Historical Preservation commissioners and members of the Art, Culture, and History Committee (l-r) Carmen Wilson, Pat Brown, Desiree Simpson, Rebecca Wyatt, Junifer Hall, and Darryl McCullough

Remaking Gary through history and culture

Contributed By:The 411 News

Gary Historic Preservation Commissioners are planting the seeds

Their goals are big and their funds could fit in a sandwich bag, but the Gary Historic Preservation Commission is planting seeds for the future.

Inside the Gary Room at city hall Saturday afternoon, commission members were welcoming guests to a 4 p.m. reception. The first day of Gary’s annual Preservation Tour had just ended and the reception was the commission’s thank you to tour goers, serving ice cream and cake.

From the 2nd floor window, they could see below the crowds gathering in Gateway Park for the Gary Love Fest, an art and music festival bringing awareness to the city’s architectural landmarks.

Twenty historic buildings in downtown Gary and nearby neighborhoods were featured on the tour. Earlier that morning, an Indiana State Historical Marker was unveiled at the site of the former City Methodist Church.

Opening the reception, First District City Council Member Rebecca Wyatt remembered the late Naomi Millender, the commission’s first chair. “She would be so proud to see that the Gary Land Company had been granted local historical status by the city council.” It was the first building constructed in Gary.

Naomi had followed in the footsteps of her mother, Dolly Millender, a Gary historian who had a passion for preservation and the arts.

Junifer Hall, a commission member and its publicity chair said nearly two decades ago, then council members Dolly Millender and Gerald Hayes established the council’s Art, Culture, and History Committee. But the committee languished after its founding members left the council. “It was Naomi Millender who persuaded Councilwoman Wyatt to re-establish the committee.”

Wyatt said history is one of her favorite things and she was glad to do it. “What I’ve learned about post-industrial cities is that they have pushed history and culture as a way of remaking themselves. Gary has such a rich history. It’s a microcosm of nearly everything that’s happened in the U.S.”

The committee learned the Gary Historic Preservation Commission had been created in 2009 by a city ordinance, but had gone unstaffed. Mayor Freeman-Wilson appointed five members to the commission in 2016. Today, there are 8 members.

The council’s committee sees its purpose as a coordinator, avoiding duplication for preservation efforts going on around the city. When committee member Desiree Simpson learned the Decay Devils were planning a downtown festival to highlight their restoration work on Union Station, dates were arranged to have the preservation tour and the festival at the same time.

A festival co-sponsor with the Decay Devils was #paintgary, a group of artists who splashed murals on empty walls and buildings in downtown Gary.

Gaining local landmark status for Gary’s City Hall is next on the commission’s list. Also pending for landmark status are 21 other sites, including The Katie Hall House Museum, Roosevelt High School, The William Marshall Home, First AME Church, First Baptist Church, and The Jackson Five House.

To insure historical preservation continues in the city, Commissioner Hall said she hopes the incoming city administration will also have history and culture on its list of priorities.

"Things Take A Long Time” mural on a wall along the west bound Indiana Toll Road exit at Broadway in downtown Gary

Mural on a rail viaduct wall

Story Posted:09/18/2019

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