GARY | A Glen Park landmark has embarked on a second life.
The Glen Theatre on Saturday night opened its doors to the public for the time in almost a quarter of a century with a concert by Gary native Deniece Williams, best known for the 1980s hit "Let's Hear It For The Boy."
The opening was the culmination of eight years of work by the African-American Achievers Youth Corps. The nonprofit is dedicated to mentoring and helping African-American boys 12 to 17 years old achieve personal and educational goals.
The group bought the abandoned and crumbling building at 20 W. Ridge Road in Gary's Glen Park section in 1999.
Opened 31 years earlier as a movie theatre showing popular family films, things took a much less wholesome turn in the 1970s. By the middle of that decade the theatre had become a full-time adult cinema specializing in the era's X-rated fare. The Glen closed its doors in 1981.
For the next 18 years, the abandoned building fell into neglectful disuse. The elements, pests and vagrants helped turn the neighborhood icon into another ruin from Gary's more prosperous past.
State Rep. Vernon G. Smith, D-Gary, saw potential in the collapsing walls and crumbling ceilings of the old cinema. As chairman of the African-American Achievers Youth Corps., Smith led the organization in the acquisition of the building and adjacent parking lot.
"The whole building had to be gutted. We had to replace everything but three walls," Smith said.
Funding for the project came in the form of HUD and Build Indiana grants. Each stage of the project required new grant funding.
For Nathaniel Tate, the opening of The Glen is great news for the city. Tate is the artistic director of TNT Productions, which produces plays and other entertainment in Miller Beach's Theatre By The Lake.
Tate's organization has signed a contract to perform regular productions at The Glen that would be too small for 40-seat Theatre By The Lake.
"I'm happy that it has opened. It just makes the theatre community in Gary stronger. ... A lot of people go to Chicago for shows and with The Glen, which has 300 seats, we can do those kind of shows now in Gary," Tate said.
The Glen is staffed by members of the Achievers program.
Pointer said another group of young men will be trained by industry professionals in stage craft so they can run the lighting and sound for productions held at the theatre.
"We've been really excited about this and quite naturally the boys are excited because this will be their theatre," Pointer said. "They are the ones that are going to open the doors, and this is the place where they will be employed."