port of harlem magazine
paranormal sagas
Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are: Renovating IN Gary, IN

Dec 14 – Dec 27, 2023
EJE steam locamtive

gary union station with tyrell anderson and nigerians

About This Series

This article is part of a ten-article series. See the full list of articles at the end of this one. The articles explore the issues Port of Harlem publisher Wayne Young uncovered and learned about while investing in his economically-challenged hometown, Gary, Indiana, and witnessing gentrification in once-economically challenged Washington, D.C.

The articles cover other places including South Bend, Indiana; Prince Georges County, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; Flint, Michigan; Jackson, Mississippi; Florida, and the Lower Colorado River Basin States, specifically, California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Sargent, Edward, ed.

The stylish Washingtonian magazine identified Studio Theatre's 1987 move to 14th and P Streets, NW in the nation’s capital as one of the "50 Moments That Shaped Washington, DC.” When founder and former artistic director Joy Zinoman moved the regional theater into an old automotive space in1987, the sidewalks were littered with hypodermic needles and condoms, sex workers prowled the sidewalks, mansions just around the corner wasted away, and there wasn’t even a 7-Eleven.

Today, Studio Theater has expanded, residents and visitors shop on the area’s streets for goods and services from furniture and night clubs to restaurants and fitness centers. The average home price is $823,000, and upscale grocers Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s compete for customers.

It was during a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana and Savanna, Georgia that Tyrell Anderson began to change the scope of the group from “taking pictures, to taking action,” he says. It was his witnessing the preservation of buildings in other locales that aroused his desire to return home to Gary to preserve her past.

In downtown Gary, the Decay Devils are poised to replicate some of that D.C. urban feel at Union Station. “Our overall goal is to save a building and repurpose it,” says Tyrell Anderson, president of the Decay Devils.

The former intercity train station made its film debut in the 1996 film "Original Gangstas," but the Decay Devils are focusing on transforming the former depot, with its large open-space waiting room, into a mixed-use center. “You have to see the potential for big open space,” advised Zinoman.   

This summer the group announced the building will become a fiber optic hub with Digital Equity, LLC as a tenant and a training center with the cooperation of local educational institutions. Earlier, they landed a $125,000 grant from the Indiana Lake Michigan Coastal Program and a $20,000 grant from the 1772 Foundation to create architectural documents for Union Station.

David Graff, a Vice President at Google and one of the many creative volunteers at Decay Devils, was at the groundbreaking.  “If you make these investments, business will follow,” says Graff. He added that "I have seen how job opportunities come from similar projects; gives people access.”

The station is at the main gate of United States Steel’s historic Gary Works plant and the eastern gateway to the Indiana Dunes National Park.

Within walking distance of Union Station, the Decay Devils restored the historic EJ&E No. 765 steam locomotive and is reviving Gateway Park, where the train sits, by turning on its public fountains with a $60,000 grant from Legacy Foundation’s U.S. Steel/City of Gary Indiana Charitable Fund.  A John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Donor Advised Fund will also allow the Decay Devils to host several downtown outdoor events.

Knowing that one day the grant money will no longer speed down their tracks, the group is looking for ways to sustain their momentum.  One possible route is to become part of a Gary Cultural/Restoration district along with a planned arts center in the 10-story Gary State Bank Building, the city’s tallest building, and the “urban-ruin,” once the prestigious City Methodist Church.

Preservation was not always Anderson’s goal.  He started Decay Devils as a photography group that conducted urban explorations to other cities to take pictures.  It was during a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana and Savanna, Georgia that he began to change the scope of the group from “taking pictures, to taking action,” he says.  It was his witnessing the preservation of buildings in other locales that aroused his desire to return home to Gary to preserve her past.

First, he approached the school board to allow him to attempt to preserve either Emerson, Horace Mann, or Lew Wallace high school.  “The school board shot us down,” he says.

“We then looked at properties where we would probably get the least resistance,” Anderson recalls. They approached the Gary Redevelopment Commission about Union Station and “they jumped right on it,” he added. The Decay Devils wrote a grant for beautification of Union Station for $22,000, “We got it and the preservation efforts began to get a life of its own,” he continued.

Another Garyite, Angele Ledbetter recalls that she met Anderson as an actress looking to be in a film he was producing. She joined him on an urban exploration. She stated that “After seeing other cities preserve their buildings, we said ‘hey, let’s do something for our hometown.’”  Ledbetter credits Anderson for having the group turn “their love into a non-profit.”
She added, “In this high priced, high amenity neighborhood, the limited new housing opportunities means exclusion for moderate and lower income people. Given that the average income of Black DC families is barely one-third of White family income, the lack of new housing and any affordable housing in this area perpetuates racial segregation as well as economic segregation.”

Will the renovation of Union Station draw and keep people in downtown Gary? The gentrification of 14th Street, NW in Washington, DC in 1987 “was a slow process,” cautioned urban pioneer Zinoman.

Similar to downtown Gary today, she recalls 14th Street, NW having “no restaurants at all, one fish place maybe.”  Then, she says, Studio Theater started having “audiences, people were coming at night, then the restaurants came to serve them.”  She continued to reflect, “It took a lot of different parts of the community to make it happen, including the press and brave audiences.” Similar to Zinoman’s Studio Theater, the Decay Devils is a nonprofit. 

The Studio Theater model has been duplicated in other parts of the nation’s capital. While such cultural investments have proven successful in Washington, the Society for the Restoration of the Gary Aquatorium and Octave Chanute's Place have proven that citizen led projects can meet success in the Steel City. In Miller, on Gary’s far East Side lakefront, the group has preserved the old Gary Bathhouse, the history of Octave Chanute, and that of the Tuskegee Airmen.

In almost two decades, the Society invested more than two million dollars on the Aquatorium. The former bath house is now available to host banquets, weddings, and small receptions and is an asset to Gary’s crown jewel, Father Pere Jacques Marquette Park - - all of - - which played a part in the selling of the neighborhood’s first one-million-dollar home.

However, downtown Gary has been an oddity, neither the government-built Genesis Convention Center nor the US Steel Yard has been able to attract significant private investments. Unlike the Center and the Yard, Union Station, like Studio Theater, involves private and cultural investors and may just prove to be downtown Gary’s winning show.

Next in the Series:  Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are: Renovating IN Gary, IN - Pillar Industries Invest in Gary

Articles in this series in the order we will release them: Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are: Renovating In Gary, IN

1 - Coming Home
2 - Mike Keen, Portage Midtown in South Bend, IN
3 - What’s Driving the American Housing Shortage
4 - Financing and Managing Projects From Afar - Gary and Omaha
5 - Short Term Rental, Marketing/Furnishing
6 - Non-Profit/Cultural Investors Make a Difference in DC and Gary
7 - Pillar Industries Investing in Gary
8 - Climate Change May Be a Plus for Gary and the Rustbelt
9 - Find the Property
10 – One Year Later - Coming January 2025
Note:  Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are was a part of Booker T. Washington’s 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech. While we are uncomfortable with the tone of certain parts of his speech and some of his descriptions, we appreciate his wanting Africans in America to appreciate and use what they have to elevate our wealth and lives on earth.

He urged Blacks to accept racial discrimination for the time being and asked Whites to also “cast down their buckets” and hire Black workers, rather than immigrants. Oddly, this dynamic remains an issue today.

“Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.”

- Booker T. Washington

Gary. Steel Strong.
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