Kely McClung talks about his upcoming film Altered, the challenges of indie filmmaking, and the creative forces that drive him.
Photo: A stadium doomed from the very beginning.
Sports play a quintessential role in experiencing the American Dream. If you want to bet on your teams, you can conveniently do so online on sites such as 선시티카지노. On the field, court, track, pool or rink is where our heroes are born. It is a place where even those coming from less than ideal circumstances can rise above their social station. These venues are secular churches to the American Dream: a place where people can congregate, worship the spectacle of conflict, and adore those with seemingly superhuman abilities. On the western edge of Gleason Park in Gary, Indiana is such a church. Concrete walls are collapsing around the narthex. Weeds grow unfettered in the sanctum of the football field. The roar of the crowd in the pews are not but the chirping of fleeting birds. With no gods to worship, the American Dream is essentially dead at Gilroy Stadium.
In January, 1955 mayor Peter Mandich pushed the city council for the construction of a sports complex called the South Gleason Park Athletic Complex. Mandich promised the council that if costs exceeded their ability to pay that the project would go no further. The council decided to go forward with the construction of a stadium as the first element, funding construction to the tune of $350,000 in bonds. Several weeks later Mandich again appealed for funds to complete the stadium, stating “I’d much rather not build a stadium if we’re not going to build a decent one.” Throughout the bidding process city officials were given low-ball estimates to work with. Before long it was discovered that over $687,000 was already awarded to independent contractors. Cost overruns continued to loom as construction wrapped up in 1956 and the final bill amounted to $1 million dollars (or more than $8.5 million adjusted for inflation).
Comparing the stadium to another sports facility of the era illustrates just how horrendous spending on the project had become. Built in 1957 at a cost of $940,000, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI used 11,000 tons of steel to complete an NFL calibre venue that could seat 32,000 fans. The stadium in Gary, built in a city that the steel industry defined, used a paltry 630 tons and could only seat 10,000. Citizens were understandably livid at having to foot the cost of a substandard facility. Plans to construct additional sports facilities for the South Gleason Park Athletic Complex came to a screeching halt.
Despite the enormous amount of money poured into the football field several features were never finished. Bleachers, concession stands, and restroom facilities to accommodate 5,000 fans on the south side of the football field never materialized. Staff offices, maintenance facilities, and an additional locker room also never saw the light of day. Gravel for an eight lane running track surrounding the football field was laid down, but never actually paved.
Photo: The press box has been cordoned off, but the field at large remains wide open.
The stadium took its namesake from local citizen John F. “Jack” Gilroy. He had come to the area in 1911 and took a gym teacher position at Emerson High School. The affable Gilroy rose to become the city’s first athletic director four years later. By the time the stadium was complete, and Gilroy ready to retire, the venue was named in his honor. At the grand opening on September 1, 1956 all eight area high schools participated in Football-O-Rama exhibition games.
By 1962 the façade that Mandich had enthusiastically pitched just a few years prior was beginning to literally fall apart. Building inspectors noted considerable cracking and moisture damage in the concrete supporting the bleachers. Scandal swirled around the field when federal investigation into six individuals involved with project were convicted for kickbacks and bribes during development. Nothing more than a coat of fresh paint was used to put the concerns about construction to rest.
Photo (source): The Jackson 5 with Mayor Hatcher at Gilroy Stadium.
Between 1963 and 1973 local schools found Gilroy facilities unable to meet their needs. Most decided that it was in their best interest to construct their own facilities instead of paying rental fees, which hastened the decline of Gilroy Stadium. As the number of sporting events precipitously dwindled, city officials populated the schedule with alternative events. During the annual talent search in 1965 an upstart family act called The Jackson 5 won with their performance of “Bearfootin’.” Their stunning performance garnered the group’s first notable media mention in the local Gary Post Tribune. The Jackson 5 would return to Gilroy Stadium again in 1968, but this time they were signed under the famed music label Motown Records.
Over the next thirty years the languishing facility would only be used intermittently. Anecdotal evidence says that the scoreboard has not been lit since some point in the 1980s. Tower lights that went dark were no longer replaced. In 1994 concrete collapsed onto an electrical transformer, which knocked out power and lead to the cancellation of the Taste of Gary festival. Functional indoor plumbing only existed in the distant memories of those who knew the stadium in its prime. In between use weeds would consistently reclaim the surrounding area.
