A house sits boarded up awaiting demolition in the Marktown Neighborhood of East Chicago on May 5, 2014. | Jim Karczewsk/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 10, 2014 6:04AM
EAST CHICAGO — They may have been strangers five minutes earlier, but names and memories quickly came bubbling to the surface.
“Did you know the Mulhollands?” Marktown resident Kimberly Rodriguez asked Kay Anton Fernando, who grew up in the historic neighborhood.
“Brides in Marktown used to throw pennies from the top window to kids in the street,” Fernando told her later.
Marktown’s past is rich with close-knit neighbors and quirky traditions, but part of that history will be lost, as crews prepare for the demolition of 10 buildings in the neighborhood on Saturday.
BP purchased the properties from George Michels, who owns the bar at Riley and Dickey roads, as part of its efforts to convert land adjacent to its Whiting refinery into green space. The bar will remain. Some of the targeted buildings date from 1917, including the former Marktown hotel and boarding house on Dickey Road and houses on Riley Road, Oak Street, Liberty Street, Grove Street and Spring Street.
BP spokesman Scott Dean said Brandenburg Industrial Service Co. is putting in portable toilets and making other preparations for the demolition project. The buildings were earmarked for destruction in mid-April, when numbers were spray-painted in blue on them and neighbors were notified.
Marktown was designed as a model industrial community to house workers at Mark Manufacturing Co. and other local companies. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, but that doesn’t prevent the buildings from being town down.
Fernando and her husband, Bob, of Merrillville, met as children in Marktown — they still have a picture of them as kids in a sandbox — and reconnected in their early 20s at an East Chicago beach, getting married in 1957.
They heard about the planned demolition and drove back this week to visit their old neighborhood, where people park the cars on the curbs and walk in the street and where the houses resemble English cottages.
“Our entire family treasures Marktown,” Kay Fernando said. “When my brother was visiting from Boston, we all came back and took a picture in front of 416 Park St., where we grew up. We don’t want this to happen to Marktown.”
Bob Fernando said the couple has a few chairs they salvaged from the old Mark School before it was torn down in the late 1980s.
Residents looked into trying to get a court order to delay the demolition by 90 days, but it didn’t go anywhere.
Rodriguez, who is a precinct committeewoman, was resigned to the buildings’ fate, but remained upbeat.
“Those buildings have been empty for years, and we can survive without (them),” she said.