Infiltration Summer was a massive success thanks to the support of American Urbex readers and donors. Without your help it would not have been possible. I was able to photograph a mansion, a church, two schools, and a handful of industrial locations. I also met two very skilled urban explorers who were willing to share their experiences with me.
American Urbex recognizes the following individuals for having a hand in making this dream a reality.
Mom – For soliciting additional funds without my knowledge.
Brandon Davis – For showing me the ropes around Cleveland and letting me crash on the couch.
Mike Adams – For sharing his insights and impeccable burrito taste with me.
Pierre Ramery, John Sagehorn, Dave Smith, Andrew West, Scott Langteau, Matthew Nicklas and all the donors who wish to remain anonymous. May your generosity be returned to you in the future tenfold. Expenses have been compiled into a spreadsheet for public review.
Thanks to you American Urbex has a wealth of content to work through. I’ll get cracking on editing the photos and research immediately. I want to share the intimate details about the trip so bad, but doing so would blow the cover on what is in store. Until those entries appear please keep an eye on our Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr Group!
Photo: An abandoned sofa at City Methodist in Gary, IN.
On Sunday, June 20 the UrbEx – Explore Chicago group (registration required) met up at one of Gary, Indiana’s iconic abandoned locations. It was a pleasure to meet such a wide variety of photographers from different backgrounds. Some of the common themes of urbex are abandonment and isolationism. Although these are suitable subjects for photography, they are not for urban explorers themselves. I have learned so much from connecting to other adventurous explorers. Of the people that were at the event I only had a chance to connect with a few. The interaction we had was quite intense and fortunately I made recordings of it. The next two episodes of the American Urbex Podcast will feature those photographers, highlight their experiences, and explore their unique backgrounds. By the time we finished recording most of the Explore Chicago group had dispersed, but all was not lost. The rest of the day was spent exploring and abandoned hospital and area school.
Every week American Urbex receives requests from adventurous readers regarding locations. Although well-composed and spell-checked prose is always flattering, the requests go largely unfulfilled. At the bottom of each feature article there is a list of online resources. Maps and photos help create a compelling article, but the real gold is in the public information that supports it. The short answer as to why location requests go unanswered is simple: Google it.
Granted, that may come off as short-tempered and cliché, but the long answer is more nuanced. The genesis of an American Urbex article begins with Google. Consider this article a lesson in Urbex Methodology 101. Today we’ll be talking about some of the basic methods for finding urbex locations with Google. Yes, this will be on the exam. Let’s begin.
Photo: The urban explorer congregation regularly meets at this famous Gary landmark.
Let’s take a well-known and previously researched location like the United Methodist Church in Gary, IN. The church is considered a mecca of sorts for urban explorers. Mainstream photographers have even embraced the location and use it to shoot wedding photos. There is a lot of information out there so for the purposes of this exercise it will be easy. A basic search for “United Methodist Church Gary Indiana” returns about 196,000 results. Open some of the links in new tabs and you’ll come across wonderful resources. Check out this photographer’s impressions of the site, which was posted in April 2011. Sites like these give you a good impression of what to expect when visiting. The date is also extremely important too as it gives a good indication that the building is still standing. There is nothing worse than driving a long distance only to discover the building is collapsed or under active demolition. Pages such as the 1967 church directory are a wealth of information the tell the story of how the church began, what it looked like in its prime, and who some of the members were. Then there is the Wikipedia page for Gary, Indiana that mentions the church. The Wikipedia entry does not specifically say where the church is, but it does provide a vital clue in that it is downtown and not far from another abandoned building known as Union Station.
Union Station is a great example of how one urbex location usually means that there are more in the vicinity. The Wikipedia page for Union Station explicitly lists the GPS coordinates on the right side of the page. Figuring out where the church is should not be too difficult if we plug (41°36’20.3N” 87°20’13.07″W) into Google Maps with satellite view. Scroll slightly to the south and west a few blocks and there it is, right in the heart of downtown Gary. If you enter street view you can see the building from the outside. This gives you a good indication of how to enter a location, what is in the neighborhood, and many other clues about what to expect. Also pay close attention to the details on the roof of the church and look for similar style roofs near by. There are a decent number of similar roofs down Broadway. If you inspect Broadway with street view you will notice the decaying Post Office and other retail stores that have long been abandoned.
Knowing the neighborhood topography is useful, but it also helps to know the history. Invariably you will come across people in the neighborhood who are curious about what you are doing there. It helps to arm yourself with a little knowledge about the location and prove that you are a respectful guest. Google Books is an excellent resource for familiarizing yourself with a location and the role it played in the broader community. Books like Gary’s West Side provide key facts and photos of locations. Tomes such as City of the Century: A History of Gary, Indiana chronicle the rise and fall of what was once one of America’s strongest industrial cities. Armed with this information you will gain insight on what to look for when going through the city.
Now that you have googled to the point where you are confident enough to explore the streets of Gary, the key is going to be making both intellectual and personal connections with that information. You need to get out there and explore the world. Most importantly, you need to share what you have discovered.
That’ll be all for today’s Urbex Methodology lesson as we’ve come to the end of the hour.
