Architectural gems dot Northwest Indiana landscape

2011-12-04T23:00:00Z 2011-12-05T23:45:41Z Architectural gems dot Northwest Indiana landscapeBy Jeff Burton jeff.burton@nwi.com, (219) 548-4354 nwitimes.com
December 04, 2011 11:00 pm  • 

MICHIGAN CITY | Lined with classic brick buildings and tall church steeples, Franklin Street is reminiscent of many of the region's downtown districts. That is, until the street ends just south of U.S. 12, with a building that literally glows in the dark.

Constructed beginning in 1976 and opening a year later, the Michigan City Public Library was the third building designed by noted architect Helmut Jahn, and it is one of a number of buildings around the Calumet Region whose designs were drafted by noted architects.

Library Director Don Glossinger said with its fiberglass walls and sawtooth roof, the building doesn't necessarily match its keystone-windowed surroundings, but its design is clearly in line with the area's future as an arts district.

"We see ourselves fitting into that very well," Glossinger said. "The building itself is a piece of artwork."

Glossinger worked as a clerk at the library's former home in 1976 while a student at Purdue University North Central. He was there for the building's planning and when it opened in the summer of 1977.

"I love this building," he said.

Others, though, weren't as enthralled.

As part of a 1970s urban renewal project, planners envisioned the site as an anchor for redevelopment. At the time, Glossinger said, many thought it would probably house a major department store, but those settled at Marquette Mall.

The library board eventually purchased the site from the city and began constructing its unique home, which Jahn designed after Kemper Arena in Kansas City and a university library in Colorado.

Since then, Jahn has designed a number of unique buildings, including the James Thompson Center in Chicago.

"There's a 20 year waiting list in Europe if you want him to design your building," Glossinger said.

Another site with a number of uniquely designed buildings lies along Lake Michigan in Beverly Shores.

Five homes from the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago, each designed to demonstrate the latest in architectural design, were moved by barge and truck to Beverly Shores in the years following the exposition.

All of the homes, which are part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and owned by the National Park Service, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and all but one of them is actively being restored, said Tiffany Tolbert, Northwest Field Office director for Indiana Landmarks.

Through a unique agreement, the nonprofit group leases the homes from the government and in turn subleases them to residents who renovate and restore them.

"Most of them have been leased for years," she said.

Designed by Chicago-based architect George Fred Keck, the House of Tomorrow is currently the only one not leased to a tenant.

Keck's original designs for the unique home had floor-to-ceiling windows on its upper floors and an airplane hangar on the ground level.

The design allowed for sunlight to provide much of the home's heating during the winter months, but that same sunlight overpowered the home's air conditioning system, according to the National Park Service.

After constructing his House of Tomorrow, Keck went on to design dozens of unique homes in Chicago's northern suburbs, many featuring passive solar heating.

Another home in the region designed by a legendary architect, though, no longer stands ready for restoration.

Vacant land now sits at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fillmore Street in Gary, but for nearly a century, the narrow lot was the site of a home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Built between 1916 and 1917 for Wilbur Wynant of the Gary National Life Insurance Co., the home had been abandoned for about 20 years when it was purchased by preservationists in 1998.

Crews cleaned out the home's interior, put a new roof on the structure and rebuilt the floor systems, but had to sell the home after funding reportedly dried up.

Work continued on the home, under its new private ownership, but a fire at the site dashed those hopes, causing extensive damage to the home.

It was demolished in 2009, after being deemed a safety hazard.

And while the Wright home is a memory, crews are working to give new life to two other historical buildings in Gary.

With a $28 million grant from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, crews are working to restore the 1920s-era Marquette Park Pavilion and neighboring Aquatorium, both designed by George Maher, a former colleague of Wright.

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