Return To Sender

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

We started off with some lofty plans for Gary, seeing the schools and Screw and Nail that I hadn’t been to yet, but between the late arrival, the surprising September heat, and not having slept much all weekend our eventual strategy consisted of exploring everything in sight. The next thing we saw after the half theater was the post office, and the door was still open, so in we went.

Either I didn’t notice all this last time or it’s new:

…and perhaps still in progress?

The robots came and destroyed any need for this facility. At one time there would have been well over a hundred mail sorters employed here, making sure letters to and from Chicago, and around the nation, found their way to the right place. Are the robots better? Probably…

This room is an installation art piece that is frustratingly hard to get into a picture: it’s full of elaborately, randomly networked orange thread, like the web of a giant, tripping spider.

Maybe I wouldn’t be #foreveralone if I met Jenny instead of Sean… this must have been quite the wedding.

By this time, all that was really left was surrender. Looking for anywhere to go seemed like too much effort, all we wanted was Chicago pizza, the plane ride home, and a bed. So we went to the closest thing we could find, once again: The Ambassadors. From what I can find about the history of this place, it was NOT where the executives of US Steel lived when they were in Gary, but it was one of the nicer hotels in town in its time, before being converted to apartments in the 60s, and declining with the rest of the city. Structural issues were eventually the building’s undoing, being one of the rare ones condemned before it was abandoned, the last residents forced out in 2003. Mostly due to a notable lack of windows on the eighth floor, and the resulting water damage, the structure has only gotten worse since then, with the stairways in a state of inconsistent disrepair, and many of the wooden floors in the apartments spongy with wet rot.

Ever wanted to fall through a set of stairs? Now is your chance…

All Things Go, All Things Know

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

After the hospital, with my camera completely useless, we didn’t even try to explore anything else in Memphis, and just wandered back toward Beale street for some blues halls. Which was much easier said than done, in a typical city in the American South: not particularly designed for pedestrians, or even supportive of those who chose not to drive around for whatever reason. At first we thought it would be a pleasant walk along the river, but all we found there was steep slopes, thick brush, and the scattered flour of hashers, which of course Ben wouldn’t follow even when I suggested there was likely beer, and a way out, at the end of it. With that option eliminated, the next logical way was across the railroad tracks. Even though there were no trains in sight, no-trespassing signs and the vague suggestion there might be cameras turned us back. So we took the only option left, walking right along I-40, as if walking an Interstate was somehow better, even though it took us farther away from our destination, and through more of the unsavory 95 degree Tennessee heat.

This sign let us know we’d arrived at Beale(e) Street. There’s a specific note on it not to take pictures of it. Probably so the artist isn’t remembered as the one who can’t spell?

We spent as much of the night as we could plunked down in the corners of various blues halls, taking in the unique music scene of the bluest city, until the bars closed and we had no choice but to go wait at the airport. Sleeping, or trying to sleep, in an airport, even to make a 6am flight, is not something I can recommend as a good option. It seemed like a good idea at the time to fly between our cities, especially with how cheap Southwest tickets were, but the train was really the better option for a whirlwind tour like this. Chicago Midway only confirmed this, losing Ben’s luggage for a frustrating hour until we figured out by dumb luck and running out of people to ask that his carry-on camera bag of modest size somehow became “oversize” for just long enough to find its way to the special baggage claim.

Badly missing our train to Gary with the newfound frustration, we stopped in downtown Chicago for breakfast, consulting Yelp to lead us to a hipster Jewish deli/brunch spot that took the edge off our failure and made us at least somewhat forget we didn’t sleep the last two nights.

This might be blasphemy, but I think I like Chicago even more than New York City…

Gary shocked us immediately; the old standard Methodist Church now has one less roof than it used to, leaving it wide open to the sky like an old English cloister.

This is new. Of course we just went right over the little 2×4 tourist barriers. Which doesn’t count as climbing a fence.

After the church, we gave the Washington St buildings another try, which turned out a lot more interesting than I had expected them to be in the winter.

Apparently it used to be, at least partially, a car dealership

This is a typical Gary street scene – no traffic whatsoever except on broadway and 53, and a juxtaposition between new “renewal” construction and burned-out abandoned desolation. Detroit is still filled with what explorers euphemistically call “wildlife,” the homeless, homefree or just bored locals who inhabit these sorts of places. Gary truly is life after people, it would be less surprising to see deer roaming the streets in some parts of town.

The half theater is really only worth this one shot, but it was directly on our way to the Post Office…

[continued in part 2]

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]