Archive for March, 2014

School of Fail

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Institutional

After our legendary Gary winning streak, the only thing left we were looking for was a school. We tried a few on the east side on the first day, but not with very much luck. It seemed like the boarding crew were there not too long ago, and the only people in since were climbers who made entrances that would probably last a while, but also excluded less athletic explorers. We did some research into why the schools might be so tough, and found that the district and state still somewhat maintain them, even though almost half the schools in Gary were abandoned… the difference is clear between these and the city’s degree of wanton neglect, and strategy of waiting for buildings to fall in on themselves instead of securing or demolishing them. So we decided to try the one that UER had plastered all over the internet last month, and found just what we didn’t want to see: brand new boards, and a mildly suspicious cop making the rounds waiting for us to try to break something.

The last school on our list, in a desolate south side neighborhood, finally gave us what we were looking for: a wide open front door swinging in the snow. Of course we went in…

Judging by the computers, it looks like this place closed around 2000 or so… or maybe later considering how much schools invest into technology just as it’s going obsolete.

And around that corner, after exploring just part of one wing, we were surrounded by the sweet sound of success:



We went back out to the car to see if anything happened. It really didn’t, maybe 15 minutes later, one of Gary’s laziest drove by slowly and apathetically, ignoring the open door and still blaring alarm, and that was it.

We probably should have gone in, but we decided to just go home, maybe it wasn’t our day. Not that we cared when we got into 17 places, and only failed at two, both schools… that’s better than we could do probably anywhere else, even Detroit. I’m not sure if or when I’d make it back here, but I really want to!

God Is Not Dead, Nor Doth He Sleep

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Religious, Residential

…but then, what exactly was this place? God’s Rest Home, I must say, seemed like an absolutely dismal place to live out one’s last years, in a rotting brick building in the midst of a decaying city battered by the bleak Midwestern climate.

After that place, our fifteenth successful explore of the day, we finally lost our daylight and got up to a roof for a few last shots of the city

…and eventually returned to our parking space from which we could wander around to all of this, right next to the church where it all began

I decided to have some fun in the more or less abandoned parking garage before we went to our motel for the night

And there ended my overwhelmingly best day ever as an explorer. 16 for 17 in a city I’d never been to (but admittedly not so tough a challenge…), and the whole variety from churches to factories to apartments to random things we’d never expected. The main thing we missed was a school, so we decided with our limited time before the far too long trip home, we’d try one of those in the morning

[continued in part 8]

Where The Stores Are All Closed

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Industrial, Residential

[continued from part 5]

Just like everywhere else in Gary, all it took was a quick look around the block to find yet more places to explore. Above and next to the theater there were more storefront-type places that weren’t all that interesting on their own, but did still have a few products left, and this idyllic mural — could this have been Gary in its early days?

There isn’t much of a village left here, but who knows, maybe Gary will rise again someday…

I didn’t have to go far to find still more abandonment, this time an entire block of storefronts and factories that seem to have met their fate quite a while ago.

These buildings surrendered most of their front walls to the sidewalk, literally wide open to explorers and the elements. Someone, though, left helpful hints through them of where there were danger zones or holes (most of which led straight into collapsed, flooded basements)

Behind this, headed back toward Broadway again, the entrance to the Coronet store, one of far too many abandoned retail relics, presented itself, along with a reminder that we weren’t quite in Illinois.

Even for an abandoned building, Coronet was a disaster, ravaged, it seems, as much by fire as the water it took to put the fire out.

We took a try at a school on the east side but this opening wasn’t going to do it for me…

[continued in part 7]

It’s A Cold And It’s A Broken Hallelujah

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Religious

After lunch and a few more failed attempts at hospitals and schools, our wanderings brought us to another unassuming church, the “Miracle Faith Word Center”. Judging just from the name, it seemed to be of the charismatic, if not Pentecostal, type: the kind of church that began with one minister and his flock and with the right combination of generous donations, fire, brimstone and praise the Lord Hallelujah AMEN! could have joined the ranks of televised megachurches. This one, though, followed the opposite trajectory, disappearing altogether and leaving its building behind not for a sparkling new tabernacle, but for first the pastor’s basement for a while, then total obscurity by 2005.

From the outside, the church was quite unassuming, looking more like a rather ramshackle assortment of buildings than one coherent structure, and probably not meant to have been a church in the first place. Finding an entrance wasn’t easy, especially with the neighborhood’s resident (the only one still living on an almost entirely abandoned street) out raking his lawn.

