Rebirth ahead for landmark Gary apartment building?
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/302-0949 September 13, 2013 4:36PM
Mahencia Apartments at 1900 W. 5th Ave. could be sold by the city Wednesday to a developer planning to renovate it. | Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:08AM
GARY — In the realm of fixer-uppers, this one is HGTV-worthy.
Ivy clings to walls, obscuring broken windows. Trees and weeds camouflage its once grand main entrance facing 5th Avenue. Bricks and stone façade are crumbling.
It’s a creepy haunted house, made-to-order.
And that’s just the exterior.
Inside, the Mahencia Apartments building has been gutted, its metal skeleton long removed by scrappers. Paint curls up against the walls. Other than an occasional urban explorer or homeless person, no one has occupied Mahencia for nearly 30 years.
“It’s in a pretty serious state of disrepair,” understated Joseph Van Dyk, the director of the city’s Redevelopment Department.
Despite its deterioration, there could be new life ahead for the iconic structure.
The Redevelopment Department is selling the four-story 86-year-old Mahencia Apartments at 1900 W. 5th Ave., just north of shuttered Horace Mann High School.
One of two bidders could get the nod to purchase the iconic structure Wednesday from the Redevelopment Commission. Van Dyk declined to name the bidders.
“There’s been some interest from a few parties to do an historical restoration,” said Van Dyk.
Mahencia sits in the middle of the Horace Mann community, targeted as one of four neighborhoods in the newly-launched North Side Redevelopment Project. The city is angling for federal and private funding grants and it’s already secured a $350,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfield grant. It’s unclear whether Mahencia could be a beneficiary.
Designed to mimic the Spanish Renaissance Revival, Mahencia is adorned in red brick and stone trim. The U-shaped 31-unit apartment complex has an asymmetrical tower on its east side and a courtyard in the rear that’s now full of weeds.
Russian-born Gary pioneer Louis H. Glueck, who arrived Gary in 1907, financed Mahencia in 1928 through his Mid-City Bank Savings and Loan.
Back in the day, it was one of the most prestigious addresses in the city. U.S. Steel management officials lived in the apartment complex, as did one of the city’s former mayors, A. Martin Katz. In its final viable days, another mayor, Richard G. Hatcher owned it, changing its name to Hatcher Apartments.
The city wants developers to provide low-to-moderate-income housing in Mahencia, with a caveat: the building is on the U.S. National Historic Register, so certain guidelines on restoration must be followed. Changes would likely have to be approved by the state historic preservation office.
Van Dyk said the winning bidder could leverage funds available for historic properties and use historic tax credits to help finance the restoration. He didn’t have an estimate on the cost.
Past rehabs doomed
Attempts to revive Mahencia failed in the past.
In 1999 and in 2001, the Tree of Life Community Development Corp. in Gary hoped to use funding that included a mix of U.S. Housing and Urban Development money and tax credits to renovate the building and rent its apartments out as part of an affordable housing project.
Tree of Life did begin work on Mahencia, gutting the interior, but the anticipated funding fell through.
Earlier, in 1997, the Horace Mann Ambridge Neighborhood Improvement Organization hoped to use the same funding mix to rehab Mahencia, but it never got off the ground.
In 1978, former mayor Richard G. Hatcher and his wife purchased Mahencia. Upkeep problems ensued and the Hatchers struggled to operate the aging complex, which needed many repairs. They halted its operation in 1984.
Three years later, mayoral challenger Thomas V. Barnes accused Hatcher of failing to pay property taxes on Mahencia. Barnes won the mayor’s office that year, ending Hatcher’s four-term reign.
Records showed the property’s tax bill was $38,500 in 1988 and the city tried to sell at a county tax sale. No one bid on Mahencia. Meanwhile, Hatcher was locked in an appeal of the tax assessment with the county. Mahencia went on the tax auction in 1991, but again, it was not purchased.
By then, scrappers had ravaged the building and it accrued code violations that went unpaid.
Last year, Mahencia was one of the stops in an urban tour of deteriorating landmarks. Participants included state officials and preservationists who hope the structures can be saved. The city has targeted some for demolition, despite their historic value.
The structures, like Mahencia, cannot be demolished without approval from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
City Building Commissioner Steven D. Marcus called demolition “a last resort.”