Photo: Weeds growing over the concourse up to the bleachers.
The beleaguered venue was again embroiled in controversy after the city granted the Ku Klux Klan the right to hold an event at the stadium in 2001. On the day of the gathering a crowd of protesters greatly outnumbered the 25 Klan members in attendance. It was reported that the protesters were able to drown out the hate speech by singing “We Shall Overcome” in unison.
A vast majority of the events at the stadium have been significantly more benign in comparison. The field has been sporadically used for a variety of concerts, friendly competitions, and other public gatherings. Because the bleachers were wholly unfit public use a significantly smaller set was constructed to accomodate audiences. Although the stadium was worse for wear, the Gary Golden Bears semi-pro football team called it home for 15 years.
In 2002 park department officials finally locked the gates and erected no trespassing signs around the perimeter fence. Curious explorers will find relatively little left behind at the barren stadium. Upper level concrete floors have begun to cave into the lower. Unlocked doors sway whenever the wind catches them right. The bleachers are faded white from a constant barrage of harsh sunlight. Vines have taken root and are working their way up with a level of patience only found in nature. Steel exposed to the elements has succumbed to relentless oxidation. On the north side a relatively new baseball diamond has been constructed, but even that has shows signs of neglect endemic to Gary.
As with many other building proposals planned for Gary the future of Gilroy Stadium seems to hang perpetually in the balance. One proposal to construct a casino on the property has all but stalled. Another proposal includes donating the property to be the future site of a museum dedicated to the memory of Michael Jackson. In the absence of sporting gods to worship, it seems almost fitting that the land be dedicated to other American deities: money and celebrity.
Google Books – The Jackson 5 perform a benefit concert at the stadium in 1968.
Google Books – Two photos of people at Gilroy Stadium in its heyday.
Google Books – Briefly mentions Gilroy Stadium in relation to the Jackson’s home.
J5 Collector – Photo of The Jackson 5 during Gary’s Festival at the stadium in 1969.
Post Tribune – 1996 article on the troubled history of Gilroy Stadium.
Post Tribune – 2001 article comparing Gary, Indiana’s Gilroy Stadium to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI.
Post Tribune – 2001 article detailing the Ku Klux Klan rally event and protest.
Post Tribune – 2001 article citing the number of Ku Klux Klan members at the event.
Post Tribune – 2002 article on the uncertain future of the stadium.
Post Tribune – 2010 article on the details of a Michael Jackson museum.
Post Tribune – 2011 article on the stalled Michael Jackson museum.
Region Sports – An article on the rise and fall of Gilroy Stadium.
Region Sports – Miscellaneous facts about Gilroy Stadium.
The Jacksons – The Jackson 5 win an annual talent search at the stadium in 1965.
Exploring the history of Emerson School in Gary, Indiana begs an important question about what is taught in schools.
Subscribe to the American Urbex Podcast on iTunes.
Emerson School – American Urbex article on Emerson School
Emerson School – Flickr Set
American Urbex Group on Flickr
American Urbex on Facebook
American Urbex on Twitter
Photo (source): Emerson School as it appeared when it opened in 1909.
Americans constantly grapple with the best methods to educate children to become good citizens that contribute positively to society. Determining which facts, figures, names, dates, tests, benchmarks and statistics are significant is a battle waged on both ends of the ideological spectrum. Somewhere in the milieu we come to an agreement that there is never enough time to instruct everything in depth. Given the volume of content teachers must fit into curriculum for students to learn, many issues are drastically oversimplified. One of those unfortunate distortions is that after the Civil War the northern states continued to accept black Americans. The racially-charged history of the Emerson School on Gary, Indiana’s east side is one of those that should make you ask, “What did I really learn in school?”
Photo: The main doorway of the now abandoned Emerson High School.
Gary’s first school superintendent, Dr. William A. Wirt, helped design the first high school in the area. Wirt brought progressive reforms to the Gary schools that modern educators would accept as the norm. Wirt’s education philosophy revolved around the idea that the “whole child” must be educated. A complete education in Wirt’s philosophy includes not only developing the intellectual, but also the social, physical, vocational and character qualities of the individual student.
