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]

Holy Holy Holy

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Buffalo, Concrete, Religious

After the terminal, we continued on to a nearby, reliably open church. Sacred Heart served the Catholic community for most of the century, before ending its useful life as an evangelical church, a pattern that seems to happen often in decaying cities.

Despite being almost completely emptied out, or perhaps because of it, the cavernous sanctuary hasn’t lost its mystique

…Even though someone took out all the pews, and left all the seat cushions

We tried to go on into the convent, but on a hot summer day, the reeking jugs of bum piss and holy, holy, holy shit (seriously — look at my photos from last time) were just too much, even with gas masks… not that there was ever much to see in that part of the church, even without the risk of stepping on and letting another of those burst!

Our adventure ended at the Scajaquada drain, which, unsurprisingly with all the rain in the last few days, was much more watery than we wanted anything to do with today. Not that it really mattered, that just means more places to go once we get the Concrete Collective back together!

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]

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]

Apocalypse: Here

Written by Concrete on . Posted in Gary, Religious

Union Station, though, was only a quick stop while we were there. Our real destination in Gary, like most explorers who find themselves here, was City Methodist Church. Located on 6th St, just a block from the (former) downtown, this enormous church was open from 1925 to 1975, before suffering from declining enrollment and a fire that put an end to any plans for restoration and re-use.

Unlike most iconic abandoned sites, entry is trivially easy, and after walking through the open door, you’re immediately in the lobby, between the sanctuary and auditorium.

We began with the sanctuary, far larger than any church I’d ever explored before in Buffalo.

Attached to the church though, and in my opinion even more interesting, is the Catholic school, which lasted slightly longer than the church but has also been closed since at least 1980.

And then (still upstairs in the school) I started posting these on facebook telling people it was Indiana State Hospital (as far as I know, there isn’t one).

You’re not wrong…

Another look at “Indiana State Hospital”