Photographer Nick Forslund assembled a book for his senior art project at UW-Whitewater. Gary: A Texture Tour contains photos from our urbex trip to Gary, Indiana, which was funded by American Urbex contributors. I am thrilled that he used American Urbex and some of my own photos as a resource. The end product makes for one fascinating coffee table book. They are available for purchase at Blurb. We realize the cost is a bit steep, but there is no profit made at all on this product. Each copy is custom printed when it is ordered and the quality is amazing. In any case they make great presents for the holiday.
Photo: A postcard depicting the Ambassador Apartments in its prime.
Photo: Bird’s-eye view of the Ambassador Apartments courtesy of Bing Maps. Notice the trees growing out of the brickwork.
Normally these articles begin with a bit of history about the urbex location. This one is a little different…
The seven story Ambassador Apartments building is probably one of the most dangerous urbex locations I have ever been to. When we arrived near the end of a full day of urbex in Gary, I never anticipated that we would traverse the entire building. My feet were incredibly sore, the heat was just enough to be uncomfortable, and I was thirsty as hell. Add open elevator shafts, buckling floors, missing walls, loose masonry and rusty steel jutting out from everywhere, the Ambassador Apartments is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately I was with two other urbexers at the time who took safety quite seriously. We kept a constant watch on each other while making our way through the building. We verbally called out dangers even though they seemed obvious. The Ambassador Apartments are not for those new to urbex.
Photo: The owner of this chair just got up for a minute, but never came back.
The Ambassador Apartments resplendent glory can still be seen if you stare long enough into the shadows. Ornate fireplaces, chairs, doorways, wallpaper and are few and far between in this large apartment building, but they can be found. Information on the building from a variety of internet resources pretty much say the same thing. The building was erected in 1927 to house white collar US Steel managers and was open until 1985. In 1995 the city of Gary considered the building a high priority for rehabilitation. Most of the goals in the Gary Consolidated Plan, however, were never completed. A snippet from Google Books turns up a quote stating that the Ambassador Apartments once housed 125 residents and was one of Gary’s few bomb shelters (Weekly Commercial News: Volume 100 1942).
I feel like I have reached a dead end on researching this location. If you have any more information about the Ambassador Apartments please leave a comment. This is such a fascinating building.
Photo: A Cathedral of the Holy Angels church bulletin from 1984 rests on green carpeting.
Video: A tour through the Ambassador Apartments by slworking2.
Photo: The abandoned United States Post Office in Gary, Indiana.
Information on the abandoned Post Office in downtown Gary, Indiana is sparse. The building was erected in 1936 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program aimed at ameliorating the Great Depression. Architect Howard Lovewell Cheney, who worked for the Public Buildings Branch of the US Treasury Department, designed the building. This branch of the USPS supposedly closed in the 1970’s, though sources confirming this have not been located by American Urbex.
Photo: Postcard depicting the Post Office in its splendor. (Source: Chicagoist)
Photo: The sorting room floor is covered in moss and new growth. Those are not bricks on the ground. Those are individually cut wood blocks that comprised the floor.
Photo: The main stairwell to the second floor is awfully moody.
Visiting the post office in Gary was the first time that I have ever infiltrated at federal government building. Well, maybe “infiltrated” isn’t the right verb. I had the expectation in my head that getting in would be a little bit difficult. It wasn’t in the slightest. The main entrances to the building were all wide open for anyone off the street to wander in. This urbex location was just as populated with photographers as the City Methodist Church a stonesthrow down the block. You will be hard pressed to find any post office ephemera at this place though. The rooms are devoid of anything but trash brought in by recent visitors. For an abandoned New Deal building, though, the few surprises inside make the visit worthwhile.
Photo: The main entrance to Horace Mann High School boarded up.
The now abandoned Horace Mann High School served the Gary community from 1928 to 2004. The building takes its namesake from the progressive education reformer Horace Mann who advocated many of the things taken for granted in modern schools. As editor of the Common School Journal Mann advocated for public funding of public education, that public education be secular, available regardless of sex or race, that teachers be accredited, and that education focus on supporting American democratic ideals. Mann also recognized the importance of an expanded curriculum, comfortable learning facilities, and providing instructional material. During his lifetime these controversial ideas were considered a radical departure from the status quo. Most Americans today would not disagree with Mann’s basic assumptions about education.
Photo: Horace Mann High School postcard with a waterfront scene. (Source: Ancestry.com)
In the early years though the Horace Mann building served grades 1 to 12. During those formative years middle and high school students were organized using the platoon system implemented by Gary Schools Superintendent William Albert Wirt. Wirt was a conservative progressive who sought to maximize education resources and applied business theory to their organization. The “platoon system” alternated the amount of time students spent with regular and specialized teachers. Course work not only included the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also vocational studies specifically designed to give students demonstrable skills.