The school bears the name of American transcendentalist author Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Emerson school was built to include new facilities to aid student development which included an auditorium, gymnasium, pool, and even a zoo. The new school proved to be so successful that Wirt had to implement a policy to handle the 20-30 curious daily visitors. Wirt would later reuse many design elements from Emerson in the world famous Horace Mann High School on the west side of town.
Photo (source): Emerson as it appeared in 1913.
Wirt faced a dilemma in the 1910-20’s as the city’s black population greatly increased. The East Pulaski and Virginia Street School served the black population, but were segregated and in deplorable condition. The spillover caused nominal numbers of black students to receive education in predominately white schools throughout the city, but they were limited in which facilities they could use. In the 1926-27 school year six black students attended classes at Emerson High School. To help ameliorate the student overpopulation at Virginia Street School 18 black students were transferred to Emerson in 1927.
White students outraged at the presence of more black students in their midst immediately took to the streets. On Monday, September 26 some 600 students walked out of class. Those who remained inside were heckled incessantly until they joined the throngs of protesters. As the demonstration gained momentum signs saying, “WE WON’T GO BACK UNTIL EMERSON IS WHITE. . . . NO NIGGERS FOR EMERSON. . . . EMERSON IS A WHITE MAN’S SCHOOL” taunted the black students. On Tuesday the crowd swelled to about 800 students. Wirt hedged his bets by telling the angry crowd that “possibly when a new black school was erected on the east side, Emerson would be again segregated.” At its apex on Wednesday the student protesters numbered some 1357, which were also supported by family and other local citizens who took to the street. City, school, and district officials met with protesters to begin negotiations for bringing the strike to an end. By Friday an agreement was reached: Three of the original six black students at Emerson would be transfered, while the remaining three seniors would be allowed to graduate. The 18 black students transfered into Emerson would again be transferred out to other schools. The sum of $15,000 was also allocated for temporary facilities until a new black high school could be constructed.
Mounting pressure from civic groups such as the League of Women Voters, YWCA, and Gary Teacher’s Union to desegregate schools pushed district officials to make another attempt at integration in 1945. Again, white students took to the streets en masse in an effort to curb integration. Famous crooner Frank Sinatra even scolded the protesting students for their intolerance during a concert held at the Gary Memorial Auditorium. The following year the school district adopted a new policy that dictated, “children may not be discriminated in the school district in which they live, or within the schools in which they attend, because of race, color or religion.” The policy did not take effect until the following 1947 school year to allow the community time to adjust.
Photo: A classroom exposed to the elements swims in water.
After World War II the United States exported democracy and capitalism around the globe. As American business moved operations overseas major industrial centers began to decline. Because Emerson is a public school its fate is interwoven with that of Gary and its industry. As the population and median income plummeted, so to did revenue for Gary schools. Regular school operations continued until 1981 when low enrollment forced the school to reorganize. In 1982 the school changed its title to the Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). The magnet school focused on attracting talent and fostering liberal arts skills.
Gary school district administrators faced a $23 million budget shortfall for the 2009 budget. At the time the district served about 14,000 students, which was half the enrollment 20 years prior. Consistently low test scores, high dropout rates, deplorable teaching facilities combined with an ever spiraling negative community tax base meant that hard decisions had to be made. The district decided to consolidate some of the area schools over a three year period. The writing, or mold more precisely, was on the wall for the historic building as concerned parents increasingly voiced their concern about Emerson health hazards. In 2008 the final bell rang for the Emerson building, which was just one year short of a full century of education service for the Gary community. During the transition Emerson VPA relocated to Miller Beach, Indiana. In 2011 the school returned to Gary, Indiana and currently occupies the former William A. Wirt High School building.
Photo: A ransacked classroom still has notes on the chalkboard from the last lesson.
The challenges of exploring the abandoned Emerson School were similar to Horace Mann High School, but were greatly intensified by inclement weather. The sky deluged the building to the point where some stairwells were inaccessible due to intense water flow. The ground floor of Emerson is set below the earth, so all water flowing within the building pooled in the ground level. The heavy cloud cover also shrouded the building in a cloak of darkness, which made setting up shots even more time consuming. The massive thunderstorm briefly subsided, only to be followed by stifling humidity. Then the storms returned in full force and set off tornado alarms. For a few moments before leaving the sun decided to peek through the clouds.
