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Historic Memorial Auditorium to be demolished

Relic of Gary’s past to become apartment lofts

The Gary 411 and the Gary Crusader

What’s left of Gary’s Memorial Auditorium – the only part that escaped major damage from the fire that swept through downtown Gary in 1997 – will be demolished to make way for Broadway Lofts, a multi-family housing development.

The Gary Redevelopment Commission made the announcement at its April 24 Wednesday meeting and will begin accepting demolition bids.

Dept. of Redevelopment Director Joseph Vandyk said the demolition has been approved by Indiana’s Dept. of Natural Resources through its Office of Historic Preservation. In 1994, the auditorium was designated a National Historic site.

Construction on Broadway Lofts could start in late fall or spring 2020, after site inspections and preparations are completed by Miller Valentine Holding, the project’s developers.

Vandyk said the auditorium remains had lost their historic significance. “Some of the ornate brickwork will be salvaged and stored for future reuse, and could be incorporated in the redevelopment plans.”

The building’s foyer containing the box office, concession areas, and stairs to the upper floors were the only intact remains from the fire that destroyed the 5,000 seat auditorium.

Opened in 1927 as the Gary Public Schools Auditorium, the building for decades stood as one of the relics to the city’s history. Designed by architect Joseph H. Wildermuth, the structure incorporated elements from Italian Renaissance and Spanish Colonial Revival architectural styles. The building was built in 1927 to honor Gary residents who had died in World War I. It was part of an emerging movement to build structures of significant public utility rather than traditional monuments.

The massive auditorium had a capacity of 5,000 and was used for high school graduations, athletic events, and music festivals. Notable performers include the Jackson Five and Frank Sinatra. During the height of the space program in the 1960s, NASA Astronaut Frank Borman spoke at the auditorium. It was also the location where Harry Truman addressed his supporters in October 1948 during his presidential campaign. That same month, Truman issued an Executive Order to racially integrate the U.S. Army.

The auditorium is located in a part of town that Black residents weren’t allowed when Gary was segregated before the 1960s.

The auditorium was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 25, 1994. Already crumbling, the building’s main auditorium was destroyed in the Great Gary Arson of 1997, which decimated other historic buildings including City Methodist Church, while Mayor Scott King was in office.

The Miller Valentine Group, from Cincinnati, OH, and the developer of Gary’s Broadway Lofts had proposed 42 units with 1-2-3-bedrooms, including apartments and townhomes when the project was first proposed in 2018. The current design is for 38 units of 1- and 2-bedrooms.

Broadway Lofts will be built on land that has long been vacant, straddling the corner at 7th Avenue & Broadway. Along 7th Avenue, its front will extend to the remains of the old Memorial Auditorium in the 700 block of Massachusetts.

Broadway Lofts units are specified as middle-income and senior housing.

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