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City Church Ruins Transformation: More Than Meets the Eye in Gary, Indiana

  • Wednesday, January 25, 2023
  • 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
  • Virtual


  • This program is free for current members

Please join APT WGLC for a noon virtual presentation by Robin Whitehurst, AIA, APT RP, LEED AP. A brief recap of the APT WGLC Annual Report will follow the presentation.


City Church Ruins Transformation: More than meets the eye in Gary, Indiana

From apocalyptic movie sets to social media photo shoots, the City Church Ruins in historically industrial Gary, Indiana has become the city’s second-most visited site, attracting visitors from across the globe despite being abandoned for over forty years. But without a function within the community, the ruins continue to deteriorate, causing dangerous conditions for those able to explore its haunting beauty. The Gary Development Authority is seeking to turn this eroding church back into the community asset it once was. The group is working with the presenter on creating a plan to arrest the erosion of these ruins while providing a unique space for Gary and its visitors to play, explore, host special events, and more, from casual picnics to theatrical performances. This session will examine the unique history of this church, the forensic processes used to evaluate the current state of the ruins, and the process of transforming the site into a safe and accessible community space to be enjoyed by all.

Just as the city of Gary was founded around the US Steel Corporation and its founding chairman Elbert Gary in 1906, so too was the City Methodist Church, soldering together the city’s industry and culture. The church was built and financially supported by the US Steel Corporation who also donated the land on which it stood. In its prime, the main sanctuary could accommodate 950 parishioners and the adjacent Seaman Hall could seat another 1,000. The Church and Seaman Hall included a fellowship hall, corporate offices, Sunday School rooms, a gymnasium, and a large kitchen and dining room. Foreshadowing the Church’s future as a set for Hollywood films, the excellent acoustics, ample stage area, and a theater-sized screen allowed the citizens of Gary to gather for plays, movies, and orators. The difficulty of maintaining the building’s excessive ornamental detail, financial struggles, and the disenchantment of inner-city life from the church’s mostly white constituency led to the building’s demise, closing its doors in 1975.

Gothic in appearance yet utilizing 20th century construction methodologies, arresting the erosion of the ruins will prove to be more complicated than the mass masonry stone skeletons of the Church’s European influences. Because the building consists of a frame with stone brick veneer, water, snow, and ice easily invade cavities and deteriorate what is left of the ruins. The presenter performed several non-destructive evaluation methodologies to understand the condition of the ruins, including drone flights, and digital laser scans.

Community engagement through outreach by Gary Development Authority generated multiple conceptual approaches and community uses for the former church site. This engagement along with findings from investigations and structural study were crucial in the development of multiple options balancing cost, preservation needs, and accessibility improvements.

Robin Whitehurst, AIA, APT RP, LEED AP leads the preservation efforts of the Bailey Edward team, from research to historic approach to construction execution on historic buildings, sites, and districts. Using his technical expertise and historical knowledge, he orchestrates research and forensic investigations, the detailing of preservation and restoration efforts, ensuring any deterioration is halted and the building's holistic performance is in alignment with current performance standards. His research work is part of numerous state's best‐practices, and he has written and lectured throughout North America on pressing preservation issues.

An email link to the presentation will be sent to those who register after registration closes, approximately one day before the presentation.

1.0 AIA LU will be provided (pending approval).

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