The building itself, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is massive in scale. Wirt’s philosophies put into practice are immediately apparent when navigating the structure. The entire building revolves around the central auditorium and branches outwards. Science, math, language, music and other classrooms are easily identifiable by the decaying instructional material left behind. Even though the school had closed as recently as 2008, it felt as though Emerson was a generation behind. The only real modern artifacts found were unused textbooks still securely bound in dry storage areas. Each classroom seemed to harken back to an education generation that was no longer relevant to the modern classroom. Newspapers from decades past, Apple II computer equipment, floppy disks, vinyl records, lithographed secular songbooks and grade punchcards were stashed away all throughout. Some classrooms were filled with graffiti, while others still bear the final lesson on the chalkboard.
While considering the history and artifacts discovered on the whole Emerson can be compared to a tragic lifespan. A youthful Emerson was once daring, innovative, and eager to try new things. Mid-life struggles weighed heavily on Emerson’s soul and snuffed out the fire. In its waning years Emerson existed as a shell of its former self until finally passing. The century-old new revival style building lies dormant among a neighborhood of low-income housing and overgrown weeds.
Photo: The YouTube generation will never appreciate the educational filmstrip.
In the introduction to this article I asked, “What did I really learn in school?” Although I cannot formulate an answer for the reader, I feel that sharing what I have learned from exploring Emerson is educational. While studying for my instructor’s license I became intimately familiar with the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and its followup cases mandating the end of school segregation. I feel cheated that my grade and high schools boiled the segregation issue down to a base pair. It is convenient to teach that the northern United States was more tolerant and accepting of African-Americans. When the test comes it is easy to remember which bubble to fill in. As a white middle-class male I have never given the issue much weight before. In my adult life I find myself undoing a lot of the education that was force-fed. Reading books like James Loewen’s best-selling “Lies My Teacher Told Me” have been monumental in supplementing my understanding of American history.
History, race, decay and photography combined are not on the curriculum at your local school. American Urbex is willing to educate all who wish to educate themselves regardless of race, age, sex, religion or creed. He may not have known it at the time, but Ralph Waldo Emerson actually provides sage advice for the adventurous urban explorer. He says, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Photos: My collection of photos from the Emerson School.
City Data – Emerson student and school performance statistics.
Emerson Facts – Short facts about the high school.
Emerson Homepage – The official Emerson website.
Emerson School Class of ’65 – Site dedicated to the graduating class of 1965.
Facebook – Emerson School Alumni group page.
Flickr – Nitram242’s Gary School System set has photos of Emerson.
Google Books – Details the 1927 student protests against integration.
Google Books – Photos of some of the black students that attended Emerson during 1926 and 1927.
Google Books – Has history of Gary’s East Side including EHS. Has photo of Sinatra performing at the local auditorium.
Google Books – Describes the outdoor facilities at Emerson.
Google Books – Describes the machine shop at Emerson.
Google Books – Emerson once garnered so many visitors that it had to restrict visits.
Google Books – Photo of white Emerson students protesting school integration in 1947.
Google Books – Describes industrial work education offered at Gary schools.
Google Books – Dr. Ettinger’s opinions of the training offered at Emerson in 1914.
Google Books – Has original campus plans and building history.
IEQReview – Mold discovered in Emerson in 2008.
Jen Cessa – An account of the black experience in Gary.
Journal Gazette – Announces 2008 closure and restructuring of Gary schools, including Emerson.
JSTOR – Had date of school desegregation policy. Don’t pay $9.99 for the article.
NRHP – National Register of Historic Places listing.
Purdue University (PDF) – Publication with a profile of a 2008 Emerson graduate.
Time – 1927 article on white protests against 24 negro enrollments.
Wikipedia – Entry on Emerson history.
Wikipedia – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wikipedia – Actor Karl Malden attended Emerson.
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.
Keep an eye out this coming Sunday for the next episode of the American Urbex Podcast, which is available for download on iTunes.
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.
Exploring the abandoned Horace Mann High School in Gary, Indiana.
Subscribe to the American Urbex Podcast on iTunes.
Horace Mann High School – Flickr set of the abandoned school.
American Urbex on IndieGoGo – Your support is greatly appreciated.
American Urbex on Facebook – Follow us on Facebook.
American Urbex on Flickr – Add your urbex photos to the group.
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.