Wirt’s platoon system became internationally famous and was dubbed the Gary System. It even garnered the praise of influential progressive education reformer John Dewey. Lawrence A. Cremin writes in his 1961 book The Transformation of the School, that “Wirt’s notion was not only to afford each child vastly extended educational opportunity–in playgrounds, gardens, libraries, gymnasiums and swimming pools, art and music rooms, science laboratories, machine shops and assembly halls–but to make the school the true center of the artistic and intellectual life of the neighborhood.” (Source: Quote found in Blueprint for Change by David J. Hoff.) Wirt’s education system remained in place until his passing in 1938. By 1940 the school would abandon the platoon system of organization and assign one teacher per class.
Photo: Auditorium seating photo taken by re-Verse.
At the very heart of Horace Mann is a spacious auditorium. Every Horace Mann student spent some portion of their school day in this room engaged in an academic activity. After school hours the auditorium played host to community meetings, extra-curricular events, PTA, and even screenings of Hollywood movies for 10 cents. All of the other academic rooms, with the exception of the modern gymnasium, physically surround the auditorium. For the community at large Horace Mann was a vital organ of the city of Gary.
Photo: The science labs had a lot of equipment left behind. Unfortunately vandals have destroyed much of it.
When we arrived at the site of Horace Mann I had significant doubts about gaining access. The first floor windows were entirely boarded up. All of the steel doors around the perimeter were welded shut. Even for a Sunday morning there was significant activity in the area. We circled around the entire building and spotted two possible entry points. The first would have most likely caused deep cuts had I tried to squeeze through it. The second less obvious entry point was dirty, swarming with mosquitos, and required an acrobatic feat to get through. But get in we did.
Photo: A cross section of the human head in one of the science labs.
My urbex partner and I spent the next six and half hours wandering through the stiflingly humid halls. The enormity of it all was intimidating and yet so very fascinating. It took every ounce of strength to continue on after a full day of urbex the day before. Fatigue, intrigue, and adrenaline definitely impacted the quality of the photos I took. I’m thankful that I snapped so many shots because my camera SD card corrupted when I got home, effectively wiping out around 25% of the shots.
Photo: Apple II hardware was littered throughout the building. (Editor’s sidenote: As an Apple collector it saddened me to see so much good hardware go to waste. There were many IIe and II+ units.)
As a Bachelor of Education graduate, I found the Horace Mann building to be one of the most interesting urbex sites I have ever been to. Most of the damage within the building has not been done by the natural force of decay. It is clear from the exposed ceilings that metal strippers have taken anything of worth. A pile of ashen books set alight by some arsonist sits outside the administration office. A row of burned black seats no longer conforms to uniform red in the auditorium. The science labs are littered with smashed pyrex glass, unknown chemical substances, and preserved specimens. Old Apple computer equipment with the rainbow logo lies all around in hallways, gymnasiums, and classrooms. A disheveled teachers lounge was packed with visual aids, books, and prefabricated lesson plans. Trophies bearing the school’s victories were strewn throughout the building in odd places. Chalkboards bear the names of previous urban explorers, some of whom I recognize.
Photo: View of the modern gymnasium. Lack of climate control has severely warped the floor of the basketball court. This room was actually completely dark and the photo was created using a really long exposure. The light in the foreground is from Nick Forslund’s iPhone 4 LED while the brighter streaks of light are from my flashlight.
They may tear it down, but Horace Mann will live on until the last graduate passes from this earth, and even then the stories will have been passed to the next generation. Stories that tell of Gary’s Camelot that was once known as Horace Mann School.”
I did not graduate from Horace Mann, but I certainly will pass this story on. American Urbex exists to do just that.
From afar the Gary Union Station would blend into the background. Its stylish concrete molded exterior has held up extremely well for a building that is now over 100 years old. It is a bit hard to believe from the outside that the building has been completely abandoned now since the 1950s. An burgeoning educated middle class after World War II could afford to own a vehicle and travel the American highway system. Passenger railways were unable to compete and Union Station closed its doors.
According to The Encyclopedia Americana the station cost Gary $250,000 to build in 1908. (That would be about $5.9 million today adjusting for inflation.) Funding came from the city’s namesake and US Steel Corporation founder Judge Elbert H. Gary. At the beginning of the 20th century Chicago and Detroit were major centers of commerce and railroads ran around the bottom of Lake Michigan right where Gary was geographically situated. Union Station was built to serve an area of 500,000 residents.
Photo: A lone chair sits in the main hall.
The interior of Union Station has not fared as well as the steel reinforced concrete façade. Although there are large boards blocking the main entrance, large gaps allow anyone off the street to wander in. It is hard to imagine what the interior may have looked like in its heyday. Large parts of the roof loom precariously overhead waiting to fall. The main hall is littered with soda bottles, old bibles, and other debris. The stairwell leading up to the second floor has a few loose steps. Fire damage lines the walls near the roof. The tunnel that goes underneath the railroad lines on the north side is completely barricaded.
Photo: Graffiti in the freight building painted by epyon5. Who will save us now?
There is a freight building separate from the station on the east side. While passenger trains would stop amenities would be reloaded. There is not much left of this building either.
Gary Union Station is the perfect place for the beginning urban explorer. It is a well known location that is easily accessible. Should anything occur help is not too far away. Even for the seasoned urban explorer Union Station is a must stop. The building played an influential roll in Gary’s early prosperity. It also is a silent testament to the history of American industry.