This being Gary, though, we asked him if he knew anything about it, and if he’d mind us going in. He didn’t know anything about his abandoned church neighbor, but he didn’t mind if we had a look inside, so when we finally found a door that opened, we did just that, since I for one wasn’t about to climb into this:

It was clear from the start that this was the kind of church that loved its sermons. The pastor and deacon collected them meticulously, then left them all behind, on thousands and thousands of cassette tapes, which filled one room and strew across the floor of a few others.

Another room, probably the vestry at one time, had shelves of shrunken mannequin heads… I wonder what these were for?

The sanctuary is a simple room in the low church style, which reminded me more than it should have of a basketball court.

More of the hodgepodge architectural style – count the doorways and stairways wedged into this foyer

It seems like they saved all their old pews and threw them in the basement. Or this was another sanctuary, or another church altogether, that took on piles of junk over the years. I’m not even sure.

Going back downtown again, we found still more open doors at the Palace Theater. Even by Gary standards this place was a disaster, but it still had a few signs left of what once was, when this was a thriving city.

It was too collapsed to really get much farther… even while we were inside the ominous THUD! of another restless brick freeing itself of the ceiling let us know not to trust the structure for very long!

[continued in part 6]

Politics and Religion

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Institutional, Religious

…seem to be the biggest business left in this town, other than the rotting, but still partially operational, US steel mill fouling up the lakeshore. That being said, it hasn’t exactly been the best territory for the Republicans, who seem to have closed up shop and left sometime in the 90s, leaving behind an incongruously cluttered headquarters between the post office and the state office building. Half campaign office and half hoarder den, the place avoided having its windows smashed in long enough to develop an oppressive odor of mildew wafting off the soaking, rotting contents.

The main candidate, eternally losing one city and state legislative race after another, was Charles Kirkland, whose cheaply Xeroxed campaign matter fills most of the basement to this day. This particular box of “Kirkland Bucks” promoted a tax cut he promised to push through if he managed to win a city council seat in 1987.

It’s the upstairs though that really defies expectations, filled with rotting clothing and musical instruments, including two and a half grand, and one upright, pianos.

Anyone have any better guesses what was going on here, besides a politician with a penchant for hoarding?

The exterior has a faded Red Cross banner, but I’m not sure if or how that fits into the late decline of the building, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was before the candidates took it over.

And as soon as we left there, we could see yet another abandoned building not so far away (of course). This one used to be the auditorium for Gary schools, and I suspect also something of a civic space, until most of it collapsed and was demolished in 2005, leaving only the lobby.

The most significant part left are the pair of grand entrance stairways that would have led into the theater, were there still a theater attached.

Instead, it just ends here, a field of bramble brush taking over for the gallery and stage.

From there, after a failed attempt at the newspaper building across the street (which might still be active), we connected the dots one block to the other side, to some clearly burned out church-like buildings.

The number of churches in this town, both active and abandoned, is startling. When people lose all hope in their lives, do they find God? Then to lose faith in Him too, leaving behind ever smaller churches as the flock begins to fly away.

This particular church is close to meeting its benefactor…

It probably won’t be long at all until the sanctuary falls in on itself.

Some of the pews and a piano have even fallen into the basement already. Seeing this was enough to make me leave!

[continued in part 5]

The Aristocrats

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Industrial, Residential

The environment for exploring here is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen… we saw this building from the roof of the Methodist Church and thought it looked interesting, so we walked down 6th street toward it. A local saw us and our cameras and, instead of being suspicious or avaricious, asked us if we were going to see “the Aristocrats”. I said, maybe — we didn’t know where they were — and he told us that it was the abandoned hotel we saw, and that it was once the residence of U.S. Steel executives when they spent time in Gary, before being made into apartments and finally abandoned in the 90s.

(Upon further research, this wasn’t quite right. This building was actually called the Ambassador, and the US Steel executives actually stayed at Mahencia, a few blocks further down 6th Street. But it was the thought that counts!)

It’s not exactly in the best shape anymore. The stairs were, to put it kindly, an adventure, finding some with enough steps intact to even get to the upper floors.

Not going to the roof. Nope. Nope.

Overall, it was a pretty trashed place, and a total asbestosfest, but quite a big building for a surprise discovery… from there, we got back on our intended course through the “buffet line” of Broadway, to the old Post Office. Like most of Gary so far, it’s a cliché destination, but who gives a damn? We aren’t trying to compete with anyone, just to see as much as we can in one weekend.

I have to wonder what the architect was thinking having offices connected by this impossibly narrow corridor?

Actually not much made sense about this building at all. I can’t even guess what this room might have been.

Oh look! We found the morgue!

(continued in part 4)