller risks (by locating in stronger retail areas).
If the enterprise zone idea has failed, maybe it's
because the tax breaks given to the risk-takers were not great enough,
or the qualifications for receiving credits were not strict enough.
Most importantly, perhaps not enough commitment was made to the
enterprise zone concept itself.
It is extremely depressing to see one retail area in a
region booming (and with it, sprawl, smog and congestion), while other
historic retail districts just a few miles distant are withering and
dying. We understand this is happening in many parts of our great
nation, and we believe it is contributing to the tragic fragmenting and
segregating of our country.
Is there reason to believe that empowerment zones will
be more successful than previous initiatives? We truly hope the answer
is yes, but, unfortunately, the concept seems to be one that both
Republicans and Democrats mainly talk about around election time.
at a Crossroads
A classic building that bolstered the dreams of
a vibrant downtown is two-thirds vacant and ready to be closed down
unless the city finds a buyer.
INDIANAPOLIS - It reopened 11 years ago as a festival
marketplace, full of restaurants and shops that lured people back
downtown from the suburbs. Crowds spilling out of the neighboring
Hoosier Dome would pack nightspots that sprang up all around. These
days, the crowds go in a different direction - a couple of blocks away,
to the shiny new Circle Centre mall and its upscale stores, trendy
cafes and cinema multiplex. The century-old, red-brick terminal is
costing the city a $100,000 monthly operating deficit. It also needs
$2.7 million in repairs to its roof and other exteriors.
Union Station was built in 1887-88. At its heyday at the
turn of the century, more than 200 trains passed through each day, and
Indianapolis came to be known as "the crossroads of America. "That
building and site are so important to the history and background of the
community. Architecturally, it's one of the finest examples of the
Romanesque revival architectural style in the Midwest," said Reid
Williamson, president of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana.
Most of the train traffic to Union Station had stopped
by the early 1970s, when the city acquired the structure. But a
redevelopment plan took shape: The city anted up $2.5 million, the
federal government $14.8 million, and local banks put up $29.5 million
in loans. Private developers invested $4 million of their own money.
At first, it worked. In the first year, 8 million people
visited the renovated station to eat at restaurants like Rick's Cafe
American, drink at Locomotions or shop at the Brass Pig or the Peanut
King. But the success didn't last. The opening of Circle Centre in 1995
was the last nail in the coffin; in 1996, only 2.7 million people
visited the station.
Are there lessons to be learned from this story?
Perhaps. In this ultra-competitive, "survival of the newest" society in
which we live, preservation may not stand a chance unless more generous
preservation tax credits are enacted to save those urban assets that,
like Union Station, help make our cities so unique.
Hammond's Downtown Area Must Go?
There is talk of leveling a part of downtown Hammond.
This is supposed to "make the area more attractive" to developers of
modern strip malls.
Not only is this assumption questionable, (and it
ignores the fact that there are already businesses located in the areas
in question), but there are some people in Northwest Indiana who feel
that, for the most part, our historic downtown areas are worthy of
Many of the buildings of downtown Hammond (and Gary, for
that matter) are architecturally interesting and, for the most part,
structurally sound. There is no doubt that the downtowns of Northwest
Indiana are important historic sites and should be preserved to the
greatest extent possible.
This is not just a sentimental gesture. Think what Crown
Point would lack today had it followed the advice of city planners in
the early 70's and torn down its historic courthouse.
We all like to shop at nice stores, but few people will
point with pride to the architecture of most modern shopping centers.
Historic architecture is one city asset that the suburbs just can't lay
claim to, and so should be played up, not torn down.
Saving such buildings is no mere pipe dream. Downtown
areas in other parts of the country have been revived without wholesale
demolition or other drastic action. New enterprise zone legislation and
other initiatives are in the works that will greatly increase the
feasibility of restoring health to our downtown areas.
Promoting commerce and wooing businesses is a good idea,
but in our rush to do so, let us be careful not to risk destroying a
part of Northwest Indiana that is forever irreplaceable.
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