Gary's 108-year-old Union Station, a Beaux-Arts beaut designed by architect M.A. Long, could end up occupied again after more than 50 years of abandonment.
Last year, the Decay Devils arts collective and urban preservationist group cleaned up, secured and beautified the cast-in-place concrete building, which is located on Broadway just south of the gates of U.S. Steel's Gary Works. They covered the building in colorful graffiti murals, put in a viewing station, and installed a park bench and sign detailing the history of the place that was left to molder.
But they have an even grander vision in mind for the building, which was modeled after the Neoclassical structures at Chicago's Columbian Exposition.
The Decay Devils secured a $3,500 Efroymson Family Endangered Places Grant from Indiana Landmarks that will cover part of the cost of having an engineering firm assess what must be done to make the building habitable again, such as demolishing what's left of the crumbling roof of the main building. The arts and urban exploration group is footing the rest of $5,000 bill to get Arsee Engineers to assess the train station, which was named among the 10 Most Endangered Places in Indiana list.
"This will really get the ball rolling," Decay Devils President Tyrell Anderson said. "It will give us a baseline of what the current condition is, what they suggest we do with it, and how much it will cost. Once we know what's needed to make it stable, we can go to potential funders and sponsors and get the restoration underway."
The Decay Devils invited the public to submit ideas for repurposing Union Station that were displayed in an exhibit at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts in Miller last year. People threw out suggestions such as community centers, farmers markets, classrooms, art galleries or even an artist village.
Anderson said the group was considering including an art gallery or at least "something artistic" in what's likely to be a multi-use building.
"We're artists at heart," he said.
The Decay Devils also have been having conversations about locating a business incubator, a steel museum, a railway museum, or all of the above in the spacious building.
"Whatever goes inside, we want to make sure it sustains the maintenance and the utility," Anderson said. "It doesn't need to make money, but we want a structure that can sustain itself and won't depend on grant funding."
After getting the assessment next month, the Decay Devils hope to send out a round of grant application letters before the middle of August.
"Once some funding is in place, we'll make a big push to begin the restoration," he said.
At the very least, they will need to demolish what remains of the caved-in roof, fix the cracking and spalling of the concrete and assure the structure is stabilized, Anderson said.
"Then we can look at going inside and doing programming," he said.
One of the most popular sites in the city for urban explorers, Gary's highly photogenic Union Station has been featured on postcards, in movies like "Appointment with Danger" and "Original Gangsters," and on the television show "Life After People."