Efforts to revitalize downtown Gary are gaining momentum.
The Decay Devils collective of artists, urban explorers and preservationists cleared up the property around the historic Union Station, a grand century-old Beaux Arts railroad depot that thousands of train travelers passed through in its heyday. It has been used for passenger travel as recently as the 1970s, but has fallen into severe disrepair.
Last weekend, more than 80 volunteers cleared brush, picked up litter and cleared away debris like aerosol cans left behind by graffiti artists, and the hood of a Chrysler that was buried under a mound of dirt. They filled an entire dumpster the city of Gary donated, and painted a concrete wall to an adjacent elevated railroad line.
"We retrieved a couple layers of bricks we're going to put down into the earth," Decay Devils President Tyrell Anderson said. "There was a lot of work. It was high-energy."
At 9 a.m. Saturday, the group is bringing 10 graffiti artists to Union Station, a largely hollowed out neoclassical building near the gates to the Gary Works steel mill. The artists include Wayne Abell, Armando "Rise" Arceo, Jeffrey Brink, Micahl Cain, ZeroChicago, Quincey Mitchell, Omen74, Eric Roldan, and Jill Schulthorpe.
"Everyone is from Chicago or Northwest Indiana," Anderson said. "We'll have everything from abstract art to graffiti. The theme is growth. It's about the artists giving us their interpretation of growth. You're going to see everything from humans interacting to wild birds to abstract, just completely off the wall."
The Decay Devils are inviting the public to come out and watch the artists work from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Anyone who's interested will have a chance to meet with them while they paint murals on boards that will be placed over the windows.
The group drew inspiration from Detroit, which has used public arts to make it less apparent that buildings are vacant.
"We walked downtown Detroit," he said. "From the outside looking in, from a distance, you can't tell what buildings are abandoned."
The Decay Devils plan to finish landscaping and plant trees to give the Union Station grounds more of a park-like feel, where visitors could come to check out the art and architecture.
"It's an area where you might want to come to relax a little bit, just to soak it in," Anderson said. "It's not an eyesore anymore."
Gary recently commissioned a four-story portrait of the Jackson 5 downtown, is planning architectural tours this summer and has established a small tourism budget in the hope of bringing in more people downtown to see some of the historic structures. City officials are looking to revitalize downtown, building on momentum started by project's like Centier Bank's move into and putting its name on the old Gary State Bank tower, and the opening of Theaster Gates' new culinary incubator ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen.