Former Marktown hotel is torn down
EAST CHICAGO — A long-closed hotel and boardinghouse was the first structure demolished on Monday morning in the historic Marktown neighborhood.
A group of neighbors sat on the corner of Lilac Street and Spruce Avenue, angry with the move by BP, which purchased 10 vacant properties from the family of George Michels. They were armed with signs reading “Save Marktown Stop BP” that dot the windows of several houses around town.
Shortly after 9 a.m., crews in neon-yellow vests started operating cranes to tear down the walls and roof of the building and aimed hoses at the resulting debris to tamp down on the dust.
It was a depressing sight for 68-year-old Judy Hicks, a lifelong Marktown resident. Her husband, who originally is from Kentucky, lived in the hotel when he first arrived in Marktown.
“I have tears in my eyes,” Hicks said. “I’m very said knowing that BP would do this to us when they’ve been neighbors to us for how many years.”
Another lifelong Marktown resident, Kimberley Rodriguez, and others are afraid that the demolition is the beginning of the end for the neighborhood.
“I would really like for BP to help to revitalize us rather than chasing us away,” Rodriguez said.
BP is buying property in Marktown so it can create more green space and possibly a parking lot on the perimeter of its Whiting refinery, one of Marktown’s industrial neighbors.
ArcleorMittal’s Indiana Harbor steel mill and U.S. Steel’s East Chicago tin plant also surround the quaint community, which was created in 1917 to provide housing for workers at the Mark Manufacturing Co., a steelmaker.
Marktown is unusual in that people walk in the narrow streets and park vehicles on the sidewalks, and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. But that doesn’t prevent owners from demolishing the hotel as well as some of the houses, which resemble English cottages.
Brandenburg Industrial Service Co. is tearing down the structures. Project manager Drew Deichmann said the crews would clean up the debris from each demolition before moving on to another building. The work is expected to take at least a week.
Swirling winds upward of 20 mph blew some of the dust on Monday, seemingly taking it west, and residents seemed concerned about what was being put into the air by the demolition project.
Prior to the start of the work, another contractor, Pekron, completed an analysis of what, if any, asbestos or other harmful substances were inside the buildings and submitted it to the state, said Letty Zepeda, an asbestos inspector with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Inspectors were unable to go inside the hotel because it was structurally unsound, Zepeda said, but she made several visual inspections around the perimeter of the building and didn’t see any asbestos. Zepeda said four air monitors were installed around the site, and IDEM is monitoring them on an hourly basis.
IDEM spokesman Dan Goldblatt said the department typically sends out inspectors if it gets calls about concerns regarding a project.
Rodriguez said attempts were made to stop or delay the demolition in court, but the lawyers consulted by opponents said there wasn’t a legal avenue to stop it.
Richard Suchanuk, who owns and rents out 10 properties in Marktown, said he grew up in Marktown, but it has changed and is visibly run down in parts.
“It was a whole different community back then,” he said. “There were 240 houses and hardly a vacancy. Now, there are more than 60 vacancies. It’s just a different time now.”
Suchanuk, an East Chicago police lieutenant, said he has discussed with a real estate agent selling some of his properties to BP but hasn’t come to any agreement.