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Church ruin becomes garden park in Gary Indiana

  • Subject: [cg] Church ruin becomes garden park in Gary Indiana
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006 10:41:23 -0800 (PST)

Post Tribune, Gary, Indiana
Jan. 18, 2006 

For garden and Gary  Architect sees gutted church in
Gary as a 'ruins garden

By Andy Grimm / Post-Tribune staff writer


GARY  A long-neglected downtown landmark will go from
ruins to ruins garden.

The gutted interior of 80-year-old City Methodist
Church will sprout into a miniature park, surrounded
by towering limestone walls that once sheltered one of
the citys largest congregations, city officials and
local preservationists said.

Architect Bill Latoza, a Miller resident whose
Chicago-based Bauer Latoza Studio has been hired to
design the renovations, said he envisions a
conservatory-like space that could provide educational
opportunities for students at the recently opened
charter school across the street and the senior
citizens who live in the Genesis Towers next door.

My goal is that they will be able to meet in the
middle ... theres this group that will be able to
feed on the energy of the children while they absorb
the wisdom of the other, he said. This can be a real
center of community.

The final project has no budget, but will have limited
funding from the city and proceeds from the sale of
the limestone, bricks and fixtures, Latoza said. The
firms contract for the design work and construction
management is worth $17,500.

The blessing of the building itself is that it was so
well-constructed, he said. Without any real
maintenance for so many years, its still got
relatively good bones.

Landscaping the interior of partially roofless ruins 
fire damage opened the top of City Methodist to the
elements nearly 10 years ago  is a common practice in
Europe, said Erica Taylor of Indiana Historic
Landmarks, who has helped with the preservation plans.

Workers should begin stabilizing the building this
spring, roughly the time when the first tenants are
expected to move into new apartments in the Gary
Housing Authoritys Horace Mann neighborhood.

By fall, Taylor hopes to have volunteers lined up to
help plant the grounds and install park benches.

It should be a lot cheaper than demolishing it
entirely, Taylor said.

The city will tear down the back of the building and
Seaman Hall to create a parking lot for residents in
the Gary Housing Authoritys Genesis Towers. Before
wrecking crews arrive, the city will sell off
salvageable material and use the proceeds to fund the
renovations.

Joel Shuldiner, a consultant overseeing the Mann
construction who had favored leveling the entire
building, said he was pleased to hear that the
crumbling building could become an asset to recruiting
tenants.

If they can have a way to make it attractive and
preserve some of it, thats fine. As is, its a
hazard, Shuldiner said. Im sure before it came into
disrepair it was tremendously attractive.

The church was once a center of civic and cultural
life for all denominations, built in 1926 among the
saloons and brothels of Garys raucous downtown. The
booming city had been founded only 20 years earlier.

The vision of pastor Dr. William G. Seaman, City
Methodist was intended to provide a civilizing
influence on the often lawless city, and had a
commercial wing that housed a theater, Seaman Hall,
and shops.

Seaman himself was one of the citys early liberal
leaders, pushing to integrate Methodist hospitals and
backing other causes until skeptical church leaders
transferred him three years after the church opened.

Seamans ashes were buried in the church sanctuary and
may still remain there, said Donald Houskeeper of
Merrillville, one of the original members of the City
Methodist congregation.

Houskeeper, 90, was pleased to hear that the building
he reluctantly voted to close in 1973 as a member of
the church board, wont be completely destroyed.

A parking lot, I wouldnt like, he said. But a
park? I can go with a park. Thats the good Lords
grass and trees and people can look up at the sky.


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