Son says housing rejection led future mayor to make reforms
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 September 28, 2013 11:57PM
Martin A. Katz- Gary Mayor A Martin Katz goes thru latest letters for his Beatles File urging Mayor to bring the Beatles to Gary.
Updated: October 30, 2013 6:29AM
GARY — In 1941, a pair of newlyweds decided to live in the popular Mahencha Apartments in a prime location across from Horace Mann High School.
A. Martin Katz had just finished law school, passed the bar exam and was ready to settle in Gary with wife Dorothy and begin practice.
Katz would go on to have a distinguished legal career, serving as Gary city judge from 1955 to 1963 and mayor of Gary from 1963 to 1967. But he never lived in Mahencha, despite urban legend.
The couple visited the Mahencha, 1900 W. 5th Ave., put down a deposit and their lease application was accepted, said their son, Michael Katz, a Highland attorney.
The next day, a Mahencha staff member told them the apartment was no longer available. A few days later, they saw an ad in the newspaper advertising apartments for rent at Mahencha.
Katz said his parents received no explanation, but they knew the unspoken reason. They were Jewish.
“Times were different then,” said Katz. “There were different kinds of prejudices expressed in the community then. ... There were barriers to lots of groups in those days.”
So instead, the couple rented an apartment a few blocks away and began married life together.
Katz said he eventually heard the story of Mahencha. “We all have experiences that color our minds into what is right and what is wrong. It made a significant enough impression on them that he and my mother repeated the story.”
Katz decided to set the record straight about his parents after a Post-Tribune article about the sale of Mahencha repeated the persistent and oft-told story that his father had lived there.
“My family never lived in that building,” he said.
Also in the interest of setting the record straight, it appears the building is called Mahencha, not “Mahencia.’ The city is calling the building “Mahencia” in its records, but other documents, including an old telephone directory that Katz has, list the name as “Mahencha.”
Katz thinks his Jewish grandfather’s name adorned the building at one time since Zweig & Sons built its roof. “That was my mom’s dad,” he said.
During his term in office, A. Martin Katz, who died in 1995, championed the city’s open housing law that paved the way for blacks to live anywhere in the city.
“My father was a very open-minded progressive, I’m sure it had some effect on him,” he said of the Mahencha rejection. “He knew in his own mind what it felt like to be excluded.”
Katz lost the Democratic primary in 1967 to Richard G. Hatcher, who would be the city’s mayor for 20 years and eventually purchase Mahencha Apartments.
Hatcher and his wife couldn’t keep up with maintenance of the aging building and it eventually was offered at a county tax sale.
Now in ruin, the city plans to sell the 86-year-old Spanish-inspired structure Monday. The Gary Redevelopment Commission is expected to sell Mahencha to a bidder who promises to renovate the building in keeping with its historical significance.